Exploring the components of van Gogh’s life


INTRODUCTION had a hard struggle with myself….”

Vincent van Gogh (Van Goh’s Letters, 2009)

The Painter

The Painter” sold only one of his paintings, now worth millions of dollars, during his lifetime. “The Painter,” Vincent van Gogh, frequently depicted people in hard times, Linda Yoffe (1995) notes in “Vincent, Theo, painting and self-esteem.” Today, considered one of the greatest Dutch painters and draftsmen after Rembrandt, van Gogh’s art significantly influenced Expressionism in modern art. Van Gogh, born in 1853, began painting seriously in 1880, Arthur Max (2004), an Associated Press writer, reports in “Van Gogh letter refers to family tragedy.” Theo, van Gogh’s younger brother, supported “The Painter” for much of his life.

Study Design and Significance

As this descriptive qualitative study reveals the “hard struggle” van Gogh experienced during his life, which culminated in his suicide, it also enhances the reader’s perception of complex color compositions he purposefully painted. Consequently, this study, which examines the art and life of van Gogh, the researcher asserts proves significant as it proffers a glimpse of history continuing to live today.

The researcher chose to study van Gogh, due to the fact he was artist frequently misunderstood by his peers and his family, yet became one of the he most influential artists in history. Van Gogh’s paintings reflected what was happening to him at the specific time he painted the. Sharing glimpses of life, relevant then and now, though the art and life of van Gogh reflects the primary reason the researcher chose to focus this study on van Gogh.

Chapters following this introduction include:




During CHAPTER I, the researcher introduces numerous paintings of by Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Signac, Paul Cezanne, Georges Seurat, and Claude Monet. A number of comparisons, differences, and influences are noted in this chapter.

This chapter also introduces van Gogh’s paintings, and relates how his reality went against the academy. CHAPTER II, the POWER of COLORS, notes how van Gogh became obsessed with colors, as well as, how colors reflect one’s feelings for the painting’s history. Letters to Theo are also referenced during this chapter.

CHAPTER III, Self-PORTRAIT, considers van Gogh’s self-portrait; noting that the self-portrait he created evolved from the various different places he visited.

Van Gogh, the researcher notes, incorporated different colors corresponding to the location, depending on his current, surrounding circumstances.


The methodology utilizes a descriptive research design to explore characteristics/components of van Gogh’s life, with particular focus on his paintings; the power of colors; his self-portrait. Along with retrieving information from the literature, the researcher amasses numerous paintings and additional data from numerous, credible Web sites, dedicating to haring van Gogh’s legacy. This study proves unique in that it qualitatively examined the aforementioned study components: Van Gogh’s paintings; the power of colors; self-portrait. Insight from this study my enhance the understanding of an often misunderstood artistic genius and consequently increase the understanding and appreciation of art, as well as, the artist.

Life Synopsis

Along with being exceptional as an artist, Van Gogh experienced bouts with mental illness.

In 1869, Van Gogh began working for his uncle, a partner in the international firm of picture dealers Goupil and Co., in the company’s branch office at the Hague (Yoffe, 1995).

During 1873, Goupil and Co transferred van Gogh to the London branch. Here, he fell in love with the daughter of his landlady, his first of several reported disastrous endeavors to find happiness with a woman. This first experience in love, which was not returned, so adversely affected van Gogh that Goupil and Co dismissed him from the company. When van Gogh returned to England during 1876, albeit, working as a volunteer at a school, his experience of urban squalor birthed a religious zeal, which in turn stimulated his desire to serve his fellow men.

For a while, van Gogh trained for the ministry, reportedly planning to follow the path of his father, a Protestant pastor. In 1878, however, he abandoned his studies and worked as a lay preacher among the impoverished miners of the grim Borinage district in Belgium. During this time, van Gogh “gave away his own worldly goods to the poor and was dismissed for his literal interpretation of Christ’s teachings (Yoffe, 1995, ¶ 7). While he remained in the Borinage, van Gogh became extremely poor, and until 1880 struggled spiritually. Here, van Gogh discovered art was his vocation, and the venue for him to minister to and console humanity. After this time, van Gogh “worked at his new ‘mission’ with single-minded frenzy, and although he often suffered from poverty and undernourishment, his output in the 10 remaining years of his life was prodigious” (Ibid). He completed approximately 800 paintings, along with a like number of drawings. Van Gogh lived in the Netherlands from 1881 to 1885. During this time, Theo, van Gogh’s younger brother supported him, regularly sending van Gogh money, despite the fact he only earned a small salary. Theo, as letters from van Gogh indicate, struggled with health issues.

Van Gogh kept with his humanitarian outlook; painting peasants and workers. The Potato Eaters depicts his most famous picture from this period (Yoffe, 1995).

The Potato Eaters, April, 1885 (Van Gogh Gallery, 2009).

Family Members of van Gogh

Theodorus (Theo) van Gogh (1857-1891), van Gogh’s younger brother, also his closest friend, worked as an art dealer. Van Gogh wrote more than three fourths of the 800 plus letters he wrote during his life. He addressed his first and last letters to Theo Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Johanna Gesina van Gogh (Bonger), Theo’s wife, first published the letters van Gogh wrote to Theo (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Anna Cornelia van Gogh (Carbentus) (1819-1907): van Gogh’s Mother Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Theodorus van Gogh – (1822-1885): Vincent’s Father (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

The Methmorphosis

While van Gogh lived Antwerp in 1885, he studied at the Academy there. He moved to Paris during February 1886, he moved to Paris. In Paris, van Gogh’s painting “underwent a violent metamorphosis under the combined influence of Impressionism and Japanese woodcuts, losing its moralistic flavour of social realism” (Yoffe, 1995, ¶ 10). As Van Gogh became obsessed by the expressive and symbolic values of colors, he started to implement them for these purposes, instead of how the Impressionists used them, to reproduce visual appearances, atmosphere and light. The friendship van Gogh’s friendship shared with Paul Gaugin soured in 1888, often erupting in heated argument. In on fit of madness on December 23, 1888, van Gogh cut off the lower portion of his own left ear. During May 1889, van Gogh admitted himself into an asylum, seeking help. While in the institution for a year, van Gogh completed 150 paintings, along with numerous drawings. One of these memorable, popular paintings produced during this time Starry Night (Yoffe, 1995, ¶ 10).

A www.art.com/products/p13920258-sa-i2784742/vincent-van-gogh-starry-night-c1889.htm?sorig=cat&sorigid=0&dimvals=5000084&ui=8571f804d7bb4f34af17d6daa8316076&aff=conf&ctid=876027268&rfid=217983&tkid=15058385″

Starry Night, 1889 (Starry Night, 2009).

Starry Night reflects a small sampling of van Gogh’s artistic genius. He notes about the night which inspired this painting: “I often think the night is more alive and richly colored than the day” (Starry Night, 2009). Van Gogh’s days of painting ended shortly after he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise during May 1890. Here, he displayed another of his tremendous bursts of strenuous activity

During the last 70 days of his life, he painted 70 canvases.” The depression van Gogh struggled with during his life became more severe, however. On July 29, 1890 van Gogh died from a self-inflicted bullet wound (Yoffe, 1995, ¶ 14).



It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to.

The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures”

Van Gogh (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

During this chapter, the researcher presents a number of paintings by Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Signac, Paul Cezanne, Georges Seurat, and Claude Monet; noting some differences and influences between them and van Gogh. This chapter also introduces some of van Gogh’s paintings, portraying how his reality challenged the academy.

