“The emotions are sometimes so strong that I work without knowing it. The strokes come like speech.” – Vincent van Gogh
This spring, I finally read Irving Stone’s biographical novel about the life of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life (I loved it). I had previously read Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s excellent biography, Van Gogh – The Life (twice!) and have long been fascinated by the Dutch artist’s story and his work.
The outline of the artist’s life is well-known but I came across the quote above recently wanted to share it. It’s from a letter to his brother, Theo, and it’s a great reminder of the importance of following creative impulses. I stand in awe of artists and your ability to paint, draw, sculpt, perform, write, etc. I’m also fascinated by the process and the way that artists develop and refine both their skills and their vision.
Creating is a very intimate, personal thing, but it’s amazing how you are able to express yourself in a way that has the power to resonate with all of us. To do so, you often have to ignore the “sensible” to follow your vision and passion, as van Gogh did.
Brief Biographical Outline
Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In just over a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life in Southern France, where he died. They include landscapes, still lives, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterized by bold colors and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. His suicide at 37 followed years of mental illness and poverty. (Though, without offering any spoilers, I’ll mention that Naifeh and White Smith propose an alternate cause of the artist’s death)
Born into an upper-middle-class family, Van Gogh drew as a child and was serious, quiet, and thoughtful. As a young man, he worked as an art dealer, often traveling, but became depressed after he was transferred to London. He turned to religion and worked as a missionary in southern Belgium.
Van Gogh drifted into ill health and solitude before taking up painting in 1881, having moved back home with his parents.
His younger brother Theo supported him financially, and the two kept up a long correspondence by letter. His early works, mostly still lifes and depictions of peasant laborers, contain few signs of the vivid color that distinguished his later work.
In 1886, he moved to Paris, where he met members of the avant-garde, including Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, who were reacting against the Impressionist sensibility. As his work developed, he created a new approach to still lifes and local landscapes. His paintings grew brighter in color as he developed a style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in the south of France in 1888. During this period, he broadened his subject matter to include a series of olive trees, wheat fields, and sunflowers.
Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, did not eat properly, and drank heavily. His friendship with Gauguin ended after an explosive confrontation. In a rage, van Gogh severed part of his own left ear.
He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy. After he discharged himself and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. His depression continued, and on 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver (or did he? see parenthetical above). He died from his injuries two days later.
Love Van Gogh?
What are your thoughts on Van Gogh and his work? What are some of your favorite Van Gogh works? Do you ever feel like you are in a place beyond consciousness as Van Gogh did according to his letter to Theo? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.