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Vincent van Gogh: Biography & Artwork

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

More than almost any other painter, Vincent van Gogh has epitomized the tortured artist. Believing that his work was inspired by a higher power, van Gogh would ultimately commit suicide, tragically thinking the world had no appreciation for his remarkable work.

Life of Vincent van Gogh

The son of a Protestant priest, Vincent van Gogh was drawn to the spiritual aspects of life from an early age. Upon reaching adulthood, he spent time as an art dealer before volunteering as a missionary to the poorest parts of Belgium, as well as serving in the slums of London. Also during this time, a series of debilitating seizures would begin to consume his being.

Van Gogh found release through art, and felt assured of his talent in the field. He sought the financial support of his brother, and wrote him continually throughout his short life. Van Gogh's letters to his brother provide an intriguing window into his soul, showing not only his passion for art, but also glimpses of the recesses of his suffering. Beginning his artistic career as an Impressionist, he soon left the practice of imitating just nature or individuals, instead choosing to portray the mundane, finding more meaning in showing the world through his eyes.

Ultimately, the seizures and depression would become too much, and van Gogh would have himself committed to an insane asylum. By this point, he had already famously cut off his ear, although stories abound as to the actual details of the act. Continuing painting even in this environment, he completed, what many consider to be his masterpiece, The Starry Night. A short time later dying of what is widely believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, believing himself to be a complete failure.

Famous Works

Despite his early death, Vincent van Gogh was incredibly productive as an artist, with well over 2,000 confirmed works. However, some of his works demand special mention. He created several Self-Portraits, all complete with a cold, haunting gaze. Of more interest, are the works that helped to define him as an artist who found Impressionist-worthy material in the mundane.

The Bedroom in Arles places the emphasis of Impressionists eager to transmit the image of their mind's eye on something as ordinary as the artist's bedroom. The bed is an obvious focal point of the composition, yet the floor shows distress, a sure sign of modesty (if not poverty). The quarters themselves are rather sparse, with only a few rickety chairs and a washbasin to appoint the room full of paintings presumably of happier places.

Bedroom in Arles
Bedroom in Arles

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