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin (Eugene-Henri-), born June 7, 1848, Paris, France, died May 8, 1903 in Atuona, Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, was a leading French painter of the Postimpressionist period. This art form included the development of a conceptual method of representation, a decisive step for 20th-century art. After Gauguin spent time with Vincent van Gogh in Arles (1888), he abandoned imitative art for expressiveness through color more often. “From 1891 he lived and worked in Tahiti and elsewhere in the South Pacific. His masterpieces include the early Vision After the Sermon (1888) and Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-98)” (Gauguin, 2002).

In 1874 [Gauguin] he saw the first Impressionist exhibition, which completely entranced him and confirmed his desire to become a painter. He spent some 17,000 francs on works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir and Guillaumin. Pissarro took a special interest in his attempts at painting, emphasizing that he should ‘look for the nature that suits your temperament’, and in 1876 Gauguin had a landscape in the style of Pissarro accepted at the Salon. In the meantime Pissarro had introduced him to Cezanne, for whose works he conceived a great respect-so much so that the older man began to fear that he would steal his ‘sensations’. All three worked together for some time at Pontoise, where Pissarro and Gauguin drew pencil sketches of each other (Cabinet des Dessins, Louvre).

Gauguin settled for a while in Rouen, painting every day after the bank he worked at closed.

Ultimately, he returned to Paris, painting in Pont-Aven, a well-known resort for artists.

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Le Christ Jaune (the Yellow Christ) (Pioch, 2002) Still Life with Three Puppies 1888 (Pioch, 2002)

In “Sunny side down; Van Gogh and Gauguin,” Martin Gayford (2006) asserts differences between van Gogh and Gauguin:

Two more mismatched housemates than Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin would be hard to find. Van Gogh was unkempt, emotionally unstable and talked incessantly while he worked. Gauguin, a former sailor and businessman, was taciturn, orderly and a loner. Yet from October to December 1888, the two shared a four-roomed yellow house in Arles until, after a quarrel, Van Gogh cut off his ear. Gauguin fled for Paris and the two never saw each other again.

Gauguin believed in painting “from the head”: from the imagination and from memory, slowly bringing together elements on canvas in a symbolic and cerebral way. Van Gogh, on the other hand, wanted to paint directly from nature. Not only did he find it exhilarating to respond spontaneously to the colour all around him, he also found it consoling; it helped release the flood of ideas exploding in his head. Van Gogh, Mr. Gayford says, suffered from bi-polar disorder, a severe form of manic depression which can now be treated with lithium but which then was undiagnosed. Ruminating on art, as Gauguin advised, was dangerous for Van Gogh, bringing back painful memories that drove him mad. (Gayford, 2006, ¶ 1 & 5)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

In his art, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec captured the Parisian nightlife of the period. Toulouse-Lautrec, (1864-1901). Born on Nov. 24, 1864, in Albi, France, Toulouse-Lautrec, aristocrat, the son and heir of Comte Alphonse-Charles de Toulouse and last in line of a family dating back a thousand years, begun to draw and paint by the time he was 10 years old.

Toulouse-Lautrec, a weak and frequently sick only child, broke his left leg when 12 years old; at 14, he broke his right leg. At this time, his bones failed to properly heal and stopped growing. His body trunk grew to of normal size; however he had abnormally short legs and was only 1.5 meters tall. Toulouse-Lautrec focused his life on his art; living in the Montmartre section of Paris, where he painted scenes from this center of the cabaret entertainment and bohemian life. His subjects included circuses, dance halls and nightclubs, racetracks recorded canvas or made into lithographs. Toulouse-Lautrec actively participated in the colorful activity he captured on canvas. While he sat at a crowded nightclub table, laughing and drinking, he would swiftly sketch scenes. In his studio, the next day, he transformed the sketches into bright-colored paintings. To blend into the Montmartre life, and protect himself from ridicule of his appearance, Toulouse-Lautrec started to drink heavily. “In the 1890s the drinking started to affect his health. He was confined to a sanatorium and to his mother’s care at home, but he could not stay away from alcohol” (Toulouse-Lautrec, 2002). After Toulouse-Lautrec died on Sept. 9, 1901, his paintings and posters, particularly the Moulin Rouge group command high prices.

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At the Moulin Rouge (Toulouse-Lautrec, 2002).

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Alone (Toulouse-Lautrec, 2002).

Paul Signac

Paul Signac’s encounter with Impressionism, particularly Monet’s work, influenced Signac to leave his architecture studies, and begin to paint. Charles Henry, one of Signac’s mentors, also a scientist, underpinned Signac’s theory of color with scientific fact.

When Signac painted his favorite motifs, Mediterranean landscapes, he generally usually included the sea and boats he loved. Signac was significant as a leading and eloquent exponent of Neo-Impressionism in theory and practice, while he also influenced succeeding generations of artists and promoted Henri Matisse and Andre Derain, Signac also smoothed the way to Fauvism. “His formally abstract Pointillist technique also formed the basis for 20th-century tendencies to dissolve both object and space, specifically Cubism” (Seurat, 2002). Prior to his death in Paris on 15 August 1935, Signac rigorously observed the rules of Pointillist colou theory as he created a great many watercolors, which consequently allowed him more freedom of expression.

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LA SALUTE, 1908 (Signac, N.d.).

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Venise-le nuage rose, 1909 (Signac, N.d.).

Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne, whom some considered a genius in the art world, was born January 19, 1839 in Aix-en-Provence, France. He died. October 22, 1906 in Aix-en-Provence. This French painter became one of the greatest of the Postimpressionists, with works and ideas influencing the aesthetic development of many 20th-century artists and art movements, particularly Cubism. The public often misunderstood and discredited Cezanne’s art during most of his life. Through its insistence on personal expression, along with the integrity of the painting itself, Cezanne’s style evolved from Impressionism; eventually challenging the conventional values of painting in the 19th century. Cezanne, some contend, was the father of modern painting.

Abduction, rape, and murder: these are themes that tormented Cezanne. Abduction (c. 1867, 90 x 117 cm (35 x 46 in)), an early work full of dark miseries, is impressive largely for its turgid force, held barely under his control. These figure paintings are the most difficult to enter into: they are sinister, with passion in turmoil just beneath the surface.

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The Abduction 1867

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Modern Olympia c. 1873-74

Georges Seurat

Born December 2, 1959 in Parix, Georges-Pierre Seurat studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1878 and 1879. Rembrandt and Francisco de Goya strongly influenced Seurat, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres influenced the man who instructed Seurat in his artwork. Seurat served in the military for a year; stationed at Brest, where he exhibited his drawing Aman-Jean at the official Salon in 1883. The Salon, albeit refused panels from Seurat’s painting Bathing at Asnieres. By 1884, so Seurat and numerous other artists founded the Societe des Artistes Independants. In 1886, Seurat’s famous canvas Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte reigned as the centerpiece of an exhibition. By this time, Seura stayed in Paris during the winters where he drew and produced one large painting each year,. During the summers, he lived on France’s northern coast. During the 34 years Seurat lived, he produced seven monumental paintings, 60 smaller ones, drawings, and sketchbooks. As Seurat kept his personal life private, his friends did not know of his mistress, Madeline Knoblock, the model for his painting Young Woman Holding a Powder Puff until after his sudden death in Paris on March 29, 1891 (Seurat, 2002).

X…for pic www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/seurat/powdering/”Young Woman Holding a Powder Puff

Vase of Flowers

Claude Monet in “Claude Monet: Impressionism’s leading light,” Charles F. Stuckey (1995), who worked with Frances the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, notes Charles Monet to be a primary figure of Impressionism, one of the primary revolutions in the history of art.

