Genius Ignored, Chapter 7: Van Gogh [Life/Biography]

[Summary: Van Gogh was an indisputable genius, utterly, indisputably ignored. He created hundreds of bold, brilliant paintings; only one was sold during his lifetime.]


It’s entirely possible that if Van Gogh had never lived this book would never have been written. Not that these other artists wouldn’t have been just as great and just as ignored, but the concept might have been kind of fuzzy. Van Gogh brings it into focus: an indisputable genius, utterly, indisputably ignored. No repetition inures us; we are freshly shocked and amazed.

After having failed as an art dealer and a Protestant evangelist, Van Gogh decided at the age of 27 to become an artist. He received a smattering of formal education, but mostly, with singular feverishness and dedication, studied and practiced on his own. In his 33rd year he moved to Paris, blossoming into a brilliant colorist. Two years later he moved south to Arles, producing bold, bright paintings and drawings at a miraculous rate. He started suffering bouts of insanity. He moved north to Auvers, near Paris, continuing to paint wonderfully. He killed himself at the age of 37. He and his brother Theo who had supported him financially and emotionally throughout his career had been able to sell only one painting while he was still alive.

Don McLean performing his wonderful song “Vincent” (“starry, starry night….”)

Link back to Genius Ignored –Table of Contents

{Note: Most of the letters in the text which follows are numbered. These are the standard numbers assigned to the letters by Van Gogh’s nephew, Vincent Willem van Gogh, in his The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh. (See References at end)}.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in the village of Zundert, The Netherlands, on March 30, 1853, the son of Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Carbentus. Theodorus was a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, a minority in the mostly Catholic province of Brabant where Zundert was located. His mother drew and painted wildflowers as a hobby.

Though his parents weren’t wealthy, they sent Vincent to nearby boarding schools starting at the age of 11 because they felt the Zundert school was inadequate. When he was 15 he left school for some reason in the middle of the term and returned home.

Later that same year he was apprenticed to his Uncle Cent who operated the Hague branch of Goupil and Co., a major Paris art dealership. He was exposed to both the “high”, Salon art of the time (that of Jean-Leon Gerome being the prime example) and the more down-to-earth art of Millet, Breton, Israels, and Anton Mauve. (The last married Vincent’s cousin, Jet Carbentus, in 1870.)

When Vincent’s younger brother Theo left home in August, 1872, to join Goupil’s Brussels office, Vincent wrote him the first of what would be 670 letters over the next 19 years. (While Theo preserved almost all the letters Vincent sent him, we have only a handful of Theo’s letters to Vincent.) Vincent was transferred to Goupil’s London office in 1873.

Van Gogh at age 19, last known photograph 

Vincent was an avid reader. The French philosophical historian Jules Michelet’s L’Amour contained a mingling of ideas and images which appealed to him strongly. He quoted from it in his letter of October 11, 1873, to Carolien and Willem Stockum:

“From here I see a lady, I see her walk pensively in a not very large garden, bereft of its flowers early in the season, but sheltered, as you see them behind our cliffs in France or the dunes of Holland. The exotic shrubs have already been put back into the conservatory. The fallen leaves reveal a number of statues. An artistic luxury which contrasts a little with the lady’s very simple, modest, dignified dress, of which the black (or grey) silk is almost imperceptibly brightened by a lilac ribbon.

“But haven’t I seen her already in the museums of Amsterdam or The Hague? She reminds me of a lady by Philippe de Champaigne [Woman in Mourning] who took my heart, so candid, so honest, sufficiently intelligent, yet simple, without the cunning to extricate herself from the ruses of the world. This woman has remained in my mind for thirty years, persistently coming back to me, making me say: ‘But what was she called? What happened to her? Did she know some happiness? And how did she cope with life?'” [Letter #11a, quoted in Hammacher, p. 18]


Vincent became obsessed with this image of a serious, sensitive woman. The first incarnation was Eugenia Loyer, daughter of his London landlord. Saying almost nothing, he built up a one-sided fantasy relationship. When he finally declared his love, he discovered she was secretly engaged. Vincent refused to accept the fact, exacerbating a naturally awkward situation. It was only during a summer vacation in The Netherlands that he began to get over her. . . .

Vincent’s obsession with Michelet and the “woman in black” was replaced by religious zeal and Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. He advised Theo that Michelet was dangerous and even went so far in a subsequent letter as to check whether Theo had destroyed his copy. Long before Vincent thought of himself as an artist we find him, in his letters to Theo, describing the world in thoroughly visual, artistic terms:

Did I tell you about the storm I watched recently? The sea was yellowish, especially near the shore; on the horizon a strip of light, and above it immense dark grey clouds from which the rain poured down in slanting streaks. The wind blew the dust from the little white path on the rocks into the sea and bent the blooming hawthorn bushes and wallflowers that grow on the rocks. To the right were fields of young green corn, and in the distance the town looked like the towns that Albrecht Durer used to etch. A town with its turrets, mills, slate roofs and houses built in Gothic style, and below, the harbour between two jetties which project far into the sea.” [Letter #67 (to Theo), May 31, 1876]Vincent’s work with Goupil in England had started out well enough but by 1875 he seemed to have lost interest. He was transferred to Paris in hopes that London was somehow the problem. It wasn’t. In December, 1875, despite the fact that the holiday period was Goupil’s busiest time, Vincent left, without permission, to visit his family — and was fired.

He accepted an unpaid position teaching at a boy’s school in Ramsgate, England, but quickly switched to a more religious school in Islesworth, and then to religious service itself. He delivered a sermon.

“When I was standing in the pulpit, I felt like somebody who, emerging from a dark cave underground, comes back to the friendly daylight. It is a delightful thought that in the future wherever I go, I shall preach the Gospel; to do that well, one must have the Gospel in one’s heart. May the Lord give it to me. . . .” [Letter #79 (to Theo), October 7, 1876]Vincent’s letters to Theo in this period became rambling, near-hysterical. It seemed that he had suffered some sort of breakdown. When Vincent came home for Christmas that year, his uncle and father convinced him to take a position at a bookstore in Dordrecht (Netherlands). P. C. Gorlitz, a roommate of Vincent’s in Dordrecht, left this description:

“He was a singular man with a singular appearance into the bargain. He was well made, and had reddish hair which stood up on end; his face was homely and covered with freckles, but changed and brightened wonderfully when he warmed into enthusiasm, which happened often enough. Van Gogh provoked laughter repeatedly by his attitude and behaviour — for everything he did and thought and felt, and his way of living, was different from that of others of his age. At table he would not take meat, gravy, etc. And then his face had always an abstracted expression — pondering, deeply serious, melancholy. But when he laughed, he did so heartily and with gusto, and his whole face brightened.” [quoted in Sweetman, p. 86]One of his coworkers had less favorable memories:

In theory Vincent had the show goods, and now and then the delivery goods, under his care — but whenever anyone looked at what he was doing, it was found that instead of working, he was translating the Bible into French, German, and English, in four columns, with the Dutch text in addition.

He was puttering at it mostly. At other times when you happened to look, you caught him making little sketches, such silly pen-and-ink drawings, a little tree with a lot of branches and side branches and twigs — nobody ever saw anything else in it. (Although it turned out that afterward, when this work had come so much into vogue, Mr. Braat had taken a good look through Vincent’s little desk from top to bottom! — But not the slightest vestige of his handiwork was to be found, neither outside nor in.) . . .

Well, shortly afterward Vincent went to Amsterdam and was taken in by his uncle, the rear admiral, in whose house he started studying Latin and Greek in an attic. Since then I have lost sight of him — I cannot say I was particularly interested. No, he was not an attractive boy, with those small, narrowed, peering eyes of his, and, in fact, he was always a bit unsociable. . . .

