Sower at sunset
Sower at sunset - 1888 - Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo Pays-Bas

SATIE - Gnossiennes (1891)  

Son of Dutch Protestant pastor Theodore Van Gogh, and nephew of Vincent Van Gogh, his homonym who was co-director of international art dealers Goupil & Company at The Hague Netherlands, Vincent, as his brother Théo, began to follow family tradition by joining Goupil & Co in July 1869.

He was to work with Goupil for more than 5 years, initially in the Hague, then in subsidiary branches, in Brussels, London (June 1873 to May 1875), Paris (until the end of 1875), where he began to develop a dislike for art trading. He then lived the life of a recluse while reading the Bible intensely.

He leaves his employment and goes back to his parents' house in Etten in 1876, before returning to England as a teacher in a small boarding school at Ramsgate, then as a preacher.

The next year, he starts theology studies in Amsterdam, which he gives up one year later, before leaving for Belgium to the Borinage, as a lay preacher and evangelist for the coal minors of this desolate region.

His impetuous temperament and his advanced political and social opinions make him run up against church authorities and Vincent gives up his vocation.


Museum of Orsay , Paris


It is only in August 1880 at the age of 27, that Vincent decided to become a painter.

Vincent Van Gogh is largely a self-educated painter.

He starts by copying drawings, particularly country life scenes by Jean-François MILLET, to whom he dedicates a quasi religious respect. Having planned to enter the Fine Arts School of Brussels, he spends the winter of 1881 in Brussels, but he works independently and sometimes with the Dutch painter Anton Van Rappard until April.
Because he does not have any means of existence, Théo, who works at Goupil's Parisian subsidiary sends him money, as he was to do regularly throughout Vincent's life.

Of return to his parents to Etten, he leaves them after an argument with his father, on Christmas, to study in the Hague with his cousin by marriage, well known painter Anton MAUVE. Mauve gives him drawing lessons and directs his first paintings which date from 1882 summer.

Mauve and his friends would grow away from Vincent as he wanted to live together and marry an unmarried mother, His Hoornik, whom he had engaged as a model. He could then count only on material and moral support of his brother Théo, and, after a short stay at Drenthe in September 1883, loneliness pushes him to go back once more to his parents by December 1883, now installed at Nuenen (in the Brabant, close to Eindhoven), two years after having left them.


In Nuenen, his relationship to his family gets better and Vincent starts to paint his first works on the theme of popular life , painting many studies of tisserands, portraits of peasants, in dark and heavy tones, like the ground they plow.

Potato eaters
Kröller-Müller Rijksmuseum
Otterlo, Netherlands

Van Gogh wanted himself to be a kind of artistic spokesman for disadvantaged classes, social concern that would follow him during all his career.

All these studies led to his first masterpiece, "Potato eaters" (' April 1885), and other paintings such as " Thatched cottage at fallen day ", " Tisserand with his loom", " Still life with open Bible ".

After his father's death in March 1885, because he wants to make a living out of his painting, he leaves Nuenen and Holland (where he will never return) in November, 1885 for Antwerp . But because art market is in recession in this region and the originality of his technique runs up against ideas of the local academy's teachers, he soon leaves in March, 1886 to join his brother Théo in Paris.

These few months spent in Antwerp, with its museums and its historic buildings, were a source of very strong stimuli for Van Gogh. He studied for a while at the school of fine arts, admired the works of Peter Paul RUBENS and also learned to like Japanese prints which were going to influence him so much in Paris.


Van Gogh was going to adapt himself very quickly to Parisian life, getting friendly with many Impressionists, who however practised an avant-garde painting quite different from his painting, even adopting, at least temporarily, some of their ways.

He studied for 3 months in the workshop of painter Fernand CORMON, untiringly drawing from models or plasters, but ended up leaving the workshop fault of finding what he sought. Again he will work alone, although making true friends, painters Emile BERNARD and Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC , who made him discover Montmartre's night life.

He forsook the "gray harmonies " which he had so long studied for a more colored palette, and started to paint street scenes and city views.

The Moulin de la Galette
Kröller-Müller Rijksmuseum
Otterlo, Netherlands

Imperial crown fritillaria
in a copper vase
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The artistic Impressionist movement just started to be appreciated when Van Gogh arrived in Paris, and he got particularly interested by the research of neo-impressionists pointillists George SEURAT and Paul SIGNAC about the division of the spectrum of light.

