French English


"The bottle of absinthe is empty again. I’ve drunk more than I should have. The warmth of the alcohol has filled my whole body, making the blues and yellows glow before my eyes. Tomorrow I will try my hand at an iris or a sunflower. This evening, I feel terrible, so terrible; I’m scared that I’m going mad, that I’m losing it. I have a few pennies left for my medicine, but I need more alcohol. Time and sorrow have exhausted all my energies. It pains me just to pick up a brush. Putting it to the canvas tears me apart. I need to write to Theo again, begging him, 'Help me, I need a little money.' A little more absinthe, a few more colours, just a bit more money. I am suffering this evening, my head is causing me pain, ever greater. Tomorrow will be another day."

Van Gogh

Self-Portrait, 1889.
Oil on canvas, 65 x 54.5 cm.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
© Musée d’Orsay, dist.
RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt.

Vincent van Gogh is born on 30 March 1853 in Groot Zundert, in the south of Holland, not far from the Belgian border. He is the oldest of the six children of the vicar Theodorus van Gogh and Anna van Gogh-Carbentus. He is named after his brother who had been stillborn one year previously.

Van Gogh is particularly close to his brother Theodorus, born in 1857. They maintain a long correspondence all throughout his life.

He is hired by his uncle to work in the Goupil & Co. gallery in The Hague in 1869, which allows him to become acquainted with English art, with the works of the Barbizon school, as well as with 17th-century Flemish painting (with Rembrandt in particular). He joins the London branch of Goupil in 1873. In October 1874, he is sent to the head Goupil gallery in Paris, where he lives an isolated life and dedicates himself to the study of the Bible. Dismissed from the Goupil headquarters for negligence in 1876, Van Gogh returns to England where he works initially as a teacher and then later as a vicar’s assistant.

Van Gogh returns to Amsterdam in 1877 in order to prepare himself for entering the Theology faculty. He abandons this idea a year later and consequently fails to become a vicar. Not until 1879 does Van Gogh gain permission, by order of the Evangelical Church of Brussels, to work as a vicar for six months in the Borinage district. But his contract is not renewed because of his almost-fanatical zeal. He falls into a depression and severs all contact with his family for nine months.

After numerous failures, Van Gogh begins his artistic career in 1880. He goes to Brussels, studies anatomy and perspective and works in the studio of the Dutch painter, Van Rappard.

During his period in The Hague from 1881 to 1883, he makes almost 200 works (including sixty in pencil drawings and thirty watercolours), mostly Dutch landscapes and portraits. In November, he leaves Nuenen for Antwerp. This period is one of his most prolific, and it is at this time that he paints his masterpiece The Potato Eaters, showing the humility, hard work, and poverty of the farmers. He discovers the art of Rubens, his palette becomes lighter as a result, and he starts applying flat colour after being inspired by Japanese prints.

Van Gogh

The Potato Eaters, April 1885.
Oil on canvas, 82 x 114 cm.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

In 1881, he takes Clasina Maria Hornik, also known as Sien, under his wing, even though he lives off the pension sent to him monthly by his brother. Sien is an abandoned, pregnant prostitute with a five-year-old child.

In 1882, following a short period of optimism and continuous work, Van Gogh falls back into depression when, pressured by his family, he leaves Sien. He decides to return to his parents’ house at Nuenen in 1883 and sets up his studio in the laundry.

During the summer of 1884, he falls in love with Margot Begeman, the daughter of his parents’ neighbours. They decide to marry but their parents oppose the marriage and in despair, Margot attempts suicide by swallowing strychnine. Van Gogh helps her to recover, but he remains profoundly shocked by her act.


Almond Blossom, February 1890.
Oil on canvas, 73.5 x 92 cm.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

He moves to Paris with his brother Theo in 1886. The artist frequents the art gallery of Julien Tanguy (often called ‘Father Tanguy’). Under the influence of the Impressionists (notably Monet, Sisley, and Renoir), his palette changes and his tones become still lighter. He also becomes friends with the painter Pissarro. His brother Theo is increasingly worried by his irritability.

“Do not think that it is money which worries me most. It is above all the idea that we no longer understand each other. There was a time when I loved Vincent deeply, when he was my best friend, but no longer. It seems that it is even worse on his side, since he never misses a chance to show me that he despises me and that I revolt him. It makes the living situation almost
Theo to Wil, 14 March 1887.

Van Gogh moves to Arles in 1888. He is inspired by the blazing sun and the brilliance of the Provence colours and produces more than 200 paintings in two years. From May, he stays in the ‘Yellow House’. Gauguin joins him in October but their artistic quarrels spoil their relationship. In December, after a violent dispute with Gauguin, Van Gogh cuts off part of his ear, wraps it in newspaper, and sends it to a prostitute called Rachel. He is hospitalised and Gauguin leaves, horrified. Suffering from fits of madness, Van Gogh voluntarily enters the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he will stay from 1889 until 1890.


The Starry Night, June 1889.
Oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Although interrupted by bouts of depression, this period is very important for the painter from an artistic point of view. He creates some of his masterpieces, often portraying the landscape and its olive trees.

From 1890, Van Gogh shows ten or so works at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants, in Paris. He then moves to Auvers-sur-Oise and is treated by Doctor Gachet. Feeling that he is a burden to his brother, his behaviour becomes troubled once more. On 27 July, Van Gogh shoots himself in the chest and he dies on the morning of 29 July with Theo at his side.

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