10 Things You Should Know About Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh la nuit étoilée
Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

From the 22nd of February onwards, the Atelier des Lumières in Paris is organising a new exhibition that will provide a digital immersion into Van Gogh’s universe. Ignored in his lifetime, poorly understood by the Beaux-Arts and ill-appreciated by his contemporaries, Van Gogh profoundly disrupted painting conventions, leaving a lasting legacy and over 850 artworks. Here are ten fascinating facts about this tormented genius.

#1 He got fired from his first art job

Young Van Gogh
Sax Berlin, Young Vincent, (2016)

In 1875, Van Gogh worked at the Boussod and Valadon gallery in Paris. He wasn’t fond of the artworks he had to sell and didn’t hestitate to share his opinion with the gallery’s clients which got him fired within a year.

#2 He was a teacher and a pastor

Auvers-sur-Oise Church painting Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh, Auvers-sur-Oise’s Church (1890)

In 1876, Van Gogh started working as a teacher in a school for underprivileged students. Their misery deeply troubled him, and he struggled with his work. He then decided to become a pastor to support the poor and needy. Unfortunately, his altruism and great generosity failed to make up for his lack of eloquence and theological knowledge: the Church did not wish him to continue to work as a pastor. His failure in these careers hurt him deeply.

#3 He burned his hand out of love for a woman

Gauguin's armchair
Vincent Van Gogh, Gauguin’s Armchair (1888)

In 1881, Van Gogh fell in love with one of his cousins, Kee, who rejected his advances. During a dramatic encounter with Kee’s parents, he held his hand over a candle flame until they let him see their daughter. His sacrifice wasn’t enough to convince them; he was left distraught by this romantic misadventure.

#4 He took care of a pregnant prostitute

van gogh painting Sien
Vincent Van Gogh, Sien Hoornik (1882)

In 1882, he took in Sien, a prostitute with child, and cared for her. Van Gogh lived with Sien for more than 18 months and sacrificed a lot for her and her child to survive. In exchange, she sometimes posed for him as a model.

#5 He cut off his own ear as punishment for fighting with Gauguin

van gogh painting autoportrait 1889
Vincent Van Gogh, Autoportrait à l’oreille coupée (1889)

In 1888, Paul Gauguin accepted to meet with Van Gogh in Arles to form the “Atelier du Midi” in his Yellow House. However, the two artists had a hard time getting along, both on a personal and artistic level. According to one account, during a fight, Van Gogh attacked Gauguin with a razor before he realising that he was going too far. In order to punish himself for wanting to hurt a friend, he cut off his own ear.

#6 He continued painting while he was in hospital

Van Gogh, Arles Hospital painting
Vincent Van Gogh, Le jardin de l’hôpital à Arles (1889)

When Van Gogh was interned at the Saint Rémy de Provence’s hospital, he asked for a second cell that he’d use as a studio. When he was not having a breakdown, the painter worked relentlessly. He painted the views he could see from his room as well as portraits of the hospital’s staff, as they were the only ones who would pose for him.

#7 He was very close to his brother, Theo

Van Gogh, Théo’s portrait, longtime mistaken for the artist’s autoportrait (1887)

Theo was Van Gogh’s youngest brother: even though he was younger than him, he was his protector. Theo was an art dealer and did everything he could to try and sell his brother’s artwork. Throughout his life, Theo supported Van Gogh and provided him with food and shelter. Compassionate, Theo even named his son after him. Since 1914, the two brothers, who were so close during their lifetime, are buried side by side at the Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery.

#8 He only sold a single painting during his lifetime

Vincent Van Gogh, The Red Wines (1888)

In 1890, Theo sold his brother’s painting The Red Wines for 400 francs. Despite Theo’s tenacious efforts, this was the only time he managed to sell one. The artist had a lot of trouble to find places for exhibiting his artworks. Most of his contemporaries made fun of his paintings and never tried to understand it.

#9 He was influenced by Japanese art

Vincent Van Gogh, Branches of an Almond Tree in Blossom (1890)

In 1890, he wrote to his family about his painting Branches of an Almond Tree in Blossom. In this letter, he explained how Japanese art had influenced him. Van Gogh even named the Impressionists “The French Japanese”: there are lots of references and inspirations from Japanese art in the work of Impressionist masters such as Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, or Mary Cassatt. For Van Gogh, Provence was a sort of European Japan. As he explained to his brother, the paintings he produced in this region were a tribute to Japanese art.

#10 He painted Café Terrace at Night without using any black painting

Van Gogh, Café Terrace at Night(1888)

Van Gogh was obsessed with rendering obscurity in a natural way, especially without resorting to black. In a letter he wrote to Theo, Van Gogh shared his satisfaction of having managed to paint Café Terrace at Night, without using any black pigment, but only blue, green and purple.

Discover Van Gogh’s artworks like you’ve never seen them before from the 22nd of February to the 31st of December 2019 at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris, and from the 1st of March 2019 to the 5th of January 2020 at the Carrières de Lumières in Beaux de Provence.

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