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Vincent Van Gogh

One Ear, One Life, Many Masterpieces

Travis DeHaven, Art History Honors, 2018

Who Even Is He?

Vincent van Gogh, born Vincent Willem van Gogh, was born March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands to Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Corelia Carbentus. Named after his older brother who was stillborn exactly one year to the day after his brother had been born dead, he grew up seeing his name and birthday on a headstone. Being the eldest of six children, his parents began to run into financial problems forcing him to quit school and work in his uncle's art dealership. From then on, he was sent to work in London where he met and was rejected in a marriage proposal by Eugenie Loyer. After this, he suffered a breakdown, and in a way, had a spiritual breakthrough where he dedicated his life to God. Unfortunately, he got fired from his job for deeming that the art he was selling was worthless. From here he was a devout Christian and set out to be a minister where he deemed Latin a dead language for poor people and was denied entrance to the school of theology in Amsterdam. He moved on and on with failed careers in mines and the church with a terrible love life that had no hope for the future and he became depressed. It wasn't until 1880 that van Gogh began his art career in Brussels with the help of his brother for giving him books by famous artists like Millet and Bargue. In order to become a good artist, he thought it was best to begin to imitate Paul Gauguin to better his own craft. Art became an emotional support system for van Gogh, considering he began to develop many symptoms of mental illness. He cut off his ear for a prostitute, got in many fights with his brother and friends, and was moved to an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. It was here that he painted the Starry Night and Irises. He eventually moved to Auvers to be seen by a psychiatric doctor, and that is where van Gogh committed suicide in 1890. His life was full of tragedy, misfortune, and mental illness, but his art was a way to shape his reality and create beauty in everything.

"Self Portrait" 1887. Oil on Canvas. Art Institute Chicago, Chicago USA

"The Potato Eaters," 1885. Oil Paint on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Van Gogh's style falls under the post-impressionism umbrella. His beginning works he wanted to master shape, rather than focus on color. He believed that in order to create good works, he had to first conquer shapes in black and white. One of his first works, "The Potato Eaters" shows the growth of his works from trying to imitate Paul Gauguin's works to get to the point where he could get to "Oleanders" that allowed him to achieve perfection in color throughout his life.

Van Gogh was able to capture the moment by seeing beyond what is actually there. He was able to put his own eyes onto the canvas and showed a simple moment in his own perspective.


"Wheat Field with Cypresses"  1889. Oil on Canvas. 

National Gallery, London, U.K.

"Oleanders" 1888. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

"Starry Night" 1889. Oil on Canvas. Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

"Starry Night over the Rhône" 1888. Oil on Canvas. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

"The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer" 1888. Oil on Canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

What I like about the "Starry Night" is the colors, the movement of the sky, and the story behind it. This is the view from his window at the asylum he spent some of his last time on earth at. Here, we can see the bright moon in yellow, the mixture of the stars twirling into the blues of the night sky, and the peaceful town bellow that has called it for the day and is asleep. The blues and the yellows convey conflicting emotions but show the same amount of beauty and flow in the night sky. I also admire this painting because I have been able to see it in person and it is absolutely breathtaking.

My Favorites

I like "Wheat Field and Cypresses" because of the movement in the sky. The clouds are shapeshifting, rolling over each other, and fade into the teal sky. It is very beautiful and shows us what the simple things look like through his eyes. The wheat is individually painted stroke by stroke, the cypresses are flowing, and trees are stationary yet moving. It is just amazing to see how van Gogh saw things.