Van Gogh was always as compliant as possible. For all that, he now and then could irritate the old gentleman into peevishness: ‘Good heavens! that boy’s standing there translating the Bible again.’ But he could not be trusted to serve the public and such, except perhaps to sell a quire of letter paper or a halfpenny print once in a while. For he had not the slightest knowledge of the book trade, and he did not make any attempt to learn.

On the contrary, he was excessively interested in religion. . . .” [quoted in Hammacher, p. 31]

His stint as a bookseller lasted only three months. He studied for the ministry for more than a year but failed necessary courses in Latin and Greek. Determined to pursue his vocation anyway, Vincent went to work as a missionary in the Borinage, a coal-mining region in southern Belgium. Poverty-stricken miners worked in conditions of near-slavery.

His official position lasted only from January – July, 1879. An excerpt from the 1879-80 report of the Synodal Board of Evangelization of the Union of Protestant Churches of Belgium:

The experiment of accepting the services of a young Dutchman, Mr. Vincent van Gogh, who felt himself called to be an evangelist in the Borinage, has not produced the anticipated results. If a talent for speaking, indispensable to anyone placed at the head of a congregation, had been added to the admirable qualities he displayed in aiding the sick and wounded, to his devotion to the spirit of self-sacrifice, of which he gave many proofs by consecrating his night’s rest to them, and by stripping himself of most of his clothes and linen in their behalf, Mr. Van Gogh would certainly have been an accomplished evangelist.

Undoubtedly it would be unreasonable to demand extraordinary talents. But it is evident that the absence of certain qualities may render the exercise of an evangelist’s principal function wholly impossible.

Unfortunately this is the case with Mr. Van Gogh. Therefore, the probationary period — some months — having expired, it has been necessary to abandon the idea of retaining him any longer.” [quoted in Auden, p. 66]

Vincent stayed in the area and continued his work anyway for another whole year, living in the most squalid conditions imaginable. He went down into the mines to see what they were really like. He nursed mangled victims of a mine disaster. The horrors estranged him from his family — even Theo.

“. . . despite the onset of winter, he continued to visit the miners and to give away whatever wretched clothing he had left and to pass on any food he could afford from the pittance his parents were occasionally able to send him. . . . the Decrugs [the family he was staying with] pitied him but felt powerless to stop him. . . . they could hear Vincent weeping to himself at night . . .” [Sweetman, p. 114]A drawing he made during these months (see below) has somehow survived: a coal-heaver staggering up a slope, shovel across his shoulder, head half-covered in a sacking hood. When a strike became violent, Vincent persuaded the men not to set fire to the pit.

After a year-long silence he wrote Theo:

“I am writing you with some reluctance, not having done so in such a long time, for many reasons.

“To a certain degree you have become a stranger to me, and I have become the same to you, more than you may think; . . .

“Perhaps you know I am back in the Borinage. Father would rather I stay in the neighborhood of Etten; I refused, and in this I think I acted for the best. Involuntarily, I have become more or less a kind of impossible and suspect personage in the family, at least somebody whom they do not trust, so how could I in any way be of use to anybody? Therefore, above all, I think the best and most reasonable thing for me to do is to go away and keep at a convenient distance, so that I cease to exist for you at all.

“As molting time — when they change their feathers — is for birds, so adversity or misfortune is the difficult time for us human beings. One can stay in it — in that time of molting — one can emerge renewed; but anyhow it must not be done in public and it is not at all amusing, therefore the only thing to do is to hide oneself. . . .

“. . . I should be very glad if you could see in me something more than an idle fellow. Because there are two kinds of idleness, which are a great contrast to each other. There is the man who is idle from laziness and from lack of character, from the baseness of his nature. If you like, you may take me for such a one.

“On the other hand, there is the idle man who is idle in spite of himself, who is inwardly consumed by a great longing for action but does nothing, because it is impossible for him to do anything, because he seems to be imprisoned in some cage, because he does not possess what he needs to become productive, because circumstances bring him inevitably to that point. Such a man does not always know what he could do, but instinctively feels, I am good for something, my life has a purpose after all, I know I that could be quite a different man! How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside of me, what can it be? . . .” [Letter #133 (to Theo), July, 1880]


Early in 1880 he had gone on a pilgrimage (from Cuesmes, Belgium) to Courrieres, France, home of the artist Jules Breton. He didn’t describe the trip until his September letter to Theo:

“I work regularly on the Cours de Dessin Bargue, and intend to finish it before I undertake anything else, for each day it makes my hand as well as my mind more supple and strong; I cannot be grateful enough to Mr. Tersteeg [the manager of Goupil’s branch in The Hague] for having lent it to me so generously. The studies are excellent. Between times I am reading a book on anatomy and another on perspective which Mr. Tersteeg also sent me. The style is very dry, and at times those books are terribly irritating, but still I think I do well to study them.

“So you see that I am in a rage of work, though for the moment it does not produce very brilliant results. But I hope these thorns will bear their white blossoms in due time, and that this apparently sterile struggle is no other than the labor of childbirth. First the pain, then the joy.

“. . . last winter I saw Courrieres. . . . I had undertaken the trip hoping to find some kind of work there if possible. I would have accepted anything. But after all, perhaps I went involuntarily, I can’t exactly say why.

“I had said to myself, You must see Courierres. I had only 10 fr. in my pocket and having started by taking the train, I was soon out of money; I was on the road for a week, I had a long, weary walk of it. Anyhow, I saw Courrieres, and the outside of M. Jules Breton’s studio. . . . But what shall I say of the interior? I was not able to catch a glimpse, for I lacked the courage to enter and introduce myself. . . .

“Though this trip was almost too much for me and I came back overcome by fatigue, with sore feet, and quite melancholy, I do not regret it, for I have seen interesting things, and one learns to take a different but correct view of the hardships of real misery. . . .

“Well, even in that deep misery I felt my energy revive, and I said to myself, In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing. . . .”  [Letter #136 (to Theo), September 24, 1880]


M. G. Delsaut knew him in Cuesmes in 1880:

“He was an intelligent young man, speaking little — always pensive. . . .

“His board was paid by his father, who sent him money. He spent much money on Bibles and New Testaments, which he gave away when he went out to draw.

“Once his father had come to Cuesmes to put a stop to his spending money on books.

“He would set out to draw, a campstool under his arm and his box of drawing materials on his back, like a peddler.

“When he was annoyed he rubbed his hands as if he could not stop.” [quoted in Auden, pp. 66-7]


He left Cuesmes for Brussels quite suddenly in October, 1880, continuing to work there intensively on his figure drawing and making the acquaintance of Anton Van Rappard, a student at the Brussels Academy. In April, 1881, he moved to Etten in Brabant where his parents were then living.

[right, “Coal Shoveler”, 1879]

That spring he showed his work to his cousin-in-law, the artist Anton Mauve, who greatly encouraged him. In August his 35-year-old cousin, Kee Vos, and her son came to stay with his parents. She was recently widowed; another suffering, sensitive woman. Vincent was strongly attracted to her….

“There is something in my heart that I must tell you; perhaps you know about it already and it is no news to you. I want to tell you that this summer a deep love has grown in my heart for Kee; but when I told her this, she answered me that to her, past and future remained one, so she could never return my feelings.

“Then there was a terrible indecision within me about what to do. Should I accept her “no, never, never”; or, considering the question not finished or decided, should I keep some hope and not give up?

“I chose the latter. And up to now do not repent the decision, though I am still confronted by the “no, never, never”. Of course, since that time I have met with many “petit miseres de la vie humaine” which, written in a book, would perhaps serve to amuse some people, but can hardly be termed pleasant sensations if one has to experience them oneself. . . .

“Kee herself thinks she will never change her mind, and the older people try to convince me that she cannot; yet they are afraid of that change. The older people will change in this affair, not when Kee changes her mind, but only when I have become somebody who earns at least 1000 guilders a year. Again forgive me the harsh outlines in which I draw things. You will perhaps hear it said of me that I try to force the situation, and similar expressions, but anybody will understand that forcing is absurd in love. . . .” [Letter #153 (to Theo), November 3, 1881]


She had moved back to her parents’ house in Amsterdam. Vincent had followed and Kee had refused to see him.

