The Career of Vincent van Gogh as a Painter

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a post-Impressionist painter whose work highly influenced 20th-century art. However, he was virtually unknown and almost always without money during his short life.

Although he was involved with art from a young age, his actual art career as a painter was only the last ten years of his life. But the years before that had a definite influence on all van Gogh paintings.

It must also be remembered that although people usually refer to Van Gogh as a “painter,” he created more than1,100 drawings and sketches apart from his more than 900 paintings.

Table of Contents

Early Life

On March 30, 1853, Van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, and was exposed to art from a tender age as his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was an artist. It is believed that Van Gogh inherited his love for creating drawings and watercolors from his mother.

Because of financial problems at home, he had to start a job at age 15 at his Uncle Cornelis’ art dealership, Goupil & Cie, in The Hague. This could be the reason for his fluency in his native Dutch, French, German, and English. It was helping him develop into a good art dealer.

Involved with Art Administration and Sales

He became more involved in art administration, and in June 1873, he was transferred to the Groupil Gallery in London. In London, he fell in love with English culture and visited art galleries whenever he could in his spare time.

“Abstaining” from Art

He had fallen in love with his landlady’s daughter during that time, but she rejected his marriage proposal. Because of this, he suffered a breakdown and threw away all his books except his Bible. In addition, he became frustrated with his employer because of the low standard of the artworks they were selling and told customers not to buy the “worthless art.” He was eventually fired.

Rejection by the woman he loved, his breakdown, and the fight with his employers led to a whole period where Van Gogh “abstained” from art. Instead, he decided to study theology and work for the church.

New Van Gogh Drawings, Sketches, and Pictures

He started with theological studies but didn’t complete it. Then, in the winter of 1878, van Gogh volunteered to go to a coal mine in the south of Belgium as a missionary. He preached and ministered to the sick, but what was important, he also drew typical Vincent Van Gogh artwork  of the miners and their families.

In 1880, van Gogh decided to become a full-time artist, and with the financial support of his brother, Theo, he moved to Brussels. He studied on his own by using books like “Travaux des champs” by Jean-François Millet and “Cours de dessin” by Charles Bargue.

The Hague and Drenthe

After another love relation disaster, Van Gogh moved to The Hague and fell in love with Clasina Maria Hoornik, an alcoholic prostitute. She was his companion and mistress, and he used her as a model.

However, Hoornik went back to prostitution, and Gogh became utterly depressed. Finally, in 1882, his family forced him to leave Hoornik and The Hague. He left The Hague in mid-September of that year and traveled to Drenthe, a desolate district in the Netherlands. He traveled throughout the region for six weeks, drawing and painting the landscape and its people.

1885 – Paris and Impressionists

Van Gogh’s art contributed to his emotional balance, and in 1885, he started to work on “Potato Eaters.” Most art critics considered this work to be his first real masterpiece.

In March 1885, Vincent decided to move to Paris, where Theo lived. There he saw Impressionist art for the first time, and he was inspired by the use of color and light effects by the Impressionists. He started studying with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Camille Pissarro, and others to learn more about the Impressionist movement and their painters’ techniques.

Van Gogh was passionate, and he often argued with other painters about their works.

During this time, Van Gogh became influenced by Japanese art and studied Eastern philosophy to enhance his art and life. He wanted to travel to Japan, but Toulouse-Lautrec told him that the light in the village of Arles was similar to that of Japan. So in February 1888, van Gogh traveled by train to the south of France and moved into a house that is now known as the famous “yellow house.” There he spent his money on paint rather than food.

Arles an Asylums

From his arrival in Arles to his suicide two years later, this period is considered his most troubled time. He had frequent bouts of illness/madness in this period, yet it was his most productive period. In that period, he painted many brilliant Van Gogh pictures, mainly landscapes, until Paul Gauguin came to live with him. Their quarrels took him “off the rails” to such an extent that he had to be hospitalized.

During his stay in the hospital, he was confined to a lunatic asylum. For 18 months, he was in and out of asylums – sometimes with crippling mania that prevented him from painting and frantically productive. Nevertheless, he completed 75 paintings in the last 70 days of his life.

Van Gogh painted his famous “The Starry Night” in the asylum in 1889. The painting combines imagination, memory, emotion, and observation. This oil painting on canvas depicts a swirling night sky and a sleeping village with a sizeable flame-like cypress. Art critics think it represents the bridge between life and death.

He also began painting irises after entering the asylum in Saint-Rémy. He worked from the plants and flowers he found in the asylum’s garden. Van Gogh also painted two series of sunflowers in this period.

He created a whopping 75 paintings in the last 70 days of his life. They were a statement by Van Gogh that although he was sick, he could still create excellent artworks. It is not sure which painting was the last, but art critics are confident that “Wheatfield with Crows” or “Tree Roots” was his previous work.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh


The Bottom Line

Although Vincent van Gogh only spent ten years of his life creating paintings and other artworks, he was an influential post-Impressionist painter whose work highly influenced 20th-century art. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any recognition during his life. It is believed that only sold one piece.

Nowadays, several Van Gogh paintings rank among the most expensive globally; “Irises” sold for $53.9 million, and his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” for $82.5 million.

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