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Van Gogh

Gracie Lewis Art History Honors

18th or 19th Century Artist Booklet

Van Gogh's Background

Vincent van Gogh was born Vincent Willem van Gogh on March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, and was the eldest of six children. His father Theodorus van Gogh, was an austere country minister, and his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was a moody artist whose love of nature, drawing and watercolors was transferred to her son. Since his parents did not have good jobs, at the age of 15 Van Gogh was forced to leave school and get a job. He got a job at his Uncle Cornelis' art dealership, Goupil & Cie., a firm of art dealers in The Hague, which he hated due to the working conditions. Shortly after getting a job Van Gogh, was transferred to the Groupil Gallery in London in June of 1873. There, he fell in love with English culture. He visited art galleries in his spare time, and also became a fan of the writings of Charles Dickens and George Eliot.  Van Gogh then taught in a Methodist boys' school, and also preached to the congregation. Although raised in a religious family, it wasn't until this time that he seriously began to consider devoting his life to the church. Hoping to become a minister, he prepared to take the entrance exam to the School of Theology in Amsterdam. After a year of studying diligently, he refused to take the Latin exams, calling Latin a "dead language" of poor people, and was subsequently denied entrance. Later on in his life In the fall of 1880, van Gogh decided to move to Brussels and become an artist. Though he had no formal art training, his brother Theo offered to support van Gogh financially. He began taking lessons on his own, studying books like Travaux des champs by Jean-François Millet and Cours de dessin by Charles Bargue. Van Gogh's art helped him stay emotionally balanced. In 1885, he began work on what is considered to be his first masterpiece, "Potato Eaters." After moving to Paris, van Gogh first saw impressionist art, and he was inspired by the color and light. He began studying with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Camille Pissarro and others. To save money, he and his friends posed for each other instead of hiring models. Van Gogh was passionate, and he argued with other painters about their works, alienating those who became tired of his bickering. Van Gogh also became influenced by Japanese art and began studying eastern philosophy to enhance his art and life, which can be seen in some of his later works. Van Gogh died in july of 1890 due to a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Who or What influenced Van Gogh?

Van Gogh’s artwork was influenced by many things. One of his most important influences was his mother, who loved art and had a unique passion for nature that can also be seen in Van Gogh's work. Another influence was early English writers and artist in which he had encountered on his journey to various cities as a child. The galleries that Van Gogh worked in and visited as a young child and adult also proved to influence his work especially those in Brussels and Paris which showed the early stages of impressionism. Van Gogh had a passion for Japanese artwork which too influenced him greatly in the nature and colorful part of his artwork.

Van Gogh and Impressionism

Van Gogh is documented as a post-impressionist artist. Post- impressionist artist used various styles of painting and approaches to express their unique view of the world: more geometric and definitive  forms, unnatural, bold  and simplified colors and sometimes symbolic content. Even though the style was still figurative, Post-Impressionists were starting to experiment with a bit of abstraction by simplifying the shapes and laying the emphasis on the artificiality of the picture with such characteristics as cropped and flattened perspectives. They were followed by Cubism, Fauvism and Abstract Art. Other people that had somewhat similar artwork to Van Gogh were PAUL CÉZANNE, PAUL GAUGUIN,and GEORGES SEURAT. Also, Impressionist artists were interested in recording on canvas the fleeting effect of light and color of nature, Post-Impressionist artists wanted to break away from naturalism. Instead, they painted with emotion and were interested in a more individual, subjective and creative view of the world.

Art Work

The Starry Night:

  • Van Gogh painted "The Starry Night" ( Oil Painting)  in the asylum where he was staying in Saint-Rémy, France, in 1889, the year before his death.  “Starry Night” is a combination of imagination, memory, emotion and observation, the oil painting on canvas depicts an expressive swirling night sky and a sleeping village, with a large flame-like cypress, thought to represent the bridge between life and death, looming in the foreground. The painting is currently housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY. and is one of Van Gogh’s most famous pieces of art.


  • Van Gogh painted two series of sunflowers in Arles, France: four between August and September 1888 and one in January 1889; the versions and replicas are debated among art historians. The oil paintings on canvas, which depict wilting yellow sunflowers in a vase, are now displayed at museums in London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Munich and Philadelphia. These paintings are also one of Van Gogh’s famous pieces.

Café Terrace at Night

Also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum, and is an oil painting on canvas. Made in 1888 while Van Gogh was in Arles, France.  Can be seen at the Kröller-Müller Museum. Shows a view of a cafe in France at night from the point of view of Van Gogh.

The Church at Auvers

  • The Church at Auvers is an oil painting created by Dutch post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh in June 1890 which now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France. This painting shows the classical religious style that Van Gogh also had and his beliefs.

The Sea at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 

Oil painting created by Van Gogh in 1888, and can be found at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. Historians believe that Van Gogh painted this work while at the beach because in the original painting tiny grains of sand can be found in the paint.

Still Life With Bible

  • Oil painting on canvas created by Van Gogh in 1885, and can be found at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This painting shows Van Gogh’s discipline and religious values.

My favorite paintings

“Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-des-la-Mer”

One of my favorite paintings by Van Gogh is “Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-des-la-Mer”. I like this picture because it brings the nature of the sea alive. Like mentioned before it is believed that this painting was painted on the beach because there are tiny grains of sand found in the original painting. When I look at this painting I see a great blue sea with sailboats riding its waves. I love how Van Gogh uses what seems to be different shades of blue and green to add tone and texture to the work. To me this particular piece of work represents post- impressionism because it uses geometric and definite forms, and because the color choice is used for symbolism which was a very popular technique in Post-impressionism. I think the colors that Van Gogh used reflect on his emotions and thoughts at the time he was painting this picture, and the sail boats are used to show his life as a journey. This Painting makes me think of trips to the beach that I take with my family and my emotions and feelings toward nature.

Starry Night

My other favorite painting by Van Gogh is “Starry Night”. I like this painting because it brings a universal feeling of imagination to me and it makes me think of when I star gaze while camping. This painting is one of the most recognizable pieces of art across the world. The colors used by Van Gogh really bring out a dark vivid night that has great beautiful stars along its path. Like the other painting I chose, this one too shows post-impressionism by the use of colors as symbols and its geometric forms. The symbols in this painting are the dark sky representing the dark and depressing time that Van Gogh is having while in the asylum, and the stars represent what little faith and hope Van Gogh has left. One thing that appeals to me is the figure that is the focal point of the painting and draws the viewer's attention the the middle of the painting.