“I am a man of passions, capable of and subject to doing more or less foolish things, which I happen to repent more or less afterwards… But the problem is to try every means to put those selfsame passions to good use… In the surroundings of pictures and works of art, you know how I had a violent passion for them, reaching the highest pitch of enthusiasm.” Vincent van Gogh.
Vincent van Gogh was the eldest of six children born to a Dutch pastor. As a child he was very quiet and would rather be alone than play with his brothers and sisters. At 16, van Gogh’s father arranged for him to work for his uncle at a firm of art dealers in the Hague. He approached the job with enthusiasm and in time was transferred to London. Although from a well-educated family, van Gogh preferred the company of peasants to that of the well-to-do of London, and he attempted several unsuccessful careers as both schoolmaster and missionary in England and Belgium.
In 1880 he became a full-time artist. His first pieces were sombre in tone and depicted his much loved peasants working on the land. In 1886 he left Holland for Paris where his younger brother Theo was working as an art dealer. The experience was undoubtedly influential as the works of Bernard, Degas, Gauguin and Seurat soon changed van Gogh’s palette. However, the relationship between Theo and his brother became strained and Vincent moved out.
Van Gogh conceived the idea of founding a ‘Studio of the South’ at Arles as a working community for progressive artists. Early in 1888 he moved to Arles but the only other artist he eventually persuaded to join him was Gauguin – a man whom he greatly admired. It was after a quarrel with Gauguin that van Gogh was reputed to have cut off part of his ear. As with much of van Gogh’s life, his insane behaviour and his final chronicled ‘suicide’ can all be accounted for by presently understood health conditions. It is true though that Vincent saw very little success with his work during his lifetime. This never deterred his belief that one day people all over the world would enjoy his work.
Van Gogh’s early work, during his Dutch period was heavy and rich but subdued in colour, for example ‘The Potato Eaters’ (1885). After his contact with other painters in Paris, with Japanese prints and the work of such original colourists as Delacroix and Monticelli, van Gogh’s style changed radically culminating in the brilliant, expressive colour and frenzied, thick brushmarks of his Arles period. The final two and a half years of his life in Arles saw Vincent at his most prolific capturing his exuberance and passion for the surrounding countryside. Among hundreds of paintings from this era are the famous ‘Starry Night’ (1889), ‘Sunflowers’ (1888), ‘Cafe at Night'(1888) and ‘Cornfield and Cypress Trees’ (1889). His watercolours, such as ‘Fishing boats at Santeo Maries’ and drawings are of equal intensity, while the letters he wrote to his brother Theo are important literary and human documents in their own right.