Despite dozens of biographies, thousands of articles and millions of visitors visiting his museum in Amsterdam, there are still many unknowns about the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.
Only 37 years old when he died and had only sold one painting, van Gogh was saddened that he did not live long enough to see the extent of his legacy – of which his works are now among the best. The most expensive paintings in the world.
He painted almost 900 pictures in 10 years.
At the age of 27, he worked as a layman, teacher and art dealer.
Suddenly, he gave up on these careers and decided to focus all of his energy on painting and drawing – and once he did, nothing would stop him!
Over the next ten years, van Gogh created a work that includes nearly 900 paintings and more than 1,100 works on paper – meaning one new work of art every 36 hours (on average). It’s incredible how much he has achieved in such a short time.
He lives on coffee, cigarettes and bread
Van Gogh spent his adult life in poverty, surviving on cheap food. His diet consisted mainly of bread and coffee. He drank to excess and was rarely seen without a pipe in hand.
When he was 33 years old, van Gogh’s health had gone from bad to worse, and he wrote to his brother Theo saying that he only ate six hot meals in about a year, and his teeth felt shaky and in pain.
Considering he works hard, eats poorly, and enjoys smoking and drinking, it’s no surprise that he’s also often sick.
Van Gogh lived with mental illness his whole life
While it is quite well known that Van Gogh lived with mental illness, we cannot be 100% certain of the details. What is well understood is that his symptoms include hallucinations, depression, and seizures – these symptoms are pretty severe.
Many modern psychiatrists have attempted to diagnose his illness from his symptoms, and possible diagnoses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, hypergraphia, Geschwind syndrome, and temporal lobe epilepsy. It is also possible that he had a combination of these.
Whatever his diagnosis, his lifestyle was likely made worse – in a word, it’s not entirely healthy.
He was nicknamed the ‘Red-haired Madman’
Because van Gogh’s mental health was often poor, he spent much time in and out of the hospital. Over the years, the hallucinations and delusions he experienced became more intense and frequent, and he began to attract the attention of his neighbours.
Frightened by his behavior, they named him “le fou roux” (Red-haired madman) and gathered together to gather signatures for a petition against him (The Arles Complaint. ). In response, the police kicked van Gogh out of his home and he was once again returned to the hospital.
‘Starry Night’ was created in a ‘refugee camp’
Luckily for van Gogh, while in the hospital, he was able to continue creating his work – and he would spend the day peering through the barred window to take in the scenery below. Here, he completed his most famous work: ‘Starry Night’.
Starry Night shows his visions on different days, and even at other times of the day. As he sits and observes changes in light and weather, he paints scenes at sunrise, at moonrise, on sunny days, overcast days, windy days and rainy days.
Although it is recognized as a masterpiece, van Gogh was never satisfied with the work and even said that he thought of it and the other works he completed while in the hospital failure.
The truth behind van Gogh’s ears is still unknown
Most people will hear the story of van Gogh cutting off his ear – and while his ear was indeed cut, the surrounding details have never been confirmed.
The popular version of the story is often told this way. Van Gogh and his very close friend, Gauguin, argued. The argument became more and more intense until van Gogh threatened his friend with a razor blade. But instead of harming Gauguin, van Gogh cut off part of his ear – wrapped it in a cloth and then gave it to a prostitute.
However, some historians consider Gaugin to be the one to blame. The story goes that Gaugin, a skilled swordsman, cut off van Gogh’s ear with his sword during a fight, and the two artists agree to hide the truth to avoid the police.
Although it is also believed that van Gogh had his entire ear cut off, it is likely that he only partially cut off his earlobe.
Van Gogh died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound…or was it him?
At the age of 37, van Gogh was discharged from the hospital and lived closer to his brother, but his mental health declined.
Things continued to worsen until July 29, 1890, when it was reported that he had shot himself in the chest. Although the bullet penetrated his chest without obvious damage to his insides or spine, doctors were unable to remove it and he died from an infected wound two days later.
Although van Gogh’s story is the most accepted, some believe he didn’t shoot himself and a local teenager teased the artist who killed him.
On his deathbed, van Gogh’s heartbreaking farewells to his brother were “sorrow that will last forever”.
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What made Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear?
Could it have been voices in his head
he didn’t want to hear?
Or the taunts of the young boys,
who accompanied with throwing stones?
Or the derisive voices
of the villagers
who little respected
his focus on his artistic talents.
Some questions remain:
Did he really end his life on his own?
When he showed hope in recovery?
Still wrote his brother daily,
communicating by letters,
a steady friendship with postmaster,
who instructed his son long after
to find his closest relative
to deliver his one last letter.
An argument with the local bar owner,
who commented cruelly, you are a financial burden
on your brother, Theo,
depriving his family of a more comfortable life,
or the recent cold shoulder given by his love interest,
could have been the instigation.
One Doctor suggested, the angle of the gunshot in the stomach
was not self-inflicted, was he protecting a local boy
from being tried for the murder?
Yet his paintings done
stroke by stroke,
brought beauty out of everyday life,
for some artists to use his methods,
many grew to appreciate
his views on life
to be valued for its originality
day by day.
In examining Vincent’s paintings, sketches
in all their variety,
women were often the subject,
never on a pedestal,
admired only for their beauty,
he displayed their various realities
of the roles and tasks they did,
showing all they contributed
to life in families and communities.
They were weavers, reapers of wheat,
sewers, cooks, laundry,
nursing mothers, others mourning.
Others now questioning,
was his ear cut off
by his own doing?
as it was done while in a fight
with artist, Paul Gauduin,
well-known to have fencing skills.
Vincent always self-effacing,
not wanting to suffer
those who interacted with him,
unwilling to be a burden to
his brother, his roommate, the teenage boys in town.
Could the derision of the townspeople,
be related to his Epilepsy?
At that time – dealt with suspicion, fear
of this unknown behavior
that suddenly took him in fits.
Questions to ponder,
rather than certainties decided on,
his story unknown in it’s entirety.
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