Van Gogh reworked his technique, studying the optical impression produced by small strokes of primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and complementary colors ( purple, orange and green).

Van Gogh was also sensitive to Synthetism current of GAUGUIN, which tended towards a certain abstraction and stylization where shapes of objects were obtained by use of colored zones delimited with precision.

Van Gogh was going to explore these new ways in a series of still life paintings, such as " Hollyhocks in a jug ", " Vase with zinnias and other flowers " (1886), then " Imperial crown fritillaria in a copper vase", and for the first time " Four cut sunflowers " (1887).

He also paints many street or restaurant scenes such as " The gardens of Montmartre ", " Interior of a restaurant " (1887), portraits "Agostina Segatori in the Café du Tambourin", "Italian woman ", in a new way, where one can see that he easily integrated Impressionism : "I prefer to paint human eyes to paint cathedrals".

Since he could not pay for models, Vincent paints persons who accept to pose for him, and will realize not less than 25 self-portraits between March 1886 and February 1888.

Agostina Segatori
in the Café du Tambourin
Vincent Van Gogh Rijksmuseum

Paris discovered with enthusiasm Japanese prints, and Van Gogh who collected them tried to seize in several paintings the principles which were subjacent to them: stylized layout, zones of pure color, beauty of nature : "Portrait of Père Tanguy" (1887).

Most of his works of that time do not carry the typical print of Van Gogh, as if he were to continue his research without attempting to express his own vision and he "would not produce anything good before he had worked on at least two hundred paintings".

Come to Paris with the hope to be better recognized by artistic circles, and to sell his paintings, Van Gogh would, like many of his Impressionist friends, just exhibit his paintings in windows of cafés or stores. Officially, Van Gogh should sell during his lifetime, in all and for all, two paintings, via his brother Théo.

Finally, Van Gogh got tired and depressive and wished to leave the agitation of Paris, its rigorous winters, for the south of France where he carried with him the hope to found a community of artists, a new " Workshop of the South "


During the time of his stay in Arles, from his arrival on February 20, 1888, to his departure for Saint-Remy mental hospital on May 8, 1889, Van Gogh was going to carry out some 200 paintings , more than one hundred drawings, and to write more than 200 letters.

The yellow house
(the house of Vincent)
Vincent Van Gogh Rijksmuseum

Arles is at that time an important city of 23000 inhabitants. Vincent moves there into the "Yellow House" , and the reactions of Van Gogh with regard to Arles are variable: "All here is sometimes as formidably cheerful as Holland is sad" or "I think that the beauty of women and costumes is not that cheerful as Holland is sad".

Vincent will never get truely integrated into Arles : "people here are lazy and carefree", "I nowhere see here the cheerfulness of the south of which Daudet speaks so much, but rather an insipid ease and a sordid negligence".

But he did not have to complain about landscapes of which the artist has poetic visions: "what compensations when comes one day without wind, which intensity of colors, which purity of the air, which vibrating serenity".

Van Gogh works frenziedly, while painting his new universe with a vivacity of colors and a cheerfulness new in his career, without wasting time to search for new subjects. He barely visits the neighbouring areas , except for a short trip to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to see the Mediterranean sea, from May 30 to June 3, from which he will draw several splendid paintings, such as "Fishing boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries", and which consolidates him in the idea to continue to paint in the South.

Vincent still accelerates his rhythm of work with the harvests, he writes to Théo : "do know that I am in full complicated calculation, from which result quickly made paintings, but calculated a long time in advance ".

If landscape paintings dominate the work of Van Gogh during this period, it is with his regret, fault of finding occasions to make portraits. He ends up finding a model in the person of Joseph-Etienne ROULIN, a postal worker met at the Station Café.

The portrait was the kind that Van Gogh preferred: "it is something individual, in which I feel in my element". Others followed, inhabitants of the region such as Patience ESCALIER, Paul-Eugene MILLIET, or friends like painter Eugene BOCH.

Portrait of Milliet,
second lieutenant of the zouaves
Kröller-Müller Rijksmuseum
Otterlo, Netherlands

GAUGUIN's arrival to Arles on October 23, 1888 was to still accelerate Van Gogh's life, while contributing to improve his health. He was happy, before the two men will oppose about their way of working, and before what he was to call, "the catastrophe" , in the day of December 23, which saw Van Gogh threatening Gauguin with a razor, before partially mutilating his own right ear .

