Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vincent van Gogh would have been 155 today, March 30

Vincent van Gogh would be 155 years old today. Click here for an art gallery of his work. His life began in Zundert, the Netherlands, on March 30, 1853. There are some interesting van Stockum connections. Vincent's brother Theo worked as a young man for the van Stockum booksellers on the central square of the Hague (den Haag) in Holland. A van Stockum and a van Gogh were related by marriage. I once found the conenction in the van Stockum edition of the Nederlands Patriciaat.

Theo was very important to Vincent in many ways. Theo became an art dealer, and Vincent gave him all his canvases. Theo promoted his brother's art and for many years supplied Vincent with a monthly income. Vincent wrote hundreds of published letters to Theo. "How much sadness there is," Vincent wrote once. "The right thing is to work."

Vincent died disillusioned. He wrote to Theo that "I feel a failure" not long before he died by his own hand in July 1890, at 37. Ironically, Theo was then actually beginning to have success in selling Vincent's paintings.

Vincent's interests wavered between art and religion. At 20 he went to London to work for an art dealer. Then he studied in Brussels to be an evangelist. He evangelized to coal miners in the southwest of Belgium, but worried his supervisors when he decided that it was God's wish that he should give everything he owned away. His mission superiors decided he was nuts and asked him to leave.

So Vincent turned to art, teaching himself from art books. He decided to paint ordinary workers and worked energetically at this from 1880 to 1890. He chose to live in Arles, in the south of France so that he could "look at nature" under a "brighter sky." In Arles he developed his famous painting style, exaggerating images of flora and landscapes with large brush strokes and shocking colors. He wanted his mood to show, and to keep his mood he had to paint quickly. So he would squeeze oil paint right onto the canvas.

Eventually, near the end, Vincent moved to a town north of Paris, painting away as insanity closed in on him. I have heard speculation that in his painting he would put brushes in his mouth and the lead (or whatever) in the paint poisoned him.

It is well known that he cut off a piece of his own ear. He was put in an insane asylum at St. Rémy, where he produced (in 1889) one of his masterpieces, Starry Night. He left the asylum in the spring of 1890 and killed himself in July.