Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853, of Dutch origin. At 16 he was sent by his father to work for his uncle at an art dealership in The Hague, and with dedication was eventually transferred to London. Preferring to spend time in the company of peasants to that of London society, it was these people who were to populate his work when he became a full-time artist in 1880.
In 1886 van Gogh moved to Paris to be with his younger brother who was working as an art dealer. During this time he was introduced to the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist art movements, and the influential works of Bernard, Degas, Gauguin and Seurat. These, in combination with Japanese prints and works by pioneering colourists Delacroix and Monticelli, all contributed towards changing the sombre tone of his palette. The transformation can clearly be seen when comparing the subdued colours of works such as The Potato Market during his early Dutch period with the thick brush-strokes of expressive colour during his later Arles phase.
It was in the final two and a half years of his life, whilst residing in Arles that van Gogh was at his most creative, demonstrating his enthusiasm for the surrounding countryside by churning out hundreds of paintings during this time. Among the most famous are Starry Night, Sunflowers, Cafe at Night and Wheatfield with Cypresses.
Although mainly self-taught, van Gogh is recognised as a unique artist whose early realist pieces and later impressionist work defied contemporary expectations by employing a personal style in which colour and brushwork were always innovatively addressed. Since his death in 1890 he has been acknowledged as the leading artist to introduce the Expressionist movement, and his influence throughout the 20th century can be traced from the Fauves to the Abstract Expressionists.
As famous today for the fact he cut off his ear as he is for some of his works, van Gogh’s mental illness is also the likely reason behind his registered suicide. Cutting off part of his ear was an act attributed to an argument with Gauguin, whom he greatly admired, but the suicide is not likely to be a direct result of the limited success he enjoyed during his lifetime, for he always maintained that one day people worldwide would come to appreciate his work.
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The Starry Night, June 1889 appears in: