Five Interesting Facts about Vincent Van Gogh
Born Vincent Willem van Gogh on March 30th 1853 in the village of Groot-Zundert in southern Netherlands, Van Gogh is arguably the greatest Dutch painter ever, alongside Rembrandt. While revered after death and hailed as one of the most influential post-impressionist painter of the 20th century, a living Van Gogh, an outlandishly eccentric character, lead a stark and difficult life, presenting an incredible dichotomy between his personal beliefs and public persona. Nevertheless, his aimless wanderings, early theological obsession, romantic live, the accelerated growth of his talent and his beautiful relationship with his brother presents a most interesting facet on this flawed genius.
Considering the period he lived in, where neither public nor private transportation were especially comfortable or affordable (not to mention time consuming), Van Gogh was a remarkable nomad. Between the age of eleven and his death at 37, he lived in an astonishing 37 cities, towns and villages! Although he spent the majority of his time in The Hague and Paris, he spent the better part of his adult live travelling and living in England, France and Belgium.
Under different circumstances, we would probably have known Van Gogh as just a simple preacher, instead of the artist we are all familiar with. Perhaps influenced by his father, a minister of a Dutch Reformist Church and by the artists’ own noted empathic nature, Van Gogh made at least five attempts to enter into the religious fraternity. His failed attempts at entering the Faculty of Theology at Amsterdam University and the Protestant Evangelical Missionary School in Brussels are sandwiched between his brief sojourn as a preacher at a boys’ school in Isleworth and missionary in the coal-mining village of Borinage.
His most spectacular failure though was in the small parish of Wasmes. Engaged by local authorities as a lay preacher, Van Gogh, in an effort to emulate the impoverished living conditions of his congregation, slept in a makeshift straw mattress in a decrepit hut. He was fired soon after for besmirching the reputation of the priesthood.
While working in his uncle’s bookshop in Dordrecht, his roommate then told of a time when Van Gogh unsuccessfully attempted to do a transliteration of the bible from Latin to English, French and German.
It is perhaps emblematic of his mental issues (thought to be anything from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder), that his relationships are often perceived to be a projection of his lack of self- esteem; it is as if, the artist’ romantic choices offers a lesser possibility of him being rebuffed.
His history with prostitutes, most notably with Clasina Hoornik (rumored to bore him a son, Willem) and Rachel from the town of Arles (who was the recipient of Van Gogh’s sliced ear) appears to lend credence to the theory.
His affair with Margo Begemann, ten years his senior, and his cousin, Kee Vos Stricker, seven years older and a mother of an eight year old boy, tends to strengthened the assumption.
There were also quiet whispers that Van Gogh was a bisexual and his onetime psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Gachet (of the Potrait of Dr. Gachet fame) was alleged to be one his lovers. Fellow artist, Paul Gauguin was another thought to be his companion. In fact, Gauguin was the catalyst for the infamous ‘ear-slicing’ incident, who witnesses claimed were quarreling with Van Gogh moments before the incident.
Unlike mere mortals who have to sweat and toil to master their crafts, the flamboyantly talented genius Van Gogh started painting seriously in 1880 at the grand age of 27. His one year at the Academie des Beaux-Arts gave him the required foundation and he experimented with abandon thereafter; oil paintings, lithography, memory drawing, Japanese prints, pointillism, colors and much more. Assisted by luminaries and contemporaries such as Willem Roelofs, Paul Signac, Emile Bernard, Fernand Cormon and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh’s ability and productivity accelerated at a phenomenal pace. In the ten year period until his death, he managed to produce over 900 paintings and 1100 drawings.
The importance of Theo Van Gogh to his brother Vincent cannot possibly be overstated. Not only did Theo encouraged Vincent to attend the Academie des Beaux-Arts, Theo was unceasingly loyal and supportive of his brother. He also almost entirely funded Vincent’s last ten years of life, culminating in Vincent’s depression fueled suicide attempt on July 27th 1890. Grievously wounded, Vincent died two days later with Theo by his side. “The sadness lasts forever”, were his last words to his brother Theo. Heartbroken, Theo himself died six months later and was buried next to his beloved brother. Soon after his death, a collection of over 600 letters, correspondence between the both of them stretching over 20 years, were made public and it showcased the beautiful bond between the two brothers.