4 Things You May Not Know About Vincent van Gogh

Self-Portrait with Pipe, 1886
Self-Portrait with Pipe, 1886

Whether you say “van go” or “van goff,” the name Vincent van Gogh is a household one. His paintings like Starry Night and Sunflowers are some of the most popular and beloved pieces of art the world has ever known. 

As an artist, he was insatiable. As a man, he was distraught, isolated, and incredibly sad. As a legacy, he has changed the art world and continues to inspire artists young and old. He’s considered the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt van Rijn and is known as a master of the post-Impressionism movement.

There’s lots to know about Van Gogh, and surely, it’s impossible to sum up the life of anyone in a few hundred words, regardless of their outstanding achievements. Nonetheless, here are four little known facts that you may not have known about Vincent van Gogh, the artist and the man.

Van Gogh composed more than 900 paintings during his extremely short art career.

It’s truly astonishing how much artwork Van Gogh was able to produce. Not only did he have a short life in general, his career as an artist lasted only a little over ten years. Van Gogh’s portfolio is filled to the brim with thousands of drawings, 150 watercolors, nine lithographs, and over 900 paintings. 

This exceeds the work produced by artists who worked their entire lives. 

Starry Night, 1889
Starry Night, 1889

Van Gogh studied drawing at the Brussels Academy before moving back to the Netherlands where he began working in nature. Still, he recognized that being self-taught had its limitations and started working with Anton Mauve in The Hague. 

Nonetheless, he craved the solitude of working in nature on his own, probably due in part to his distant personality, and would travel to isolated parts of the Netherlands as he started experimenting with oil paintings. 

While traveling throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, Van Gogh’s style was being solidified and in the process, he created a large body of work. 

His artwork included portraits, landscapes, and still life and eventually, a style all his own emerged. Although his art wasn’t appreciated during his lifetime in the same way it’s appreciated now, he continued to paint and draw and create – a true artist through and through. 

Van Gogh was rather religious and spent time doing missionary work.

Born in 1853 to an austere country minister in the Netherlands, it’s no surprise that Van Gogh would be religious by nature. Still, his relationship to Christianity wasn’t simple. 

Van Gogh grew up in a poor family and was always a melancholy child. He proposed to a lover who rejected him, sending Van Gogh into a breakdown. He became an angry adult who threw himself into the Bible and a life serving God.

He taught in a Methodist boy’s school and preached to the church. He hoped to become a minister but was denied entrance to the School of Theology in Amsterdam after refusing to take the exams on Latin, calling it a “dead language.”

Van Gogh was not an agreeable person, as you can tell.

In short, his evangelical attempts were unsuccessful and he was forced to find another occupation and in 1880, Van Gogh moved to Brussels in pursuit of life as an artist. 

Van Gogh was inspired by many artists, including Peter Paul Rubens. 

At age 16, Van Gogh started an apprenticeship with the art dealers of Goupil and Co. in London. It was here that he acquired a taste for the Dutch art masters, particularly enjoying the work of Jean-Francoise Millet and Camille Corot. 

From Paulo Veronese and Eugene Delacroix he learned about color as expression which led to overwhelming enthusiasm for Peter Paul Rubens. So much so that he moved to Antwerp, Belgium – the home and workplace of Rubens. 

Van Gogh enrolled at the Antwerp Academy but in typical fashion, he refused to follow the academic curriculum, being influenced more by the artists he admired. He left the academy after three months and in 1886, found himself in Paris.

There, his eyes were opened to French art and learned from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat. It was his time in Paris where Van Gogh solidified his distinguished brush strokes that are associated with his namesake today.

Van Gogh sent himself to asylum.

Probably the most famous story about Van Gogh’s personal life is the story of how he cut off his own ear. This doesn’t paint a picture (no pun intended) of a mentally stable man. So, it might be obvious that Van Gogh would have ended up in an asylum due to his mental illness. 

The part you may not know is that his dysfunctions became so detrimental that Van Gogh himself willingly stayed in an asylum for an entire year.

It was during this time at Saint-Remy-de-Provence that Van Gogh actually painted some of his most famous and well-known pieces including Starry Night, Cypresses, and Garden of the Asylum 

Cypresses, 1889
Cypresses, 1889

There is definitely a sense of deep sadness in these paintings and unfortunately, Van Gogh’s journey with mental instability did not end well. He shot himself and was found wounded in his bed, dying two days later from his injuries in 1890. 

Van Gogh is now seen as the quintessential “tortured artist” and his work wasn’t celebrated until after his death. He struggled to find his way and felt guilty that he couldn’t find success. His sad story ends, living only into his 30s, having never known how beloved his art would become. 

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