Along with Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley, Monet forced art to address the frequently unacknowledged, yet commonplace, type of visual experience, the glance. The term “impression” as it defines thes primary goals the artists pursued, denotes “the sensory information registered on the retina prior to thought of any sort” (Stuckey, ¶ 2). Before the eye recognizes faraway pedestrians, Stuckey explains, it sees them as tiny black spots. In his “Water Lilies” paintings, Monet accents the flowing planes, the seemingly uniformly shaped water lily blossoms, to introduce an irregular grid structure. Monet ” reduced conventional pictorial composition to modulate fields of one or two tones each, creating all-green, all-blue, interlocking blue and green, and green and orange planes some 50 years before other painters equaled such daring” (Stuckey, ¶ 3).

The planar fields and the modularly arranged water lilies proffered beginning artists two new and seemingly inexhaustible pictorial modes; taken separately or in tandem. Monet encouraged younger artists that when they went out to paint, they needed to try to forget what particular objects loomed before them, whether it were a house, a tree, a field or whatever. “Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own naive impression of the scene before you” (Stuckey, ¶ 3) Monet stressed. He reportedly wanted to share what a blind person might experience if he/she were suddenly given the power of sight. At the time Monet admired Van Gogh’s artistic works, a financial gap existed between the two artists, according to Miranda Seymour (2007), in “My walk on the wild side with Van Gogh; Portent of tragedy: The foreboding picture van Gogh painted in Auvers shortly before shooting himself in a wheat field on the edge of the town.” Monet was rich and established, while van Gogh was penniless. Figures 1, 2, and 3, depict Water Lilies Monet painted. X…for pic

Figure 1: Water Lilies (…Clouds), 1903 (Monet, 2002).

Figure 2: Water Lilies, 1906 (Ibid.).

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Waterlilies, Green Reflection, Left Part, 1916-1923 (Ibid.).

During 1874, within a decade of the historic first group exhibition of the Impressionists, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and a number of other artists, including Vincent van Gogh, determined to break away from seemingly, thoughtlessly virtuoso “retinal painting.” At this time, art prove descriptive of external facts, yet disregarded fundamental invisible realms of feelings and intuitions the artists perceived (Stuckey, ¶ 6).


THE POWER of COLOR spent three months on the moors, you know that beautiful region where the soul retires within itself and enjoys a delicious rest, where everything breathes calm and peace;

where the soul in presence of God’s immaculate creation throws off the yoke of conventions, forgets society, and loosens its bonds, with the strength of renewed youth; where each thought takes the form of prayer, where everything that is not in harmony with fresh and free nature…” www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/076.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (October 1876)

During this chapter, the researcher relates considerations relating to van Gogh’s obsession with colors, as well as, how colors reflect one’s feelings for the painting’s history. Letters to Theo are also referenced during this chapter.

Van Gogh’s Obsession with Colors

Monet proclaimed that he had discovered the true color of Earth’s atmosphere. “It’s violet. Fresh air is violet. Three years from now everyone will work in violet,” Philip Ball (2003, p. 184) reports in Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color. Van Gogh, Gauguin, and other Impressionists utilized color in a way, unlike Monet, that reportedly shocked audiences. As these artists deviated from “naturalistic” coloration, using colors never previously portrayed on canvas: “glowing oranges, velvety purples, vibrant new greens” (p. 4). Theo, van Gogh’s brother, purchased some of the bright, striking new pigments just becoming available during van Gogh’s time.

In a letter to Theo during 1882, van Gogh wrote:

As to the lithography, I hope to get a proof tomorrow of a little old man. I hope it will turn out well. I made it with a kind of chalk especially patterned for this process, but I am afraid that after all the common lithographic crayon will prove to be the best, and that I shall be sorry I did not use it

With the new pigments, Van Gogh painted disturbing compositions with strident tones that some considered almost painful to view. Some who viewed these new visual languages were often shocked and/or outraged by van Gogh’s use of color. Jean-Gorges Vibert chided van Gogh and other Impressionist for their practices of using only intense colors to paint. In regard to color, van Gogh concurred with Renior that: “Nature knows only colors…White and black are not colors (Renior, as cited in Ball, p. 183). Absolute black, according to van Gogh did not actually exist.

While van Gogh lived Antwerp in 1885, he studied at the Academy there. He moved to Paris during February 1886, he moved to Paris. In Paris, van Gogh’s painting “underwent a violent metamorphosis under the combined influence of Impressionism and Japanese woodcuts, losing its moralistic flavour of social realism (Yoffe, 1995, ¶ 10). Van Gogh became obsessed by the symbolic and expressive values of colours and began to use them for this purpose rather than, as did the Impressionists, for the reproduction of visual appearances, atmosphere and light. ¶ 11 as one of the iconoclasts emerging from the Impressionist movement, Van Gogh paved the way to a new kind of painting along with the approach of the fin de sicle. During 1886, van Gogh went to live with Theo, who introduced van Gogh to the new style. In turn, as van Gogh studied Eugene Delacroix’s works, he developed an interest in effects of simultaneous contrast and of complementaries (Ball, 2003).

Initially, the palette van Gogh used was particularly subdued. As he studied the bold, raw colors the Impressionists employed, however, van Gogh’s art changed. Later, van Gogh claimed that the ideas of Delacroix fertilized his work, not the Impressionists. In art, van Gogh made extremely free, associative use of color in his paintings. Rather than attempting to replicate what he saw, van Gogh said, he utilized color more arbitrarily to forcibly express himself (Ball, 2003) the following example of van Gogh’s forcible expression, presented in the painting the Night Cafe (1888) (Plate 4I), reflects the most color in all of Western art. Ball describes it to be “like a pure nightmare of red and green complementarics bathed in an acidic yellow light” (Ball, 2003, p. 194). Van Gogh depicted color to be terror and despair. The Scream (1893) reportedly reflects the clouds like real blood.

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The Scream, 1893, (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

The Night Cafe reportedly depicted “a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.” This painting, crafted from thickly piled on paint, cast as the product of van Gogh’s frantic, wild unfettered brush strokes and palette knife. Van Gogh, however, related a different motivation regarding the Night Cafe in a letter to Theo. “All the colors that the Impressionists have brought into fashion are unstable, so there is all the more reason not to be afraid to lay them on too crudely – time will tone them down only too much” (Ball, 2003, pp. 194-195), he wrote. All sorts of colors struck van Gogh with unusual intensity, Ball explains. As Van Gogh strived to ensure the colors he used in his paintings were just right, he insisted that color reveals something of itself.

Ball (2003) recounts that some questioned if van Gogh’s principle concern was to get the garish visions he painted out his head. A sickly yellow appeared to be burning inside van Gogh’s head when he painted the “citron yellow’ of his cafe’s lamps, the sulfur yellow he perceived in Arles.

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Scene in Arles (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.) (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

In the Sower (1888), it is the yellow of the sun, the baleful glow of an orb that offers no warmth or comfort but looms like a sickly, incandescent moon” (Ball, p. 195). Not only yellow, albeit, but all hues of colors impressed van Gogh with unique intensity. Every vision van Gogh painted reflected the colors’ pure hues.

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Sower with Setting Sun, 1888 (Sower with Setting Sun, 2008) X…for pic

Sower with Setting Sun (After Millet). November 1888 (Vincent van Gogh, 2008) (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

Photos Compared With Paintings

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The Alyscamps (left) next to van Gogh’s painting (right) (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

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L’Espace, the hospital in Arles (left) next to van Gogh’s painting (right) (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

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Saint-Paul de Mausole, the asylum of Saint-Remy (left) next to van Gogh’s painting (right).

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Magnificent Trees of Provence Remy (left) next to van Gogh’s painting (right) (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

Intense Yellows, Greens, and Blues.

