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“The highest form of success comes to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship or from bitter toil, and who, out of these, wins the splendid ultimate triumph”

— Theodore Roosevelt

These words by the American President remind me of Vincent van Gogh, the legendry artist who achieved this highest form of success. Passionate, ecstatic, generous and enigmatic, these are some of the adjectives that define the painter who not only captured people’s imaginations, but left a legacy to inspire the generations to come.

Born to Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Cornelia Carbentus on March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, Vincent Willem van Gogh was a post-impressionist painter whose work influenced several new art forms and artists in the 20th century. 

Vincent inherited his love for nature, drawing and watercolors from his mother. At the age of 15, Vincent started working for Goupil & Cie., an establishment of art dealers in The Hague. In June 1873, with his transfer to Groupil Gallery, he moved to London. In London, he started visiting art galleries and reading the works of eminent writers. He became an aficionado of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. It did not took him long to fell in love with English culture.

“One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way.”

These words echo Vincent’s emotions. He had a series of heartbreaks. In London, he fell in love with Eugenie Loyer, who rejected his marriage proposal. Dejected and heartbroken, he became melancholy and angry with almost everyone. Furious at the commodification of art, he started telling customers not to buy art and this cost him his job. Later, he fell in love with his recently widowed cousin, Kate, who shunned his love and returned to her home. He then relocated to The Hague, where he fell in love with Clasina Maria Hoornik.

Vincent as an Artist

At the age of 27, when Vincent decided to become an artist, his younger brother, Theodorus “Theo” van Gogh, supported him emotionally and financially. He had no formal training of art; therefore, he began self-study. In April/May 1885, he painted his first masterpiece, “The Potato Eaters.”

In March 1886, he moved in with Theo in his apartment in Paris. It was in Paris that Vincent first experienced impressionist art. The color and light of impressionist art inspired him so much that he started imitating it; however, he was not satisfied and later he developed his own style. He was also inspired and influenced by Japanese art. He was so much inclined towards it that he not only studied eastern philosophy, but dreamt of traveling to Japan to experience it.

“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.”

In February 1888, he relocated to the south of France and started living at the “little yellow house.” He preferred to spend his money on paint rather on food. He was living on coffee, bread and absinthe, which made him sick and indifferent. Not only his physical health was declining, he was also suffering psychologically. At one instance, he sipped turpentine and ate paint. Some people say that painting and tobacco helped him maintain emotional balance; however, there are others who believe that his mental health impeded his artistic career.

His work took him to places. He lived at various locations across Europe. The local cultures and situations were influential in the developments of his style. He created over 2100 artworks over a decade, out of which 860 were oil paintings. He explored various themes and painted portraits, landscapes, still lives, trees, wheat fields and sunflowers.

Death

On the fateful day of July 27, 1890, Vincent shot himself in the chest; the bullet did not kill him instantly, but left with a lethal wound. On July 29, 1890, he died at the age of 37, in the arms of his brother, Theo.

Legacy

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.”

Vincent rose to fame posthumously. Just like a phoenix, he regenerated through his legacy. His 71 paintings, which were exhibited in Paris on March 17, 1901, brought him fame. Today, he is considered as one of the greatest painter of 19th century. His paintings are sought among art lovers and collectors, who love to buy paintings. They are counted amongst the most expensive paintings in the world.

Taking inspiration from one of Vincent’s letters to Theo, where he wrote, “The truth is we cannot speak other than by our paintings,” directors, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman decided to tell the story of Vincent through his paintings and make world’s first of its kind feature film called, Loving Vincent. It is a hand painted animated movie, with an oil painting in each frame. This movie aims at telling the life and death of Vincent through the characters and landscapes that he painted. Loving Vincent will feature around 120 famous works of the legend and it is due to release in September 2016. Art lovers, who cannot afford to buy art of Vincent, must experience his art on large screen.