Sower at sunset
Kröller-Müller Rijksmuseum
Otterlo, Netherlands

Van Gogh was led to the city hospital, his brother Théo moving from Paris to visit him and recommend Vincent to a Protestant pastor of Arles, Frederic SALLES.

He will quickly recover and regain the Yellow House as of January 7, 1889, starting again to paint: " Self-portrait with the bandaged ear ", " Portrait of Dr. Felix REY ", " Vincent's chair with pipe "...

He was to go back to hospital at the beginning of February, complaining that he heared voices. Neighbors sent a petition in order that the painter be interned. Painter SIGNAC could visit him and found him completely lucid and in very good health. After having settled at Dr. REY, he decided to have himself treated and entered on May 8, 1889 in Saint-Remy's mental hospital, accompanied by the reverend SALLES.

SAINT-REMY, a new energy

One week after his entry to the hospital, Vincent was allowed to paint, one even found him a room which he could use as a workshop.

He was going to preserve during all his stay at Saint-Rémy until May 1890, except for a few periods of depression, a very imaginative and creative mind, first painting in the hospital's gardens a series of Impressionist paintings such as "The irises " or "The lilacs".

Then he finds a more innovative style, with stronger graphics, sharper colors, accentuated lines and daring perspectives, to paint series of Provence landscapes, on cypresses - "cypresses" , " road with cypresses and starry sky ",... -, on olive groves - 10 large paintings " Olive grove ", " The harvest of olives ",...-, and on fields - " Yellow corns ", " Corn field and cypress "," Corn field with the reaper "," Corn field under the rain "... - and other paintings like " The starry night ".

Noon rest (after MILLET)
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Saint-Rémy hospital also provides Van Gogh with many subjects of painting, " Trees in front of Saint-Paul Hospice ", " Garden of Saint-Paul Hospice" (1889)... He paints also according to engravings and reproductions " The prison courtyard " (after Gustave DORE), " The noon rest " (after MILLET) (1890).

Vincent regularly sends paintings to Théo , while taking care of making copies of those he considers best, to keep trace of his evolution and to show them to his family. " Irises " and " The starry night " will be exhibited at the 5th "Salon des Independants" in September 1889, then 10 of his paintings at the Salon of 1890, and 5 at the annual Exhibition of the twenty in Brussels.

The very positive reaction to his paintings from artists such as MONET and PISSARRO, or art critic Albert AURIER, encouraged greatly Vincent and Théo. Vincent who oscillated between very productive periods and moments of despair, had come to think that he had managed to create a work of value ... before still doubting: "my work during these ten years can be summarized by pitiful studies, failures".

After several "attacks", Van Gogh felt that he should leave Saint-Remy hospice. May 16, he left for Paris, where he stayed only a few days at his brother's home, before leaving on the 20th of May, as he could not stand any more the noise and agitation of the city, for Auvers where he entrusted to Dr. GACHET ,the friend of Impressionnist painters.


Forty Kilometers north of Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise had become one of the favorite places of many artists (Cézanne, Pissarro, Sisley, Monet), and Van Gogh was seduced by its rustic and picturesque character.

He very quickly began a series about the houses with thatched roofs, the village streets and its church, " Cottages with thatched roofs " (May 22), " The Church in Auvers" (at the beginning of June), "Village street in Auvers ". Describing his painting "The Church in Auvers", Van Gogh wrote: "it is once more almost the same thing as the studies that I made of the old tower and the cemetery of Nuenen, but the colors are probably here more expressive and stronger". This sentence shows that the artist perceives his work in its entirety . Van Gogh will have, all his short life as a painter, treated the same themes, always seeking to progress while making evolve his style, his colors.

Wheat field under a stormy sky
Vincent Van Gogh Rijksmuseum

Vincent made the portrait of Dr. Gachet, then of his daughter, followed the harvests very closely and painted many studies on this subject, sticking to the only landscapes, without human presence, of which famous " Wheat field under a stormy sky " and " Wheatfield with crows".

The exact circumstances of his suicide Sunday July 27, 1890 in the evening remain mysterious. He drew himself a revolver bullet, succeeded in raising up, and died only on July 29.

During his short stay in Auvers, less than two months, he had made 70 paintings, thus testifying of his moral strength and of the determination with which the artist had worked towards his end during ten years.
His work seen in its totality reveals an astonishing artistic richness and a great capacity of expression born of the long observations which the painter held for fundamental in his work.