[right, “Sorrow”, 1882]

He visited Mauve (in The Hague) who taught him some things about painting (“initiated me . . . into the mysteries of the palette”) and a prostitute who initiated him in other ways. . . .

“. . . Then I thought, I should like to be with a woman —

“. . . One cannot live too long without a woman with impunity.

“. . . I found a woman, not young, not beautiful, nothing remarkable, if you like, but perhaps you are somewhat curious. She was rather tall and strongly built; she did not have a lady’s hands like Kee, but the hands of one who works much; but she was not coarse or common, and had something very womanly about her. She reminded me of some curious figure by Chardin or Frere, or perhaps Jan Steen. Well, what the French call une ouvriere. She had many cares, one could see that, and life had been hard for her; . . .

“That woman has not cheated me — oh, he who regards all such women as cheats, how wrong he is, and how little understanding he shows. That woman was very good to me, very good, very kind — in what way I shall not tell my brother Theo, because I suspect my brother Theo of having had some such experience. So much the better for him. Did we spend much money together? No, for I did not have much, and I said to her, Listen, you and I don’t need to make ourselves drunk to feel something for each other; just put what I can spare in your pocket. And I wish I could have spared more, for she was worth it.

“And we talked about everything, about her life, about her cares, about her misery, about her health, and with her I had a more interesting conversation than, for instance, with my very learned, professorial cousin [Mauve].” [Letter #164 (to Theo), December 21, 1881]


He moved to The Hague on Christmas Day, 1881, after quarreling with his father. He continued to work with Mauve and moved in with the prostitute (Christine “Sien” Hoornik).


He reacted strongly to advice from Tersteeg:

“. . . I cannot bear Tersteeg’s saying to me over and over again, “You must begin to think about earning your own living.” I think it is such a dreadful expression, and then it is all I can do to keep calm. I work as hard as I can and do not spare myself, so I deserve my bread, and they ought not to reproach me with not having been able to sell anything up to now. . . .

“I can assure you once more that I work hard to make progress on things which would be easy to sell, that is, water colors, but I cannot succeed immediately. If I succeed in making them by and by, it would still be rapid progress, considering the short time I have been working. . . . ” [Letter #175 (to Theo), February 13, 1882]


March 11 was outstanding:

“. . . C. M. asks me to make 12 small pen drawings for him, views of The Hague, apropos of some that were ready. . . . At 2.50 guilders apiece, price fixed by me, with the promise that if they suit him, he will take 12 more . . .

“And another thing touched me — very, very deeply. I had told the model not to come today — I didn’t say why, but nevertheless the poor woman came, and I protested. “Yes, but I have not come to pose — I just came to see if you had something for dinner.” She had brought me a dish of beans and potatoes. These are things that make life worth living after all. . . .” [Letter #180 (to Theo), March 11, 1882]


Around this time Vincent did his marvelous drawing “Sorrow” (see above). It was inscribed with a quotation from Michelet: “How can it be that there is in the world one woman alone — deserted?” He sent it to Theo: “. . . In my opinion the enclosed is the best figure I have drawn yet, . . .” [Letter #186(to Theo), c. April 10, 1882]


Vincent had a falling out with Mauve:

“Today I met Mauve and had a very painful conversation with him, which made it clear to me that Mauve and I are separated forever. Mauve has gone so far that he cannot retract, at least he certainly wouldn’t want to. I had asked him to come and see my work and then talk things over. Mauve refused point-blank: “I will certainly not come to see you, that’s all over.”

“At last he said, “You have a vicious character.” At this I turned around — it was in the dunes — and walked home alone . . . but with a heavy heart because Mauve had dared to say this to me. I shall not ask him to explain it, nor shall I excuse myself. And still — and still — and still –! I wish Mauve were sorry for it.

“They suspect me of something — it is in the air — I am keeping something back. Vincent is hiding something that cannot stand the light.

“Well, gentlemen, I will tell you, you who prize good manners and culture, and rightly so if only it be the true kind: Which is the more delicate, refined, manly — to desert a woman or to stand by a forsaken woman?

“Last winter I met a pregnant woman, deserted by the man whose child she carried.

“A pregnant woman who had to walk the streets in winter, had to earn her bread, you understand how.

“I took this woman for a model, and have worked with her all winter. I could not pay her the full wages of a model, but that did not prevent my paying her rent, and, thank God, so far I have been able to protect her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her. When I met this woman, she attracted my attention because she looked ill. I made her take baths and as much nourishing food as I could afford, and she has become much stronger. . . .”  [Letter #192 (to Theo), May 3-9, 1882]


Others also faulted him for his licentious association with Sien. He contracted a venereal disease, apparently gonorrhea, but recovered from it quickly.


He saw an association between “Sorrow” and a drawing of tree roots he was doing:

“Now I tried to put the same sentiment into the landscape as I put into the figure: the convulsive, passionate clinging to the earth, and yet being half torn up by the storm. I wanted to express something of the struggle for life in that pale, slender woman’s figure, as well as in the black, gnarled and knotty roots. Or rather, because I tried to be faithful to nature as I saw it, without philosophizing about it, involuntarily in both cases something of that great struggle is shown. . . . ” [Letter #195 (to Theo) ]


He wrote some especially moving and beautiful letters to Theo that summer and fall….

“I want you to understand clearly my conception of art. One must work long and hard to grasp the essence. What I want and aim at is confoundedly difficult, and yet I do not think I aim too high.

“I want to do drawings which touch some people. “Sorrow” is a small beginning, perhaps such little landscapes as “Laan van Meerdervoort,” “Rijswijk Meadows,” and “Fish Drying Barn” are also a small beginning. In those there is at least something straight from my own heart.

“In either figure or landscape I should wish to express, not sentimental melancholy, but serious sorrow.

“In short, I want to progress so far that people will say of my work, He feels deeply, he feels tenderly — notwithstanding my so-called roughness, perhaps even because of it.

“It seems pretentious to talk this way now, but this is the reason why I want to push on with all my strength.

“What am I in most people’s eyes? A nonentity, or an eccentric and disagreeable man — somebody who has no position in society and never will have, in short, the lowest of the low. Very well, even if this were true, then I should want my work to show what is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody.

“This is my ambition, which is, in spite of everything, founded less on anger than on love, more on serenity than on passion. It is true that I am often in the greatest misery, but still there is a calm pure harmony and music inside me. . . .”  [Letter #218 (to Theo), July 19-23, 1882]


“Of the drawings which I shall show you now, I think only this: I hope they will prove to you that my work does not remain stationary, but progresses in a reasonable direction. As to the money value of my work, I do not pretend to anything less than that it would greatly astonish me if in time my work did not become just as salable as that of others. Of course I cannot tell whether that will happen now or later, but I think the surest way, which cannot fail, is to work from nature faithfully and energetically. Sooner or later feeling and love for nature meet a response from people who are interested in art. It is the painter’s duty to be entirely absorbed by nature and to use all his intelligence to express sentiment in his work so that it becomes intelligible to other people. In my opinion working for the market is not exactly the right way; . . . Of course it is a different thing to try to find people who like your work, and who will love it — of course this is permitted. . . .” [Letter #221 (to Theo), July 31, 1882]


“Please do not suspect me of being indifferent to earning money; I am trying to find the shortest way to that end. If only those means of earning money be real and lasting, which I personally can only see in the future if there is some real good in my work, not if I aim exclusively at salability — one has to suffer for that later — but if I study nature carefully.”  [Letter #227 (to Theo), August 20, 1882]


“In the woods, yesterday toward evening, I was busy painting a rather sloping ground covered with dry, moldered beech leaves. This ground was light and dark reddish-brown, made more so by the shadows of trees casting more or less dark streaks over it, sometimes half blotted out. The problem was — and I found it very difficult — to get the depth of color, the enormous force and solidity of that ground — and while painting it I perceived for the very first time how much light there still was in that dusk — to keep that light and at the same time the glow and depth of that rich color.

