Level 16 - Colossus
In present time, Vincent van Gogh is probably the most widely known and highly appreciated person of postimpressionism. During his brief lifetime, Vincent’s work went almost unknown to this world. His work now hangs in countless museums throughout the world and is considered priceless. His work became an important bridge between the 19th and 20th centuries. The art-historical term, Postimpressionism was coined by Roger Fry a British art critic, who described the various styles of painting that flourished during the period from about 1880 to 1910 (Britannica). It was generally used for a convenient way to group together the generation of artists who sought new forms of expression during a pictorial revolution wrought by impressionism. Among these figures were Piere Bonnard, Paul Cenanne, Paul Gauglin, Odilon Redon, George Seurat, Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec, and of course Vincent van Gogh (Britannica). Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in the rectory of Zundert in Barbant (Burra). His father was a soft-spoken Dutch clergyman. The only thing Van Gogh got from his father, was the desire to be involved in the family church. Even at an early age, Vincent showed artistic talent but neither he nor his parents imagined that painting would take him where it did later in life. One of his first jobs came at the age of sixteen, as an art dealer’s assistant. He went to work for Goupil and Company, an art gallery where an uncle had been working for some time. Three of his father’s brothers were art dealers, and he was christened after the most distinguished of his uncles, who was manager of the Hague branch of the famous Goupil Galleries (Meier-Graefe). His parents were poor, so his rich uncle offered to take him under his wing and make him his student. While working he started to enjoy art, but he was unsuccessful as an art dealer. Vincent was eventually transferred to the London Branch, where he started a series of disastrous love affairs. After four years of work he lost his job due to the lack of his everyday responsibilities. At the age of twenty-three, Vincent’s mental state began to deteriorate. He developed a strong sense of religious devotion and took an unpaid position at a small boarding school in Ramsgate, England. In 1880 Van Gogh started to focus on art as a career and not just a hobby. After a brief stay at the University of Amsterdam studying theology, Vincent chose art as a vocation and became dependent on his brother Theo for money. In the spring of 1880 his brother wrote to him and said, “Vincent, what is the matter?” (Burra). In the letter there was some money. Though he knew the proper thing to do was to return it, it felt good for him to have a square meal again. For the next ten years his brother, Theo, continued to send him money and Vincent began to paint feverishly to the end of his life. Theo and his parents regarded Vincent’s passion for books as the root of all his trouble (Meier-Graefe). They felt that since he stopped being an art dealer he had somehow deserted art. They could not have been farther from the truth. Many of the letters written from Vincent and Theo have now become such an extraordinary source of knowledge to Van Gogh life. From 1881 to 1885 van Gogh lived in the Netherlands. In keeping with his humanitarian outlook he painted peasants and workers, the most famous picture from this period being The Potato Eaters (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; 1885). Of this he wrote to Theo: “I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamp-light have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food” (Auden). This was his first important picture that underscores his lifelong interest in peasant subjects. He worked at The Hague, where he received some instruction from his cousin, Anton Mauve. In the winter months of 1885-1886, Van Gogh studied at the academy at Antwerp. While at the academy he was forced to draw from plaster casts and learn principles that did not suit him. This helped move Vincent to what was known as the Paris period. Vincent van Gogh was in Paris from March 1886 to February 1888. This was a very important period for Vincent, because it allowed him to see and hear artists discuss all the work of almost every artist there. Although Vincent admired the many members of the avant-garde, he also admired Eugene Delacroix and the painters of the Barbizion and Hague schools (Burra). While in Paris he painted many self-portraits and cityscapes. One great painting such as self-portrait with a Strew Hat (1887) hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. During these years Vincent style shifted from the darker manner characteristic of his Nuenen period to a postimpressionist style heavily influenced by pointillism. At this time his painting underwent a violent metamorphosis under the combined influence of Impressionism and Japanese woodcuts, losing its moralistic flavor of social realism. Van Gogh became obsessed by the symbolic and expressive values of colors and began to use them for this purpose rather than, as did the Impressionists, for the reproduction of visual appearances, atmosphere, and light. “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes,” (Auden) he wrote, “I use color more arbitrarily so as to express myself more forcibly” (Auden). Van Gogh left Paris and moved to Arles in February 1888. That year he painted Night Café of which he said: “I have tried to express with red and green the terrible passions of human nature” (Sweetman, David). He also began to use the swirling brush strokes and intense yellows, greens and blues in some of his paintings. For a time he was influenced by Seurat’s delicate pointillist manner, but he abandoned this for broad, vigorous, and swirling brush- strokes. Some of his most famous paintings came from the following year here. He painted more than 200 canvases in 15 months. During this time he sold no pictures, was in poverty, and suffered recurrent nervous crisis with hallucinations and depression. He became enthusiastic for the idea of founding artists co-operative at Arles and towards the end of the year he was joined by Gauguin. But as a result of a quarrel between them van Gogh suffered the crisis in that occurred the famous incident when he cut off his left ear, that event commemorated in his self-portrait with Bandaged Ear. From May 1889 until May 1890, he was voluntarily confined in the Asylum of Saint Paul in Saint-Remy. While in the asylum he continued to paint. In June 1889 he painted the Starry Night and the extraordinary Self- Portrait. In the three months after his release from the hospital in May 1890, at the village of Auvers-sur-Oise outside Paris, Vincent produced many notable works. The paintings included the Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which is at a private collection in New York City, and also Field under Thunderclouds, and Crows in the Wheat Fields, both, which are at the Rijksmuseum. Although he had finally began to receive critical praise, he shot himself on July 27, 1890, and died two days later. The end of his like serves to emphasis the unstable mind often seen in his paintings. He painted over 800 canvases in the last two years of his life. During these final years, he had become and accomplished artist. He painted images that not only had pictorial value, but also had a meaningful purpose beneath the surface. Vincent was buried in a cemetery between the cornfields. A few painters were present, and Dr. Gachet planted sunflowers around the grave. His brother Theo died just six months after, and is buried next to him in the cemetery. Vincent van Gogh was an artist whose life was cut terribly short. He sold only one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles, and was little known to the art world at the time of his death, but his fame grew rapidly thereafter. His influence on Expressionism, Fauvism and early abstraction was enormous, and it can be seen in many other aspects of 20th century art. His stormy and dramatic life and his unswerving devotion to his ideals have made him one of the great cultural heroes of modern times, providing the most auspicious material for the 20th century vogue in romanticized psychological biography. Who knows of how many other great paintings he could have completed in the following years. Although his life was cut short, Vincent van Gogh has since been recognized as one of the great geniuses of modern art. He was clearly one of the greatest postimpressionism painters of all time.
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