During the period van Gogh lived at Arles, he started using the swirling brush strokes to paint intense yellows, greens, and blues. The colors relate to works van Gogh painted such as Bedroom at Arles (1888, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh), and Starry Night (1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). All visible phenomena, according to van Gogh, no matter if he painted or drew them, appeared to possess an inherent physical and spiritual vitality (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

Van Gogh noted:

The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a blue deeper than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way…The sea was very deep ultramarine – the shore a sort of violet and faint russet as I saw it, and on the dunes… some bushes of Prussian blue.” (Ball, 2003, p. 195).

Contrary to concepts some proffer, van Gogh did not work from instinct alone. Van Gogh methodically treated color thoughtfully; despite the apparent pathology he portrays. Van Gogh’s letters to Theo, along with the instructions they relate regarding purchasing paints, reveal van Gogh invested effort to ensure the color combinations were right. Along with possessing a strong interest in color theory, van Gogh knew about Chevreul’s laws of simultaneous contrast (Ball, 2003).

To van Gogh, black and white were actual colors, and complementary; like red and green or blue and orange.

During the 1870s, Ewald Hering, a psychologist, promoted this idea.

The new materials/ideas van Gogh utilized enabled him to transfer the inspirations inside his head onto canvas. Van Gogh also stated in a letter to Theo, ” I have got new ideas and I have new means of expressing what I scant, because better brushes will help me, and I am crazy about those two colours, carmine! And cobalt. Cobalt is a divine colour, and there is nothing so beautiful for putting at…” (Ball, 2003, p. 195).

Van Gogh said of the Night Cafe (1888), “The picture is one of the ugliest I have done. But intentionally so, for “I tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green” (Ball, 2003, p. 88).

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The Night Cafe, 1888 (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Letters van Gogh wrote to Theo (published 1911; translated 1958) reveal a unique enlightening record of van Gogh’s life as an artist. They also meticulously document his extraordinary, prolific output of approximately750 paintings and 1600 drawings. Van Gogh particularly influenced Cha m Soutine, the French painter, as well as Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Emil Nolde, the German painters. In 1973, the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, which contains more than1000 paintings, sketches, and letters van Gogh created, opened in Amsterdam (Van Gogh in Arles, N.d.).

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Vincent Van Gogh Almond Branches in Bloom, San Remy, c.1890 (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Van Gogh painted “Almond Blossom,” for his newborn nephew as a symbol of budding life. This painting encompassed one of van Gogh’s favorite subjects, flowering branches against a blue sky. Painting outdoors Epitomizing uplifted van Gogh’s fragile psyche. Effects from painting outdoors proffered some healing effects (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Skulls and Skeletons

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Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, 1886 (Van Gogh Museum, 2009).

No definite date can be attributed to the following somewhat painting, however it is thought to have been painted during the winter of 1885-86 while Van Gogh’s lived in Antwerp. Van Gogh traveled from Nuenen to Antwerp in November 1885, and again in January 1886. To draw and paint the live model, van Gogh enrolled at the art academy. At Antwerp’s traditional academy, students copied prints and studied plaster casts to learn. “After they had progressed sufficiently, they were permitted to study the live model” (Ibid.). Students frequently painted and/or drew skeletons to help them better understand human anatomy.

This skull with a cigarette was likely meant as a kind of joke, and probably also as a comment on conservative academic practice. The strict and rather abstruse methods of the academy had little in common with Van Gogh’s own ideas. His teachers found his draftsmanship too crude, and he in turn referred to the fruits of his academic training as “damned boring.” He soon came into serious conflict with his teachers and, after only a few weeks, stopped attending classes altogether.

There are two other examples of this kind of “studio humor” in Van Gogh’s oeuvre: a hanging skeleton with a cat on a windowsill, also from Antwerp; and a plaster cast disappearing under an enormous top hat from his Paris period.

During the winter of 1887-88, Van Gogh painted two additional skull pictures, the following depicts one skull floating against a yellow background. Here, van Gogh interprets this traditional reminder/reflection of human mortality.

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Skull Floating Against a Yellow Background (Van Gogh Museum, 2009).

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Sunflowers, c.1888 (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

Sunflowers,” now synonymous with Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), is one of a signature series representing life’s stages in the sunflowers’ various phases of bloom. Declaring that “the sunflower is mine, in a way,” Van Gogh used an innovative yellow spectrum made possible by newly invented pigments. Although Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings share similarities, each is a unique and innovative work of art. Remarkably, Van Gogh was able to produce paintings that celebrated the beauty of nature and life, despite battling severe depression.

Painting as it is now promises to become more subtle- more like music and less like sculpture- and above all it promises color. If only it keeps that promise.”

Vincent van Gogh

X…for pic (Van Gogh Gallery, 2008).

X…for pic www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/3/047.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (December 1875)

Dear Theo, This morning I heard from home what had happened to you, 1 and I wanted to write you at once. I wish I could do something for you; one of these days a box will be sent to the Hague, I will put some chocolate in it for you. Gladwell calls that “consolation.” I will also send you the book by Jules Breton – at least, if I can get it back, as I lent it to somebody. I am anxious to know how you are; write soon and please give me some details about how you spend your days. How I should like to be with you, Theo, but what can we do? It cannot be helped, boy. In a fortnight I shall go home and then we will certainly see each other, and our meeting again will not be the less delightful for the accident that has befallen you. If you see Uncle Jan, please remember me to him and thank him for his letter. You must try to become good friends with him. I don’t know him well, but I know he is “pure gold.” It has been very cold. Fortunately, www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/3/048.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (10 December 1875) days you will certainly find agreeable. But write me how you are feeling soon, and tell me when the doctor says you will be well again – that is, if you have not done so already. Two weeks from today I hope to be in Etten. You can imagine how I am looking forward to it. Did I you already tell that I have taken up smoking a pipe again? I have found in it an old faithful friend, I believe that we never more will separate. Uncle Vincent told me that you smoke too. Give me very best love to the Roos family. Both of us have enjoyed many good things in their house, and they have proved faithful friends. At the moment we have here emile Breton’s picture, “Sunday Morning.” You know it, don’t you? It is a village street of cottages and barns, and at the end is the church, surrounded by poplars. Everything is covered with snow, and little black figures are going to church. It tells us that winter is cold but that human hearts are warm. Best wishes, boy, van Gogh to Theo.

19 October 1876

Let us be grateful that so far you are getting somewhat better and let us thank God who has spared your life.

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/075.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (October 1876)

Dear Theo, Our parents have written to me that you are ill. My boy, I wish I could be with you. Last night, I went on foot to Richmond; I thought of you all the time, it was a beautiful grey evening. You know that every Monday I go to the Methodist church at Richmond; yesterday I spoke a few words on the subject ” Nothing pleases me except Jesus, and everything pleases me in God.” I would like to be closer to you. Oh! Why are we always at odds with each other? Why? I am enclosing a letter from the aunts at Zundert – you know that Aunt Bet had an accident. I wrote to them that you and I would walk over to Zundert at Christmas if possible. I have copied a few of the psalms for you; perhaps you would like to read them one of these days. 1 Drop me a line as soon as you can. A week from last Sunday, I made a long trip to London, and there I heard about a kind of job which perhaps might do for me sometime. In seaport www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/076.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (October 1876) should like to be with you both, my boy. And thank God there is some improvement, though you are still weak. And you will be longing to see Mother, and now that I hear that you are going home with her, I think of the words of Conscience: “I have been ill, my mind was tired, my soul disillusioned and my body suffering. I whom God has endowed at least with moral energy and a strong instinct of affection, I fell in the abyss of the most bitter discouragement and I felt with horror how a deadly poison penetrated my stifled heart. I spent three months on the moors, you know that beautiful region where the soul retires within itself and enjoys a delicious rest, where everything breathes calm and peace; where the soul in presence of God’s immaculate creation throws off the yoke of conventions, forgets society, and loosens its bonds, with the strength of renewed youth; where each thought takes the form of prayer, where everything that is not in harmony with fresh and free nature van Gogh to Theo. (19 October 1876)

Let us be grateful that so far you are getting somewhat better and let us thank God who has spared your life.