“For you cannot imagine any carpet as splendid as that deep brownish-red in the low of an autumn evening sun, tempered by the trees.

“From that ground young beech trees spring up which catch light on one side and are brilliant green there; the shadowy sides of those stems are a warm, deep black-green.

“Behind those saplings, behind that brownish-red soil, is a sky very delicate, bluish-gray, warm, hardly blue, all aglow — and against it all it a hazy border of green and a network of little stems and yellowish leaves. A few figures of wood gatherers are wandering around like dark masses of mysterious shadows. The white cap of a woman bending to reach a dry branch stands out suddenly against the deep red-brown of the ground. A skirt catches the light — a shadow is cast — a dark silhouette of a man appears above the underbrush. A white bonnet, a cap, a shoulder, the bust of a woman molds itself againt the sky. Those figures are large and full of poetry — in the twilight of that deep shadowy tone they appear as enormous terracottas being modeled in a studio.

“I describe nature to you; how far I rendered the effect in my sketch, I do not know myself; but I do know that I was struck by the harmony of green, red, black, yellow, blue brown, gray. It was very like De Groux, an effect like that sketch of “Le depart du conscrit,” for instance, formerly in the Ducal Palace.

“It was hard to paint. I used for the ground one and one half tubes of white — yet that ground is very dark — more red, yellow, brown ocher, black, sienna, bister, and the result is reddish-brown, but one that varies from bister to deep wine-red, and even a pale blond ruddiness. Then there is still the moss on the ground, and a border of fresh grass, which catches light and sparkles brightly, and this is very difficult to get. There you have at last a sketch which I maintain has some significance, and which expresses something, no matter what may be said about it.

“While painting it, I said to myself, I must not go away before there is something of an autumn evening in it, something mysterious, something serious. But as this effect does not last, I had to paint quickly. The figures were put in at once with a few strong strokes of a firm brush.

“It struck me how sturdily those little stems were rooted in the ground. I began painting them with a brush, but because the surface was already so heavily covered, a brush stroke was lost in it — then I squeezed the roots and trunks in from the tube, and modeled it a little with the brush. Yes — now they stand there rising from the ground, strongly rooted in it. [Letter #228 (to Theo), September 3, 1882]


“. . . in all nature, for instance in trees, I see expression and soul, so to speak. A row of pollard willows sometimes resembles a procession of almshouse men. Young corn has something inexpressibly pure and tender about it, which awakens the same emotion as the expression of a sleeping baby, for instance.

“The trodden grass at the roadside looks tired and dusty like the people of the slums. . . .” [Letter #242 (to Theo), November, 1882]


“You write in your letter something which I sometimes feel also:  sometimes I do not know how I shall pull through.

“Look here, I often feel the same in more than one respect — not just in financial things, but in art intself, and life in general. But do you think it’s anything exceptional? Don’t you think every man with a little spirit and energy has those moments? Moments of melancholy, of distress, of anguish — I think we all have them to greater or lesser extent, and it is a condition of every conscioushuman life. It seems that some people have no consciousness of self. But for all that, those who have it may sometimes be in distress, they are not unhappy, nor is the distress anything exceptional. [Letter #274 (to Theo), March 1883]


The experience with Kee was still with him:

“. . . There is no anguish greater than the soul’s struggle between duty and love, both in their highest meaning. When I tell you I choose my duty, you will understand everything.

“A simple word about it during our walk made me feel that absolutely nothing is changed within me in that respect, that it is and remains a wound which I carry with me; it lies deep and cannot be healed. After years it will be the same as it was the first day. . . .” [Letter #313 (to Theo), August 18, 1883]


When Van Rappard went to Drenthe, a sparsely populated region in the north of Holland, Vincent decided, in September, 1883, to go too:

“. . . I would remain permanently in that country of heath and moorland, where more and more painters are settling down, so that perhaps, after a time, a kind of colony of painters might spring up. Life is so much cheaper there that I think I should economize at least 150 or 200 guilders a year, especially on rent.

“. . . And the heaviest expense, the one for models, would be different over there: either I should have more and better models for the same money, or just as many for less money.” [Letter #316 (to Theo), August 21, 1883]


“I must say the woman is bearing up well. She is unhappy about it, as I am, but she is not disheartened and keeps busy. I had just bought a piece of material to make study linen of, and have now given it to her to make underwear for the kids, and some of my things can be altered for them too, so that she will not leave me empty-handed.

“When I say we part as friends, it is true — . . .

“But I ask myself anxiously — how will she be in a year? [Letter #319 (to Theo), September 4, 1883]


“. . . if I look at my equipment, everything is too miserable, too insufficient, too dilapidated. We have gloomy rainy days here, and when I come to the corner of the garret where I have settled down, it is curiously melancholy there; through one single glass pane the light falls on an empty color box, on a bundle of worn-out brushes, in short, it is so curiously melancholy that fortunately it also has a comical aspect, enough not to make one weep over it, but to take it gaily. For all that, it is very disproportionate to my plans, very disproportionate to the seriousness of my work — so here is an end of the gaiety.”  [Letter #328 (to Theo), c. September 26, 1883]


Vincent had the idea that Theo should become an artist too….

“But in order to grow, one must be rooted in the earth. So I tell you, take root in the soil of Drenthe — you will germinate there — don’t wither on the sidewalk. You will say there are plants that grow in the city — that may be, but you are corn, and your place is in the cornfield.

“. . . In the beginning we should have to live through anxious moments, we should have to prepare ourselves for them, . . . We shall be so busy working that we shall be absolutely unable to think of anything else but our work.” [Letter #336 (to Theo), October-November, 1883]


Because of his loneliness, because he didn’t see Drenthe becoming the community of artists he had hoped for, and because he felt the need to economize even further, in November 1883, Vincent went back to live with his parents. They were now located in Nuenen, another small parish in Brabant.


Vincent felt that Theo wasn’t doing his best to sell his pictures:

“You have never sold a single one for me — neither for much nor for little — and in fact you have not even tried.

“. . . what you say about my work now, “it is almost salable, but” —is literally the same as what you wrote me when I sent you my first Brabant sketches from Etten. . . .

“I am no better than anybody else, and I have my needs and wishes as everybody else, . . .

“Except for the few years which I can hardly understand myself, when I was confused by religious ideas — a kind of mysticism — leaving that period out of it, I have always lived with a certain warmth.

“Now it is getting grimmer and colder and duller around me. . . .

“. . . I think you understand, Theo, that on my long rambles I have thought things over often and at length: I do not want to be mixed up in a second series of quarrels (such as I had with Father No. I) with Father No. IIAnd Father No. II would be you. One is enough — the expression is unvarnished and the center of my ideas; draw your own conclusions. . . .” [Letter #358 (to Theo), February 18-24, 1884]


“. . . art is something greater and higher than our own adroitness or accomplishments or knowledge; . . . something which, although produced by human hands, is not created by these hands alone, but something which wells up from a deeper source in our souls; and that with regard to adroitness and technical skill in art I see something that reminds me of what in religion may be called self-righteousness.

“. . . Let us try to master the mysteries of technique to such an extent that people are deceived by it and will swear by all that is holy that we have no technique. Let our work be so savant that it seems naive and does not stink of our sapience.”  [Letter to Van Rappard #R43, April, 1884]


By 1884 Impressionism was at its height but Vincent in Nuenen was in no position to see it. “. . . And from what you told me about ‘impressionism,’ I have indeed concluded that it is different from what I thought, but it’s not quite clear to me what it really is.” [Letter #371 (to Theo), June 1884]


“. . . Oh, I am no friend of the present Christianity, though its Founder was sublime; the present Christianity I know only too well. That icy coldness hypnotized even me in my youth, but I have taken revenge since — how? by worshipping the love which they, the theologians, call sin, by respecting a whore, etc., and not respecting many would-be respectable pious ladies.

