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Vincent van Gogh
About the Artist

Vincent van Gogh was born in Holland in 1853, the oldest of a minister's six children. At 16, he went to work in his uncle's art galleries in Holland, England, and France. After six years, van Gogh quarreled with his employers and resigned. He served briefly as a preacher, but at the age of 27 van Gogh decided to become a painter. He studied briefly at an art school in Brussels but eventually went to live in the country, teaching himself to draw by sketching the peasants at work.

In 1886 van Gogh went to Paris to live with his younger brother Theo, who worked in an art gallery. Through Theo he met many artists, including Impressionist painters Edgar Degas, Georges Seurat, and Paul Gauguin. He abandoned his dark, gloomy colors and began to use the light, shimmering colors and broken brushstrokes of Impressionism. In February of 1888, he left Paris for the warmth of Arles in the south of France. There van Gogh began to develop his own style of painting.

Van Gogh's friend, Paul Gauguin, soon joined him in Arles. However, the two argued frequently. Throughout his life van Gogh suffered from periods of depression. These culminated in a severe mental collapse, in the throes of which van Gogh cut off his own ear. He returned to painting, but he began to suffer from hallucinations and blackouts. He entered a hospital and later, at his own request, a psychiatric hospital.

In spite of his illness, van Gogh painted 150 canvases during the last six months of his life. In February of 1890, he received the news that his first painting had sold the only sale during his lifetime. In May of 1890, when his mental health seemed to be improving, he checked out of the hospital. He placed himself under the care of a doctor near Paris. There he painted constantly, but feared a recurrence of the attacks. He felt he had been a terrible burden to his brother Theo, who had financially and spiritually supported him throughout his adult life. Van Gogh shot himself on July 27. He died two days later. Today, his paintings are among the most well known and valued in the world.

Vocabulary Terms

Impressionism--A movement in painting in which the emphasis on light and color, loose brush strokes, ordinary subject matter; creates the "impression" of a moment in time. Dabs and strokes of color are used to depict the natural appearances of objects and reflected light.

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