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/075.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (October 1876)

Dear Theo, Our parents have written to me that you are ill. My boy, I wish I could be with you. Last night, I went on foot to Richmond; I thought of you all the time, it was a beautiful grey evening. You know that every Monday I go to the Methodist church at Richmond; yesterday I spoke a few words on the subject ” Nothing pleases me except Jesus, and everything pleases me in God.” I would like to be closer to you. Oh! Why are we always at odds with each other? Why? I am enclosing a letter from the aunts at Zundert – you know that Aunt Bet had an accident. I wrote to them that you and I would walk over to Zundert at Christmas if possible. I have copied a few of the psalms for you; perhaps you would like to read them one of these days. 1 Drop me a line as soon as you can. A week from last Sunday, I made a long trip to London, and there I heard about a kind of job which perhaps might do for me sometime. In seaport www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/076.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (October 1876) should like to be with you both, my boy. And thank God there is some improvement, though you are still weak. And you will be longing to see Mother, and now that I hear that you are going home with her, I think of the words of Conscience: “I have been ill, my mind was tired, my soul disillusioned and my body suffering. I whom God has endowed at least with moral energy and a strong instinct of affection, I fell in the abyss of the most bitter discouragement and I felt with horror how a deadly poison penetrated my stifled heart. I spent three months on the moors, you know that beautiful region where the soul retires within itself and enjoys a delicious rest, where everything breathes calm and peace; where the soul in presence of God’s immaculate creation throws off the yoke of conventions, forgets society, and loosens its bonds, with the strength of renewed youth; where each thought takes the form of prayer, where everything that is not in harmony with fresh and free nature www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/077.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (13 October 1876) if Anna can go too, we might come together. And now winter is slowly approaching again – try to be your old self by that time. How welcome is that Christmastime in winter. Oh! my boy, I look forward so much to the time when it will be cold here and I shall have to make my rounds at Turnham Green. When I think of you as one “who comforts his mother, and who is worthy to be comforted by his mother,” I almost envy you. But try to get better soon. Yesterday, I asked Mr. Jones to let me go to Holland, but he would not allow it, and at last he said, “Write to your mother; if she approves, I will too.” What beautiful poems are De Genestet’s 1 “On the Mountains of Sorrow” and “When I was a Boy.” A handshake for both of you and for the Roos family, and for Willem and any others you see whom I know. And let me hear soon from you again and believe me, Your loving brother, Vincent a popular Dutch preacher-poet.

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/079.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (31 October 1876)

Dear Theo, it is more than time for you to hear from me again. Thank God you are recovering. I am longing so much for Christmas – that time will be here perhaps before we know it, though it seems long now. Theo, your brother has preached for the first time, last Sunday, in God’s dwelling, of which is written, “In this place, I will give peace.” Enclosed a copy of what I said. May it be the first of many. It was a clear autumn day and a beautiful walk from here to Richmond along the Thames, in which the great chestnut trees with their load of yellow leaves and the clear blue sky were mirrored. Through the tops of the trees one could see that part of Richmond which lies on the hill: the houses with their red roofs, uncurtained windows and green gardens; and the gray spire high above them; and below, the long grey bridge with the tall poplars on either side, over which the people passed like little black figures. www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/4/081.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to His Parents (17-18 November 1876)

Dear Father and Mother, Thank God that Theo has almost recovered, and bravo that he has already walked with Father in the snow to the Heike [a hamlet near Etten]; how I wish I could have been together with you both. It is already late, and early tomorrow morning I must go to London and Lewisham, for Mr. Jones. I hope to visit the Gladwells, and it will be late in the evening when I come back. Where do Mr. Jones and others get their incomes? Yes, I have often thought about it myself. A saying here is: God takes care of those who work for Him. I am longing to speak and consult with you about this question. And then you asked me if I still teach the boys; generally I do so until one o’clock in the afternoon, and then after one o’clock I go out for Mr. Jones, or sometimes give lessons to Mr. Jones’s children or to a few boys in town. And then in the evening and between times I write in my sermon book. Last Sunday I was at Turnham Green early to teach at Sunday school www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/6/104.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (August 1877) me a very cheerful letter from Helvoirt. I also heard from home that you had a 40-guilder bill from Dr. Coster; that is a big sum, and paying it will remind you of the feeling of having a tooth pulled. If only I could help you a little, but you know that I possess neither gold nor silver. I often have to resort to all kinds of devices to get money for the collections in church – by changing stamps for pennies in a tobacco shop, for instance. but, my boy, by struggling we can keep on, and you know that it is written that the poor will be blessed in the Kingdom of God. Whenever I see Uncle Vincent, I am struck anew by something indescribably charming and, I should say, something good and spiritual in him; I do not know what to call it. Father has it even more; Uncle Jan, in another way; and it is also in Uncle Cor. Even in a hundred people you would not always find one like them, so let us carefully treasure their memory and their image. Can it be what Fenelon described in Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (26 January 1882) of its coming back soon if I am careful. I am very sorry to hear that you don’t feel well either. When I was in Brussels last winter, I also took a bath at the bathing establishment as often as I could, two or three times a week; and as it did me a lot of good, I will do it here too. No doubt if you keep it up for some time, it will help you a great deal, because it keeps the blood circulating well and the pores of the skin open; that way the skin can fulfill its function – otherwise it would shrivel up, especially in winter. And I tell you frankly that in my opinion one must not hesitate to go to a prostitute occasionally if there is one you can trust and feel something for, as there really are many. For one who has a strenuous life it is necessary, absolutely necessary, in order to keep sane and well. One must not exaggerate such things and fall into excesses, but nature has fixed laws which it is fatal to struggle against. Well, you yourself know all you have to know on that Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (18 February 1882) have not heard anything from you this month. I thought you might perhaps be ill, because in your last letter you mentioned not feeling well. But Mr. Tersteeg told me that you were better, at least he was not aware of your being ill. As you can imagine, I am very hard pressed for money. Mr. Tersteeg bought a small drawing from me for 10 guilders, with which I managed this week. But he wants them small and only in watercolour, and I do not always succeed in that. But at least the first sheep has crossed the bridge. I work as much as I can, but don’t forget that I shall break down if I have too many cares and anxieties. So write by return mail, send me some money if you can, and believe me, with a handshake, Yours sincerely, Vincent This week I made three other studies beside the one Mr. Tersteeg bought; the technique is not perfect yet, but, thank God, the drawing is better. I am very glad that I feel my drawing is improving, www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/13/333.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (13 October 1883) your nerves do not play a dirty trick on you. You have gone through a period of terrible mental strain: in fact, you are right in the midst of it. You are not the man to break down – if such were the case, there would be no danger. If you should have to go through the shock of leaving Goupil & co., then calm down before you attempt anything new, boy, for if you don’t, you will probably live to spoil your own constitution and energy, and your affairs too. For a month now I have been breathing the air of the heath; I needed it absolutely – I have sat down by a peasant’s fire with a cradle beside it. Now I speak calmly – I think calmly – it is excellent that you have written about it to me – go on confiding in me – go on trusting me a little bit more, or rather not me, but put your trust in the same thing I put my trust in, namely that one ought to risk leaving the world in order to look for “It” in a more quiet life with a handicraft. You should do this, not because Letters from Theo van Gogh to his Family (1885-1887) into details it is all other people’s fault. No, the main reason was that I was ill, especially mentally, and that I had a hard struggle with myself. Theo to Wil 26 April 1887 a lot has changed since I last wrote you. We have made peace, for it did not do anybody any good to continue in that way, I hope it will last. So there will be no change and I am glad. It would have been strange for me to live alone again and he would not have gained anything either. I asked him to stay. That will seem strange after all I wrote you recently, but it is no weakness on my side and as I feel much stronger than this winter, I am confident that I will be able to create an improvement in our relationship. We have drifted apart enough than that it would not serve any purpose to make the rift any larger. Theo to Lies 15 May 1887 Vincent is working hard as always and keeps progressing. His paintings are becoming lighter and he is trying very hard to put more sunlight www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/489.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (c. 20 May 1888)