“For one group woman is always heresy and devilish. To me it is just the reverse. . . .

“You do not know how paralyzing that staring at a blank canvas is; it says to the painter, You can’t do anything. The canvas stares at you like an idiot, and it hypnotizes some painters, so that they themselves become idiots. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the really passioniate painter who is daring — and who has once and for all broken that spell of “you cannot.” [Letter #378 (to Theo), October 1884]


[above, The Potato Eaters, 1885]

Vincent spent much of that winter and spring working on studies for his “potato eaters” picture. His father died on March 26, 1885….

“I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food.

“I have wanted to give the impression of a way of life quite different from that of us civilized people. Therefore I am not at all anxious for everyone to like it or to admire it at once.

“All winter long I have had the threads of this tissue in my hands, and have searched for the ultimate pattern; and though it has become a tissue of rough, coarse aspect, nevertheless the threads have been chosen carefully and according to certain rules. And it might prove to be a real peasant picture. I know it is. But he who prefers to see peasants in their Sunday-best may do as he likes. I personally am convinced I get better results by painting them in their roughness than by giving them a conventional charm. . . .”  [Letter #404 (to Theo), April 30, 1885]


“. . . Tell Serret that I should be desperate if my figures were correct, tell him that I do not want them to be academically correct, tell him that I mean: If one photographs a digger, he certainly would not be digging then. Tell him that I adore the figures by Michelangelo though the legs are undoubtedly too long, the hips and backsides too large. Tell him that, for me, Millet and Lhermitte are the real artists for the very reason that they do not paint things as they are, traced in a dry analytical way, but as they— Millet, Lhermitte, Michelangelo — feel them. Tell him that my great longing is to learn to make those very incorrectnesses, those deviations, remodelings, changes in reality, so that they may become, yes, lies if you like — but truer than the literal truth.” [Letter #418 (to Theo), July, 1885]


Vincent visited the newly completed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that October. He spent a whole day in front of Rembrandt’s “The Jewish Bride” (Fig. R6)….

“. . . “The Syndics” is perfect, is the most beautiful Rembrandt; but “The Jewish Bride” — not ranked so high, what an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic picture it is, painted with d’une main de feu. You see, in “The Syndics” Rembrandt is true to nature, though even there, and always, he soars aloft, to the very highest height, the infinite; but Rembrandt could do more than that — if he did not have to be literally true, as in a portrait, when he was free to idealize, to be poet, that means Creator. That’s what he is in “The Jewish Bride”. How Delacroix would have understood that picture. What a noble sentiment, infinitely deep. . . .” [Letter #426 (to Theo), October 10/11, 1885]


“A portrait by Courbet is much truer — manly, free, painted in all kinds of beautiful deep tones of red-brown, of gold, of colder violet in the shadow with black as repoussoir, with a little bit of tinted white linen, as a rest for the eye — finer than a portrait by whomever you like, who has imitated the color of the face with horribly punctilious precision.

“A man’s head or a woman’s head, well observed and at leisure, is divinely beautiful, isn’t it? Well, one loses that general harmony of tones in nature by painfully exact imitation; one keeps it by recreating a parallel color scale which may not be exactly, or even far from exactly, like the model. . . .” [Letter #429 (to Theo), October 2, 1885]


Vincent was (falsely) accused of fathering the child of Sien De Groot, the daughter (the wonderful figure, second from the left) of the Potato Eaters family. The local priest forbade his parishoners to model for Vincent. For this reason, and perhaps even more because of his desire to be with other artists in order to learn and advance, Vincent decided to leave Nuenen.

He had been giving art lessons to Anton Kerssemakers, a resident of a nearby town.

“Before he set off he [Vincent] visited me once more to say good-by, and as a souvenir he brought me a beautiful autumn study, . . . When I remarked that he had not yet signed it, he said he might do so some time or other, ‘I suppose I shall come back someday, but actually it isn’t necessary; they will surely recognize my work later on, and write about me when I’m dead and gone. I shall take care of that, if I can keep alive for some little time.'” [quoted in Auden, pp. 261-2]In November, 1885, he left The Netherlands for Antwerp. He would never return.

Antwerp was the home of Rubens….

“Rubens is certainly making a strong impression on me; I think his drawing tremendously good — I mean the drawing of heads and hands in themselves. I am quite carried away by his way of drawing the lines in a face with streaks of pure red, or of modeling the fingers of the hands by the same kind of streaks. . . . I know he is not as intimate as Hals and Rembrandt, but in themselves those heads are so alive. . . .” [Letter #439 (to Theo), Nov. 1885 – Feb. 1886]Vincent was exposed to more contemporary art than he had been in recent times; he decorated his room with abundant, inexpensive Japanese prints.

He enrolled in the Antwerp Academy, both to get more formal training and to have access to live models without having to pay for them all by himself. Pierard, in his La Vie Tragique de Vincent van Gogh, recorded Victor Hageman’s recollection of Vincent’s arrival at the Academy:

“At the time I was a pupil in the drawing class. There were only a few weeks left until the end of the course. I remember quite well that weather-beaten, nervous, restless man who crashed like a bombshell into the Antwerp academy, upsetting the director, the drawing master and the pupils.

“Van Gogh, who was then thirty-one years old, first went into the painting class taught by Verlat, the director of the academy, the perfect type of the official painter, whose duty it was to transmit to posterity, by means of the interpretive realizations of the art of painting, memories of great patriotic solemnities. One morning Van Gogh came into the class, in which there were about sixty pupils, more than a dozen of whom were German or English; he was dressed in a kind of blue blouse, of the type ususally worn by the Flemish cattle dealers, and he wore a fur cap on his head. In place of a regular palette he used a board torn from a packing case that had contained sugar and yeast. On that day the pupils had to paint two wrestlers, who were posed on the platform, stripped to the waist.

“Van Gogh started painting feverishly, furiously, with a rapidity that stupified his fellow students. ‘He laid on his paint so thickly,’ Mr. Hageman told us, ‘that his colors literally dripped from his canvas onto the floor.’

“When Verlat saw this work and its extraordinary creator, he asked in Flemish, in a tone of voice that showed how dumfounded he was, ‘Who are you?’

“Van Gogh replied quietly, ‘Well, I am Vincent, a Dutchman.’

“Then the very academic director proclaimed contempuously, while pointing at the newcomer’s canvas, ‘I won’t correct such putrefied dogs. My boy, go to the drawing class quickly.’

“Van Gogh, whose cheeks had gone purple, restrained his anger, and fled to the course of good Mr. Sieber (sic), who was also frightened by the novel phenomenon, but who had a less irascible temperament than his director.

“Vincent stayed there for some weeks, drawing zealously, taking great pains, and visibly suffering under his efforts to grasp the vigor of the subject, working rapidly, without making corrections, more often than not tearing up the drawing he had just finished, or else throwing it down behind him. He made sketches of everything that was to be found in the hall: of the students, of their clothes, of the furniture, while forgetting the plaster cast the professor had given him to copy. . . .” [quoted in Auden, pp. 276-7]


Vincent stayed in the class for only six weeks. Despite Theo’s protests, in March, 1886, he moved to Paris. His idea was to stay with Theo only briefly, to get out on his own as soon as possible. He wanted to study in Fernand Corman’s studio — which he did for several months following his arrival.

