On Vincent van Gogh's birthday, here are seven things we didn't know about him
Rummage through the extremities of the Western Art world and you won’t find an artist that comes close to Vincent van Gogh. The Dutch painter didn’t rise to fame during his time but 160 years later, the troubled genius’ works are a badge of honor for fine art across the globe. Happy Birthday, Vincent! We sincerely wish the world had understood you sooner.
On the legendary artist’s 167th birthday, The Artment celebrates him with a look at the lesser known details about his life and work – from the origins of his name to why he cut off his own ear. We bet you didn’t know about most of them!
1. Vincent van Gogh was not the first Vincent van Gogh!
Van Gogh was one of a kind but his name wasn’t. Theodurus van Gogh and Anna Carbentus van Gogh gave birth to their first child in 1852 and named him Vincent Willem van Gogh after his paternal and maternal grandfathers. It was tradition to name children after grandparents.
Unfortunately, their first child was stillborn and had to be buried. On March 30, 1853, exactly one year later, the couple had another child. They named him Vincent Willem van Gogh. So, as unique as the name sounds, our dear van Gogh was the third person of that name in his family.
2. Van Gogh’s first instinct was never to become a painter
As a child, Van Gogh’s mother always encouraged him to draw and thus, his first inspiration to pick up pen and paper was his mom! However, he began his career as an art dealer. Since his brother Theo was already in the trade, it was easy for him to hop on to the family business.
After a few years in the business, he moved to London to become a school teacher. He didn’t have much luck with that either. So, he pursued in his father’s footsteps and decided to become a preacher at the coal mining fields in Belgium. The locals despised him for his erratic moods and eventually drove him out of that locality.
Finally, Van Gogh returned to his childhood passions of painting and drawing. In letters to his brother Theo, he mentioned wanting to become an artist whole and soul and began traveling through Holland, France and Belgium in search of inspiration.
3. A new masterpiece every 36 hours!
The next few years of Van Gogh’s life were the years of creativity and inspiration. He had been an artist only for 10 years but his oeuvre showed otherwise; he produced over 900 prolific paintings, sketches and drawings and if you do the math well, you’ll see that he almost made a new masterpiece every 36 hours!
4. Bros before anything else
Vincent Van Gogh didn’t have too many friends. But the few friends he had were influential artists themselves like Paul Gaugin and Emile Bernard. They lived and painted together in the South of France, often exchanging self-portraits and making paintings for one another. Sweet, right?
Van Gogh’s friendship with Gaugin, especially, went down in history as the bloodiest one there ever was. Some believe that he and Gaugin got into a brawl and Gaugin cut off Van Gogh’s left ear! But to cover for Gaugin in front of the police, Van Gogh falsely confessed that he had done it himself. It is also rumoured that he did this to himself to cope with his mental illness.
5. He was not recognized during his time
You’d think that an artist of such talent would receive praise and appreciation for his work but during his lifetime, Van Gogh’s work went severely unrecognized. When he painted what is by far his most famous painting The Starry Night, he thought it wasn’t good enough to show anybody. If only he knew…
In all his years of creating, he sold only one painting. He was never too successful. In fact, the first-ever exhibition to show his paintings to the world was organized by his brother Theo one day after Van Gogh’s death.
Wonder how he would react if we told him that his Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold for 82.5 million dollars becoming the most expensive painting to have ever been sold?
6. Van Gogh’s last words
The last few years of Vincent van Gogh’s life were plagued with an illness he struggled to understand. Many a time, he self-admitted himself to psychiatric hospitals and mental asylums.
One afternoon in Paris, as he sat painting the landscapes in a little village in Paris, his illness took over and Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. His brother did take him to a hospital to recover but a day later, Van Gogh died of infection. His last words to Theo pain the heart. He said, “this sadness will last forever”. His work and his spirit linger on.
7. An inspiration to many
Van Gogh is as famous in India and Europe as he is in China and Russia. His work has inspired artists for generations and will continue to inspire for generations to come – not only painters but writers, filmmakers and artists of various pedigrees.
Don McLean’s 1971 song called Vincent was a huge hit as it paid homage to Van Gogh and his colourful but unique perspective on the world. In 2019, Van Gogh received a gift from artists all over the world who created paintings inspired by his style. After six rigorous years of compiling, all their work came together to create Loving Vincent, an animated documentary about the artist’s life, work and times.
A painter par excellence, a fighter of genuine bravery, a sufferer of hardships and a gift to humanity – Vincent will forever remain in our hearts. Happy Birthday to him, once again. May the stars in the starry night and the sunflowers in vase never fade.