My dear Theo, What you write about your visits to Gruby has distressed me, but all the same I am relieved that you went. Has it occurred to you that the dazedness – the feeling of extreme lassitude – may have been caused by this weakness of the heart, and in this case the iodide of potassium would have nothing to do with the feeling of collapse? Remember how last winter I was stupefied to the point of being absolutely incapable of doing anything at all, except a little painting, although I was not taking any iodide of potassium. So if I were you, I should have it out with Rivet if Gruby tells you not to take any. I am sure that in any case you mean to keep on being friends with both. I often think of Gruby here and now, and I am completely well, but it is having pure air and warmth that makes it possible. In all that racket and bad air of Paris, Rivet takes things as they are, without trying to create a paradise, and without Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (26 May 1888) will not be as easy to get hold of. How are you? Have you seen old Gruby again? I rather think that he exaggerates the heart trouble, a little to the detriment of the drastic treatment that you need for your nerves. But in the end he will come to see it in proportion as you follow his treatment; with Gruby you will survive, but unfortunately for us, it is more than the old boy will do himself, for he is aging, and when the time comes when we shall need him most, he won’t be there. I feel more and more that we must not judge of God from this world, it’s just a study that didn’t come off. What can you do with a study that has gone wrong? – if you are fond of the artist, you do not find much to criticize – you hold your tongue. But you have the right to ask for something better. We should have to see other works by the same hand though; this world was evidently slapped together in a hurry on one of his bad days, when the artist didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t have www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/492.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (28 May 1888) too – with my continual need of money. It seems to me that what these people ask of you would be reasonable enough if they first agreed to give you a year’s leave (on full pay) to regain your health. You would devote that year to going around and revisiting all the impressionists and the impressionist collectors. That would still be working in the interests of Boussod & Co. And after that you’d set off with a steadier health and nerves, and be able to start fresh business there. But taking the chestnuts out of the fire for these people in your present condition means utterly exhausting yourself within a year. And that’s no good to anyone. My dear fellow, the Moslem idea that death comes only when it must – but that is a question – for my part I think that we have no proof of any direct management from above in this matter. On the contrary, I think there is proof that good hygiene not only prolongs life, but above all can make it more www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/514.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (c. 25 July 1888) two portraits now, the Zouave and her. Take care of your health, above all take baths if Gruby recommends it, for in the four years by which I am older than you, you will see how necessary comparatively good health is for being able to work. Now for us who work with our brains, our one and only hope of not breaking down too soon is this artificial eking-out by an up-to-date hygienic regimen rigorously applied, as much as we can stand. Because I for one do not do everything I ought. And a bit of cheerfulness is better than all the other remedies. I have had a letter from Russell. He says that he would have written me before if he hadn’t been busy moving to Belle Ile. He is there now, and says that he would be pleased if sooner or later I would go and spend some time there. He still wants to repaint my portrait. He says too – “I should have gone to Boussod’s to see Gauguin’s ‘Negresses Talking’ if the same thing had not prevented me from that too.” In Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (28 September 1888) and the 50 francs note that it contained. It is not good that the pains in the leg have come back – my god – it would be good it if it was possible if you could live in the Midi too, because I always think that we need each other, and the sun and good weather and the blue air are the strongest remedy. The weather here remains beautiful, and if it is always like this then it would be better than the paradise of those painters who are in Japan itself. I think about you and Gauguin and about Bernard all the time and everywhere. It is so beautiful and I would so like to see everybody here. Included a small sketch of a 30 square canvas – in short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/550.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (10 October 1888) as well, you must not have too many anxieties. How are those sciatica pains, have they stopped? In any case, you will help me more by staying well and living well than by being too straitened on my account, even if the consignment of paints has to suffer. I think the time will come when my work will be in demand, very good, but it still may be far off, and meanwhile do not pinch yourself. Because business, as well as painting, will come of itself and in a dream, as it were, quicker and better if you are taking care of yourself than if you are stinting. And at our age, surely, we ought to have a certain calm, a certain wisdom in managing our affairs. I am afraid now of poverty, bad health and all that, and hope that you share these feelings. So I almost feel remorse at having bought that piece of furniture today, although it is good, because I have had to ask you to send me money sooner than I should have otherwise. Get this quite clear, if you are ill or if you have too www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/554.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (16 October 1888) light, so as to finish my canvas. How are the pains – don’t forget to tell me about them. I know that you will write one of these days. I will make you sketches of the other rooms too someday. With a good handshake. Ever yours, Vincent [Sketch “The Bedroom,” was enclosed with letter.] www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/598.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (July 1889) from their pips. Beyond that I know nothing. I have good news from Theo and Jo; yet I am not surprised that he is coughing, etc. Sometimes I have wished that they lived outside Paris, and not on a fourth or fifth floor, etc., and yet I should not want to take the responsibility of urging him to change, because Theo needs action, business and friends in Paris itself. Let his wife take care that he gets back to his old Dutch food as much as possible, for he has been deprived of this for about ten years, and has been fed with restaurant food without any family life. I have every hope that she will understand this, and perhaps has understood it already. The main thing is perhaps this: do you remember the story in that book De Pruuvers 1, in which there was the tale of someone who was ill, who used to look every morning at the maid who was sweeping the floor and think that she had “something reassuring” about her. This is the main thing to which, in the most different www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/T11.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Johanna van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh (July 1889) but this is something of a selfish pleasure. When I think how neither Theo nor I are in very good health, I am greatly afraid that we are going to have a weak child, and to my way of thinking the greatest treasure that parents can give to their child is a strong constitution. But in this respect the doctor has reassured me a good deal, and then taking good food and taking good care of oneself may do a lot; the baby will have nothing to complain of in this respect. Do you remember the portrait of the Roulin baby you sent to Theo? Everybody admires it greatly and people have already asked me many times, “Why have you put this portrait into such an out-of-the-way corner?” The reason is that from my place at the table I can just see the big blue eyes and the pretty little hands and the round cheeks of the baby, and I like to imagine that ours will be equally strong, and equally healthy, and equally beautiful – and that his uncle will come one day to paint his portrait!

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/599.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (July 1889) it, and with good will. Leave nature alone. As for what you say about Theo’s health, although, my dear sister, I share your anxiety with all my heart, I must comfort you, just because I have realized that his health is, like mine too, more changeable and uneven than feeble. I very much like to think that illness sometimes heals us, that is to say, when the discomfort comes to a crisis, it is necessary for the recovery of the body’s normal condition. No, after he has been married for some time, he will recover his strength, as he still has a reserve of youth and power to restore him. I am very glad that he is not alone, and truly I do not doubt but that after some time he will recover his old temperament. And then above all, when he is a father and the sense of fatherhood has come to him, it will be so much gained. In my life as a painter, and especially when I am in the country, it is less difficult for me to be alone, because in the country you feel more easily www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/603.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (July 1889) absolutely everything we imagine. Thus, while sharing your wife’s anxiety about your health, I am not going so far as to believe what now and then for a moment I imagined – namely that worry on my account was the cause of your comparatively long silence – though that is so easily explained when one realizes how her condition must occupy your mind. But it is quite all right, and it is the road that everyone must take in our world. Good-bye for now and a good handshake for you and Jo. Ever yours, Vincent in haste, but I wanted not to delay sending the letter for old Gauguin, you surely have the address.