He immersed himself in Impressionism, the flower paintings of Monticelli, Seurat’s Pointillism, Japonaiserie. It’s hard to weigh their relative importance but the combined effect is indisputable: compare the “Church at Nuenen” (1884) and “A Lane in Autumn” (1885) to “Montmartre” and “The Asnieres Bridges” (1887); compare the portraits of women made in Antwerp (December, 1885) to “Le Pere Tanguy” and “Woman at a Table in the Cafe du Tambourin” (1887). In each case the latter are freer, more colorful.

He befriended Paul Signac, another early Pointillist:

“We painted together on the river banks, we lunched at roadside cafes and we returned by foot to Paris via the Avenues of Saint-Ouen and Clichy. Van Gogh wearing the blue overalls of a zinc-worker, would have little dots of color painted on his shirt sleeves. Sticking quite close to me, he would be yelling, gesticulating and brandishing a large, size thirty, freshly painted canvas; in this fashion he would manage to polychrome both himself and the passers-by.” [quoted in Sweetman, pp. 235-6]Living with Vincent was every bit as difficult as Theo had thought it would be:

“My home life is almost unbearable. No one wants to come and see me any more because it always ends in quarrels, and besides he is so untidy that the room looks far from attractive. I wish he would go and live by himself. He sometimes mentions it, but if I were to tell him to go away, it would just give him a reason to stay; and it seems I do him no good. I ask only one thing of him, to do me no harm; yet by his staying he does so, for I can hardly bear it. It is as if he were two persons: one marvelously gifted, tender and refined, the other egoistic and hard-hearted. They present themselves in turns, so that one hears him talk first in one way, then in the other, and always with arguments on both sides. It is a pity he is his own enemy, for he makes life hard not only for others but also for himself.” [Letter from Theo to his sister Willemina, quoted in Sweetman pp. 236-7]


Vincent wrote Horace Mann Livens, who had been a fellow student in Antwerp, (letter written by Van Gogh in English):

“And now for what regards what I myself have been doing, I have lacked money for paying models else I had entirely given myself to figure painting. But I have made a series of color studies in painting, simply flowers, red poppies, blue corn flowers and myosotys, white and rose roses, yellow chrysanthemums — seeking oppositions of blue and orange, red and green, yellow and violet seeking les tons rompus et neutres to harmonise brutal extremes. Trying to render intense colour and not a grey harmony. . . .

“With regard my chances of sale look here, they are certainly not much but still I do have a beginning. . . .

“I have been in Cormons studio for three or four months but I did not find that so useful as I had expected it to be. It may be my fault however, anyhow I left there too as I left Antwerp and since I worked alone, and fancy that since I feel my own self more.

“Trade is slow here. The great dealers sell Millet, Delacroix, Corot, Daubigny, Dupre, a few other masters at exorbitant prices. They do little or nothing for young artists. The second class dealers contrariwise sell those at very low prices. If I asked more I would do nothing, I fancy. However I have faith in colour. Even with regards the price the public will pay for it in the long run. But for the present things are awfully hard.

“. . . I dare say as certain anyone who has a solid position elsewhere let him stay where he is. But for adventurers as myself, I think they lose nothing in risking more. Especially as in my case I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate, and feeling nowhere so much a stranger as in my family and country, . . .” [Letter #459a (to Livens), August-October]


He drank abisinthe, visited prostitutes, stayed out all night with Toulouse-Lautrec. He had been hoping to find in Paris a community of artists helping, reinforcing each other. What he found instead was artists bickering and competing. When Theo went back to visit their family that summer, Vincent wrote him from Paris:

“. . . I feel I am losing the desire for marriage and children, and now and then it saddens me that I should be feeling like that at thirty-five, just when it should be the opposite. And sometimes I have a grudge against this rotten painting. It was Richepin who said somewhere: “The love of art makes one lose real love.” [L’amour de l’art fait perdre l’amour vrai.] I think that is terribly true, but on the other hand real love makes you disgusted with art.

“And at times I already feel old and broken, and yet still enough of a lover not to be a real enthusiast for painting. One must have ambition in order to succeed, and ambition seems to me absurd. I don’t know what will come of it; above all I should like to be less of a burden to you — and that is not impossible in the future — for I hope to make such progress that you will be able to show my stuff boldly without compromising yourself.

“And then I will take myself off somewhere down south, to get away from the sight of so many painters that disgust me as men.”  [Letter #462 (to Theo), Summer, 1887]


Relations between Vincent and Theo improved considerably during the second year. When Vincent moved to Arles in February 1888 Theo missed him:

“. . . Vincent left for the South last Sunday. He is going first to Arles to orient himself and then probably to Marseilles. . . . Years of worry and adversity have not made him any stronger and he felt a definite need to be in a more temperate climate. . . . I believe it will certainly do his health good and will also benefit his work. When he came here two years ago I did not think we would become so attached to each other, but the flat feels decidedly empty now that I am on my own again. If I find someone to live with I shall do so, but it is not easy to replace a person like Vincent. His knowledge and clear perception of the world are incredible. I am therefore convinced that if he has a few more years to live, he will make a name for himself. Through him, I came into contact with many painters among whom he is greatly respected. He is one of the champions of new ideas — or rather, as there is nothing new under the sun, of the regeneration of old ideas which have been corrupted by routine and have lost their colour. Furthermore, he has such a great heart that he is always trying to do something for others. So much the worse for those who do not know him or want to understand him. . . .” [Letter to Willemina, quoted in Hammacher, p. 128]


He wrote Theo soon after arriving in Arles:

“That’s why–even though I’m vexed that just now expenses are heavy and the pictures worthless–that’s why I don’t despair of the future success of this idea of a long sojourn in the Midi.

“Here I am seeing new things, I am learning, and if I take it easy, my body doesn’t refuse to function.

“For many reasons I should like to get some sort of little retreat, where the poor cab horses of Paris–that is, you and several of our friends, the poor impressionists–could go out to pasture when they get too beat up.”  [Letter #469 (to Theo), February 17, 1888]


That spring (1888) Theo succeeded in having some of Vincent’s work included in the Salon des Independants. Thus, more people began to see it. (Up until this point it was viewable only at Theo’s apartment and Tanguy’s art supply store.)….

“I saw a brothel here last Sunday–not counting the other days–a large room, the walls covered with blued whitewash–like a village school. Fifty or more military men in red and civilians in black, their faces a magnificent yellow or orange (what hues there are in the faces here), the women in sky blue, in vermilion, as unqualified and garish as possible. The whole in a yellow light. A good deal less lugubrious than the same kind of offices in Paris.

“There is no “spleen” in the air here.”   [Letter B4 (to Bernard), c. April 20, 1888]


He wrote Gauguin:

“I wanted to let you know that I have just rented a four-room house here in Arles.

“And that it would seem to me that if I could find another painter inclined to work in the South, and who, like myself, would be sufficiently absorbed in his work to be able to resign himself to living like a monk who goes to the brothel once a fortnight — who for the rest is tied up in his work, and not very willing to waste his time, it might be a good job. Being all alone, I am suffering a little under this isolation.” [Letter #494a (to Paul Gauguin), c. June 5, 1888]


In his response Gauguin expressed a sentiment which fit very well with Vincent’s:

“He [Gauguin] says that when sailors have to move a heavy load, or weigh anchor, so as to be able to lift a very heavy weight, and to make a huge effort, they all sing together to keep them up to the mark and give them vim.

That is just what artists lack! . . . ”  [Letter #496 (to Theo, June 1888]


Somehow going to Arles, being in Arles, something clicked. Vincent caught fire, pouring out one remarkable painting and drawing after another: self-portraits (portrait at top, for example), sunflowers, drawings of gardens, Patience Escalier (see below), the Roulins, Eugene Boch, cafes, his chair, his room (see further below)– all incredibly alive and beautiful:

“I must warn you that everyone will think that I work too fast.

“Don’t believe a word of it.