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/T12.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Theo van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh (16 July 1889)

16 July 1889 My dear Vincent, I have been absolutely unable to write you sooner, for the heat has been overwhelming, and I felt so weak that everything made me feel extremely tired. Now I have almost recovered from it – for good, I hope. I thank you for your letters and the fine drawings you sent me. The hospital at Arles is very remarkable, the butterfly and the branch of the eglantine are very beautiful too; simple in colour and very beautifully drawn. The last drawings give the impression of having been made in a fury, and are a bit removed from nature. I shall understand them better when I have seen one of these subjects in painting. I have invited quite a number of people to see your pictures, the Pissarros, Father Tangui, 1 Verenskiold, a Norwegian who has a lot of talent and who got the medal of honour in his country’s section at the Universal Exhibition at Maus’s. The latter is the secretary of the “XX” at Brussels. He came to ask me whether you www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/T13.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Theo van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh (29 July 1889) is looking well, only she is a little weak. As for me, I look like a corpse, but I went to see Rivet, who gave me all sorts of drugs, which at least do me enough good to put a stop to my cough, which was killing me. I think it is over now. It is the change of life, and in consequence of the way I am being taken care of now I am going to regain my strength, as soon as the evil is past. Yesterday we went to St. Germain. Oh, how beautiful the countryside is. Why do people go and wear themselves out in cities when they might breathe wholesome air, which brings life back? Do you leave the establishment once in a while now? Write me a letter if you can – just tell me how you are. Don’t work too much. A cordial handshake, also from Jo. Yours, Theo 1. See Vincent’s letter 600.

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/T16.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Theo van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh (September 1889) by Seurat, but it is more harmonious. We are in good health, I hardly cough any more, and am feeling stronger. Jo too is quite well; one begins to see that she is pregnant, but it does not hinder her yet. One of the sisters is staying with us at the moment. Mother has had a letter from Cor; he is far away already, and was in good health. Do write me a few words if you feel like it, and once again many thanks for your letter. Be of good heart; and a cordial handshake, also from Jo. Yours, Theo See Vincent’s letter 605. See Letter T. 50. Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891), one of the great precursors of impressionism.

A www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/21/639.htm?qp=Theo.health” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to His Parents (25 May 1890) and started working here right away. Theo was waiting for me at the station, and my first impression was that he was looking paler than when I left. But while talking, and when I saw him busy at home, it was not so bad – though he was coughing, but in fact he has not grown worse during this time.

A letters relate to food-and-drink – alcohol www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/507.htm?qp=food-and-drink.alcohol” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (29 June 1888) of at once in a single half hour. After that, the only thing to bring ease and distraction, in my case and other people’s too, is to stun oneself with a lot of drinking or heavy smoking. Not very virtuous, no doubt, but it’s to return to the subject of Monticelli. I’d like to see a drunkard in front of a canvas or on the boards. It is too gross a lie, all the Roquette woman’s malicious, Jesuitical slanders about Monticelli. Monticelli, the logical colourist, able to pursue the most complicated calculations, subdivided according to the scales of tones that he was balancing, certainly over-strained his brain at this work, just as Delacroix did, and Richard Wagner. And if perhaps he did drink, it was because he – and Jongkind too – having a stronger constitution than Delacroix, and more physical ailments (Delacroix was better off), well, if they hadn’t drunk – I for one am inclined to believe – their nerves would have rebelled, and played them other tricks: Jules www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/18/513.htm?qp=food-and-drink.alcohol” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (c. 22 July 1888) my work, and come up again with my studies; if the storm within gets too loud, I take a glass too much to stun myself. Cracked, of course; when you look at what one ought to be. But in the old days I used to feel less of a painter, now painting is becoming a distraction for me, like rabbit hunting for the cracked-brained: they do it to distract themselves. My concentration becomes more intense, my hand more sure. That is why I almost dare to swear to you that my painting will improve. Because I have nothing left but that. Have you read in de Goncourt’s book that Jules Dupre gave them the impression that he was cracked too? Jules Dupre had found a collector fellow who was paying him. If only I could find that, and not be such a burden on you! After the crisis which I went through when coming down here, I can make no plans or anything; I am decidedly better now, but hope, the desire to succeed is gone, and I www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/19/585.htm?qp=food-and-drink.alcohol” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (c. 21 April 1889) the more; but I can’t say it as I felt it. Meanwhile you do understand that if alcohol has undoubtedly been one of the great causes of my madness, then it came on very slowly and will go away slowly too, assuming it does go, of course. Or the same thing if it comes from smoking. But I should only hope that it – this recovery [probably a word has been omitted here] the frightful superstition of some people on the subject of alcohol, so that they prevail upon themselves never to drink or smoke. We are already ordered not to lie or steal, etc., and not to commit other crimes great or small and it would become too complicated if it was absolutely indispensable to have nothing but virtues in the society in which we are very undeniably planted, whether it be good or bad. I assure you that during those queer days when many things seem odd to me because my brain is agitated, through it all I don’t dislike old Pangloss. But you would www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/599.htm?qp=food-and-drink.alcohol” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (July 1889) as it seems to me – pretty relative. I live soberly because I have a chance to, I drank in the past because I did not quite know how to do otherwise. Anyway, I don’t care in the least!!! Very deliberate sobriety – it’s true – leads nevertheless to a condition in which thoughts, if you have any, move more readily. In short, it is a difference like painting in grey or in colours. I am going to paint more in grey, in fact. Only instead of paying money to a landlord, you give it to the asylum, I do not see the difference – and it is hardly any cheaper. The work is a thing apart and has always cost me a lot. Thank you very much for the package of colours and canvas, which I am very glad to have. I hope to go and do the olives again. Unfortunately there are very few vineyards here. I am well, however, and I have a feeling rather like I had when I was younger, when I was very sober, too sober www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/W15.htm?qp=food-and-drink.alcohol” Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Wilhelmina van Gogh (c. 20-22 October 1889) crises I have are of an epileptic nature. Consequently alcohol is also not the cause, though it must be understood that it does me no good either. But it is difficult to return to one’s ordinary way of life while one is too despondent over the uncertainty of misfortune. And one goes on clinging to the affections of the past. So, as I told you, I feel a nearly irresistible urge to send something of my work to Holland, and if you should succeed in getting people to accept anything, it will be my duty to be grateful. You will probably think the interior of the empty bedroom with a wooden bedstead and two chairs the most unbeautiful thing of all – and notwithstanding this I have painted it twice, on a large scale. I wanted to achieve an effect of simplicity of the sort one finds described in Felix Holt. After being told this you may quickly understand this picture, but it will probably remain ridiculous in the eyes of others who have not been warned.



La tristesse durera toujours”

Van Gogh (Ayoub, 2005).

Van Gogh produced thirty total self-portraits in five years. This chapter considers a sampling of van Gogh’s self-portrait; noting that the self-portrait he created evolved from the various places he visited “from the end of the Brabant period (1885) to the last year of his life at St. Remy and Auvers,” Chuck Ayoub (2005) reports in Vincent van Gogh Biography. In his self-portrait, Van Gogh incorporated different colors corresponding to the location, depending on his current, surrounding circumstances in each of his self-portrait

Cezanne and van Gogh gave the later expansion of the movement self-representation renewed forces, as Impressionism as the objective study of light did not encourage this art form.