“Is it not emotion, the sincerity of one’s feeling for nature, that draws us? And if these emotions are sometimes so strong that one works without knowing one works, when sometimes the strokes come with a sequence and a coherence like words in a speech or in a letter, then one must remember that it has not always been so, and that in time to come there will again be hard days, empty of inspiration. So one must strike while the iron is hot. . . .” [Letter #504 (to Theo), June-July, 1888]


He never did move to Marseilles. He went on excursions to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, but made Arles (and, later, nearby St. Remy) his home for the entire time he was in the South. He had not forgotten his idea of a “Studio of the South”. Theo was giving Vincent 150 francs per month, one-quarter of his income (before commissions). In July, 1888, their Uncle Cent died, leaving Theo an inheritance. “. . . Theo made it instantly clear that he had no intention of using the money himself but would devote it to their joint ‘plan’. He consequently wrote to Gauguin telling him he too could expect 150 francs a month as a ‘salary’ in advance of the work to be sent him for sale, and pointedly reiterated Vincent’s wish that Gauguin should join him in Arles, where they could share expenses and make the best use of the money.” [Sweetman, p. 276]


Vincent had a strange and wonderful imagination:

“. . . Perhaps death is not the hardest thing in a painter’s life.

“For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it, but looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoning is that we cannot get to a star while we are alive, any more than we can take the train when we are dead.

“So it seems to me possible that cholera, gravel, tuberculosis, and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion, just as steamboats, buses, and railways are the terrestial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.” [Letter #506 (to Theo), July 16, 1888]


He wrote especially interesting and informative letters to Theo and others during this period:

“Many thanks for your kind letter. If you remember, mine ended with “we are getting old, that is what it is, the rest is imagination and doesn’t exist.” Well, I said that more for myself than for you. And I said it because I felt the absolute necessity of behaving accordingly, of working, perhaps not more, but with a deeper understanding.

“Now you talk of the emptiness you feel everywhere, it is just the very thing I feel myself.

“Considering, if you like, the time in which we live a great and true renaissance of art, the worm-eaten official tradition still alive but really impotent and inactive, the new painters isolated, poor, treated like madmen, and because of this treatment actually becoming so, at least as far as their social life is concerned . . .” [Letter #514 (to Theo), July 29, 1888]

[above, Patience Escalier (1888)]

“You are shortly to make the acquaintance of Master Patience Escalier [see above], a sort of “man with a hoe”, formerly cowherd of the Camargue, now gardener at a house in the Crau. The coloring of this peasant portrait is not so black as in the “Potato Eaters” of Nuenen, but our highly civilized Parisan Portier–probably so called because he chucks pictures out–will be bothered by the same old problem. You have changed since then, but you will see that he has not, and it really is a pity that there are not more pictures en sabots in Paris. I do not think that my peasant would do any harm to the de Lautrec in your possession if they were hung side by side, and I am even bold enough to hope the de Lautrec would appear even more distinguished by the mutual contrast, and that on the other hand my picture would gain by the odd juxtaposition, because that sun-steeped, sunburned quality, tanned and air-swept, would show up still more effectively beside all that face powder and elegance.

“What a mistake Parisians make in not having a palate for crude things, for Monticellis, for common earthenware. But there, one must not lose heart because Utopia is not coming true. It is only that what I learned in Paris is leaving me, and I am returning to the ideas I had in the country before I knew the impressionists. And I should not be surprised if the impressionists soon find fault with my way of working, for it has been fertilized by Delacroix’s ideas rather than theirs. Because instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily, in order to express myself forcibly. . . .

“I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend . . .

“Behind the head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of the mean room, I paint infinity, . . .

“Again, in the portrait of the peasant I worked this way, but in this case without wishing to produce the mysterious brightness of a pale star in the infinite. Instead, I imagine the man I have to paint, terrible in the furnace of the height of harvesttime, as surrounded by the whole Midi. Hence the orange colors flashing like lightening, vivid as red-hot iron, and hence the luminous tones of old gold in the shadows. [Letter #520 (to Theo), August 11, 1888]

“In Rembrandt’s studio that incomparable sphinx, Vermeer of Delft, found this extremely solid technique which has never been surpassed, which at present . . . we are burning . . . to find. Oh, I know we are working and reasoning with colors, just as they were with chiaroscuro, tonal values.

“But what do these differences matter, when the great thing after all is to express oneself strongly? [Letter B14 (to Bernard), beginning of August, 1888]


It’s tragic to think of Vincent, the artist at the peak of his powers, constrained by the cost of paint: “Often now I hesitate before planning a picture because of what the colors would cost us.” [Letter #530 (to Theo)]


“. . . Oh, my dear brother, sometimes I know so well what I want. I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, ill as I am, do without something which is greater than I, which is my life–the power to create.

“And if, frustrated in the physical power, a man tries to create thoughts instead of children, he is still part of humanity.

“And in a picture I want to say something comforting, as music is comforting.

“I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloring.

“. . . Ah! portraiture, portraiture with the thoughts, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.

“. . . I am always in hope of making a discovery there, to express the love of two lovers by a wedding of complementary colors, their mingling and their opposition, . . . [Letter #531 (to Theo), September 3, 1888]


“The third picture this week is a portrait of myself [see portrait at top] , almost colorless, in gray tones against a background of pale malachite.

“I purposely bought a mirror good enough to enable me to work from my image in default of a model, because if I can manage to paint the coloring of my own head, which is not to be done without some difficulty, I shall likewise be able to paint the heads of other good souls, men and women.

“The problem of painting night scenes and effects on the spot and actually by night interests me enormously. This week I have done absolutely nothing but paint and sleep and have my meals. That means sittings of twelve hours, of six hours and so on, and then a sleep of twelve hours at a stretch. [Letter #537 (to Theo), September 17, 1888]


“I have a portrait of myself [see portrait at top], all ash-colored. The ashen-gray color that is the result of mixing malachite green with an orange hue, on pale malachite ground, all in harmony with the reddish-brown clothes. But as I also exaggerate my personality, I have in the first place aimed at the character of a simple bonze worshiping the Eternal Buddha. It has cost me a lot of trouble, yet I shall have to do it all over again if I want to succeed in expressing what I mean. It will even be necessary for me to recover somewhat more from the stultifying influence of our so-called state of civilization in order to have a better model for a better picture. [Letter 544a (to Gauguin), September 29, 1888]


[above, “Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles”, 1888]

He painted his room and made a sketch of the painting in a letter to Theo:

“. . . it’s just simply my bedroom only here color is to do everything and, giving by its simplification a grander style to things, it is to be suggestive of rest or of sleep in general. In a word, looking at the picture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imagination. . . . The broad lines of the furniture again must express inviolable rest. . . . The shadows and the cast shadows are suppressed; it is painted in free flat tints like the Japanese prints. It is going to be a contrast to, for instance, the Tarascon diligence and the night cafe.” [Letter #554 (to Theo), second half of Oct. 1888]Gauguin agreed to come. Vincent decorated the house with paintings of sunflowers, making it as pleasant as he possibly could. Gauguin came in October, 1888. They shared the studio, ate together, went on trips together….

“Thanks for your letter and the 50-fr. note. As you learned from my wire, Gauguin has arrived in good health. He even seems to me better than I am.

“Of course he is very pleased with the sale you have effected, and I no less, since in this way certain expenses absolutely necessary for the installation need not wait, and will not weigh wholly on your shoulders. Gauguin will certainly write you today. He is very interesting as a man, and I have every confidence that we shall do loads of things with him. He will probably produce a great deal here, and I hope perhaps I shall too.

“And then I dare hope that the burden will be a little less heavy for you, and I even hope, much less heavy. I myself realize the necessity of producing even to the extent of being mentally crushed and physically drained by it, just because after all I have no other means of ever getting back what we have spent.

“I cannot help it that my pictures do not sell.