In each of the following samples the researcher selected from the thirty self-portrait van Gogh painted, he portrays the same extraordinary intense expression, concentrated in his eyes. Other than van Gogh’s eyes being the same, a considerable difference exists in the paintings. Van Gogh used a variety of adaptations of Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist brushwork from the Paris period onwards. He also applied separate patches of color with varying thickness and direction to ensure each painting stimulates a fresh experience.

Between1886 and 1889, Van Gogh painted more than 30 self-portraits; placing him among the most prolific self-portraitists of all time. “Van Gogh used portrait painting as a method of introspection, a method to make money and a method of developing his skills as an artist.”

When Van Gogh first began painting he used peasants as models. After this stage, he worked more on experimenting with his use of color in painting landscapes and flowers, primarily because he could not afford to pay models. He explains this in a letter to his sister Wilhelmina van Gogh in 1887,

Of my own work I think that the picture of peasants eating potatoes did in Nuenen is apres tout the best I’ve done. But since then I’ve had no chance of getting models, though on the other hand I did have the chance to study the colour question. And if I should find models again for my figures later, then I would hope to be able to show that I am after something other than little green landscapes or flowers.”

As Van Gogh struggled to make a living as an artist he became reliant on his brother Theo and the charity of others such as Julien “Pere” Tanguy, who ran the paint store that Van Gogh frequented in Paris. With their generosity of money and supplies, Van Gogh continued working as an artist and thought of portrait painting as a practical application of his talent. In a letter to his brother Theo in July of 1888 Van Gogh wrote,

Besides, I think I have spoken the truth, but if I should succeed in replacing in goods the money spent, I should only be doing my duty. And then, something practical I can do is portrait painting.”

Van Gogh did not have money to pay models to pose for portraits nor did he have many people commissioning him to do portraits, so Van Gogh painted his own portrait. Van Gogh did not see portrait painting as merely a means to an end; he also believed that portrait painting would help him develop his skills as an artist. In a letter to his brother Theo dated September 16, 1888, Van Gogh writes about a self-portrait he painted and dedicated to his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin,

The third picture this week is a portrait of myself, almost colourless, in ashen tones against a background of pale veronese green.

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Paris: Autumn, 1886

Paris: early, 1887

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Paris: Spring, 1887

Paris: Spring-Summer, 1887

Paris: Winter 1886/87 Paris: Spring-Summer, 1887

Paris: Summer, 1887

Paris: Summer, 1887 Paris: December, 1887

Paris: early, 1888 August, 1888

September, 1888 Arles: November-December, 1888

Arles: January, 1889

Saint-Remy: late August, 1889

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

Saint-Remy: September, 1889


French: “The sadness will last forever”).

Time Line of the Major Events of Gogh’s Life

The Van Gogh Gallery. 17 January 2008. Templeton Reid, LLC. Date you accessed the site http://www.vangoghgallery.com/.

Van Gogh’s Mental and Physical Health

Hundreds of physicians and psychiatrists have tried to define Van Gogh’s medical conditions over the years. The following are some of the more probable mental and physical diagnoses.

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Van Gogh suffered from seizures which doctors, including Dr. Felix Rey and Dr. Peyron, believed to be caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. Van Gogh was born with a brain lesion that many doctors believe was aggravated by his prolonged use of absinthe causing his epileptic condition. Dr. Gachet, another of Van Gogh’s physicians, was thought to have treated his epilepsy with digitalis. This prescription drug can cause one to see in yellow or see yellow spots. This may have been one of the reasons why Van Gogh loved this color.

Bipolar disorder

Due to Van Gogh’s extreme enthusiasm and dedication to first religion and then art coupled with the feverish pace of his art production many believe that mania was a prominent condition in Van Gogh’s life. However, these episodes were always followed by exhaustion and depression and ultimately suicide. Therefore, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or manic depression makes sense with the accounts of these episodes in Van Gogh’s life.

Thujone poisoning

In order to counter act his attacks of epilepsy, anxiety, and depression, Van Gogh drank absinthe, a toxic alcoholic drink popular with many artists at the time. Thujone is the toxin in absinthe. Unfortunately, the Thujone worked against Van Gogh aggravating his epilepsy and manic depression. High doses of thujone can also cause one to see objects in yellow. Various physicians have differing opinions on whether or not this is what caused Van Gogh’s affinity with yellow.

Lead poisoning

Because Van Gogh used lead-based paints there are some who believe he suffered from lead poisoning from nibbling at paint chips. It was also noted by Dr. Peyron that during his attacks Van Gogh tried to poison himself by swallowing paint or drinking kerosene. One of the symptoms of lead poisoning is swelling of the retinas which can cause one to see light in circles like halos around objects. This can be seen in paintings like the Starry Night.


Hypergraphia is a condition causing one to need to write continuously; this disorder is commonly linked to mania and epilepsy. Some believe that the massive collection of over 800 letters Van Gogh wrote during his lifetime could be attributed to this condition.


Because Van Gogh strived for realism in his paintings he was often painting outdoors especially during his times in the South of France. Some of his episodes of hostility and the nausea and “bad stomach” he refers to in his letters may have been the effects of sunstroke

The Van Gogh Gallery. 17 January 2008. Templeton Reid, LLC. Date you accessed the site http://www.vangoghgallery.com/.

The only painting he sold during his lifetime, the Red Vineyard, was created in 1888. It is now on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia


In May 1890 Vincent van Gogh left the clinic and went to the physician Paul Gachet, in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, where he was closer to his brother Theo, who had recently married. Gachet had been recommended to him by Pissarro; he had treated several artists before. Here van Gogh created his only etching: a portrait of the melancholic doctor Gachet. His depression aggravated. On July 27 of the same year, at the age of 37, after a fit of painting activity, van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He died two days later, with Theo at his side, who reported his last words as “La tristesse durera toujours” (French: “The sadness will last forever”). He was buried at the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise; Theo unable to come to terms with his brother’s death died 6 months later and was buried next to him. It would not take long before his fame grew higher and higher. Large exhibitions were organized soon: Paris 1901, Amsterdam 1905, Cologne 1912, New York 1913 and Berlin 1914.

Vincent van Gogh’s mother threw away quite a number of his paintings during Vincent’s life and even after his death. But she would live long enough to see her son become a world famous painter.

X…for pics

1888 (180 Kb); 75 x 93 cm.

Vincent van Gogh Biography © 2005 Chuck Ayoub /

Van Gogh’s Impact on Art.

Vincent van Gogh lived more than 115 years ago, and yet his artwork is still altering the way mankind views beauty, persona, individuality, and style in art. His thousands of paintings and drawings have various characteristics that have been copied by thousands and duplicated by none. Van Gogh’s unique life has inspired millions to become active in art. In fact, what many people today consider to be the archetypical “artist persona” is largely a result of his influence. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that artists continue to mimic the style that Van Gogh created over one hundred years ago.

The impressionists and post impressionists of Vincent’s time influenced him greatly after he moved to Paris in 1886. The bright new palette reigned heavily over Gogh’s previous dark muted color scheme. Van Gogh’s use of this new impressionist and post impressionist style altered not only his work, but also all of art history.

One particular artist is leading the contemporary impressionists in an effort to become “America’s Vincent van Gogh.”.. Stefan Duncan! Duncan’s amazing work is a plethora of brilliant colors tossed about in a whimsical style he calls Squigglism. Having been greatly influenced by Vincent van Gogh, Stefan utilizes this updated technique to draw the quick strokes of the impressionists into long curvy lines. These tight eddies of color dance around his paintings lighting every feature with beauty! It is this very beauty that Stefan strives to capture in all of his work; revealing the divine in nature!

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Contemporary Painter’s Work Imitating van Gogh. Need to add source if this is used.


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Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de. (2002, Oct. 4). Webmuseum Paris. http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/toulouse-lautrec/

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