“Nevertheless the time will come when people will see that they are worth more than the price of the paint and my own living, very meager after all, that is put into them. [Letter #557 (to Theo), October 24, 1888]


It’s not surprising that two individuals as temperamental as Gauguin and Van Gogh would have problems living together. It was essential to Vincent’s plans that Gauguin’s stay be a success so that other artists would be encouraged to come and join him. Gauguin wrote a friend:

“My situation here is very awkward; I owe a great deal to (Theo) van Gogh and to Vincent and, in spite of some discord, I cannot be angry with an excellent fellow who is sick, who suffers, and who asks for me. Remember the life of Edgar Poe who became an alcoholic as the result of grief and a nervous condition. Some day I shall explain all this to you. In any event I shall stay here, but my departure will always be a possibility.”  [quoted in Sweetman, pp. 289-90]Vincent sensed that Gauguin was not happy and was fearful that he would leave. Having created such great expectations for this relationship, he was terrified of its failure. Theo’s increasing attachment to Jo Bonger made it likely that relations with his brother would be changing too.

On the night of December 23 Vincent suffered a mental breakdown far worse than the ones he had previously experienced.

“On Sunday last, at 11:30 p.m., one Vincent Vangogh, a painter, born in Holland, arrived at House of Tolerance [brothel] No. I, asked for one Rachel, and handed her — his ear, saying “Keep this and treasure it.” Then he disappeared. Informed of this action, which could only be that of a poor lunatic, the police went to the man’s address the next morning and found him lying in bed and giving almost no sign of life. The unfortunate was admitted to hospital as an emergency case. . . .” (Le Forum republican (Arles), December 30, 1888) [quoted in Hammacher, p. 170]He seemed to recover quickly; returned to his house; continued painting….

“It astonishes me already when I compare my condition today with what it was a month ago. Before that I knew well enough that one could fracture one’s legs and arms and recover afterward, but I did not know that you could fracture the brain in your head and recover from that too.” [Letter #574 (to Theo), January 28, 1889]But in early February Vincent again began acting crazy, complaining to the cleaning woman that people were trying to poison him. Complaints were filed against him:

“The man van Goghe [sic], who lives in the same sector as I do, has, during the last few days, become increasingly mad; consequently everyone in the neighbourhood is frightened. The women especially no longer feel secure because he indulges in touching them and also makes obscene remarks in their presence. As a matter of fact, this individual has taken me by the waist in front of the shop of the second witness and has lifted me into the air, on Monday, day before yesterday. This madman is becoming a public danger, and everybody clamours for his internment in a special institution.” [quoted in Sweetman, p. 299]He was arrested and confined to a mental hospital….

“I seemed to see so much brotherly anxiety in your kind letter that I think it my duty to break my silence. I write to you in the full possession of my faculties and not as a madman, but as the brother you know. This is the truth. A certain number of people here (there were more than 80 signatures) addressed a petition to the Mayor (I think his name is M. Tardieu), describing me as a man not fit to be at liberty, or something like that.

“The commissioner of police or the chief commissioner then gave the order to shut me up again.

“Anyhow, here I am, shut up in a cell all the livelong day, under lock and key and with keepers, without my guilt being proved or even open to proof.

“Needless to say, in the secret tribunal of my soul I have much to reply to all that. Needless to say, I cannot be angry, and it seems to me a case of qui s’excuse s’accuse.

“Only to let you know that as for setting me free–mind, I do not ask it, being persuaded that the whole accusation will be reduced to nothing–but I do say that as for getting me freed, you would find it difficult. If I did not restrain my indignation, I should at once be thought a dangerous lunatic. Let us hope and have patience. . . .”  [Letter #579 (to Theo), March 19, 1889]


Paul Signac, his Paris painter friend, came to visit….

“I am writing to tell you that I have seen Signac, and it has done me quite a lot of good. He was so good and straightforward and simple when the difficulty of opening the door by force presented itself–the police had closed up the house and destroyed the lock. They began by refusing to let us do it, but all the same we finally got in. I gave him a keepsake of a still life . . .

“M. Rey says that instead of eating enough and at regular times, I kept myself going on coffee and alcohol. I admit all that, but all the same it is true that to attain the high yellow note that I attained last summer, I really had to be pretty well keyed up. And that after all, an artist is a man with his work to do, and it is not for the first idler who comes along to crush him for good. . . .

“I am thinking of frankly accepting my role of a madman, the way Degas acted the part of a notary. But there it is, I do not feel that altogether I have strength enough for such a part. [Letter #581 (to Theo), March 24, 1889]


Reverend Salles who ran the mental hospital in Arles wrote Theo on April 19, 1889:

“He is entirely conscious of his condition and talks to me of what he has been through and which he fears may return, with a candour and simplicity which is touching. ‘I am unable,’ he told me the day before yesterday, ‘to look after myself and control myself; I feel quite different from what I used to be.’ In view of this there was no reason to look for an apartment and we have given up all attempts in this direction. He has, therefore, requested me to obtain the necessary particulars, in order that he may be admitted somewhere and also to write you in this sense. Considering this decision, taken after mature deliberation, I thought that, before turning to you, I would obtain some information regarding a private institutuion [St. Paul-de-Mausole] near Arles, at St. Remy, where it appears that the inmates are very well treated. . . . I add that those who know your brother well and particularly the doctors, approve the decision and regard it as very wise, in view of the state of isolation in which your brother will find himself after leaving hospital.” [quoted in Sweetman, pp. 302-3]There are a variety of diagnoses of Vincent’s illness: epilepsy, schizophrenia, digitalis poisoning due to over-indulgence in abisinthe. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure. Here is an article (in Adobe Acrobat format) from the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences which suggests a diagnosis of Acute Intermittent Porphyria: “The Illness of Vincent van Gogh”

Max Braumann recorded some reminiscences in his article “With friends of Van Gogh’s in Arles” (from Kunst and Kunstler, 1926):

“As he told Serret, who was to be his friend afterward, he only wanted to interrupt his journey in Arles for a short time. But the luminous sky of Provence would not release its hold on him, and so he decided to stay there, and to tackle the manifold problems that came rushing at him in this region. . . .”Serret (librarian of the Municipal Library) relates:  “Vincent lives in my memory, as an extremely timid man, a child. I was not interested in him because of his art, . . . To me he was an unhappy man, who suffered much; and sufferings like these are only borne by noble characters. The outward life he led was of the most modest description.”

Serret drew a picture of the extremely primitive way in which he prepared his food, and which was also described later by Dr. Rey. “There can be no doubt that his body was perpetually undernourished, and this in conjunction with a productive energy intensified to a frenzy.” Serret believes that the greater part of his mental perturbation was attributable to this excessive exploitation of his strength. “Only one thing was important to him, his painting. But occasionally, when the consignments of paint sent by his brother Theo were used up, and he had no means of procuring new materials, he had to give up painting. Then a general dealer by the name of Durand, moved by his misery, took pity on him and gave him the paints. . . .”

One of Serret’s colleagues joined us and continued the observation: “People did not like to associate with Van Gogh, as he was always hanging about in the brothels. I knew him too. He was my next-door neighbor, so to speak. Along with other young people I used to poke fun at this queer painter. Well, we were only children then. His appearance made a highly comical impression on us. His long smock, his gigantic hat, the man himself continually stopping and peering at things, excited our ridicule.”

Serret continues: “At the time, after Doctor Rey had taken care of him and nursed him, he wanted to show his gratitude in his own way. He painted Doctor Rey’s portrait, and made him a present of it. However, the doctor thought it so lacking in beauty that he put it in his garret. It is said that there it took the place of a broken windowpane, serving the purpose of keeping out drafts. . . .”

[They spoke with Dr. Felix Rey:]

“First and foremost Vincent was a miserable, pitiful man, small of stature (please get up for a moment! about your size), lean. He always wore a sort of overcoat, smeared all over with colors–he painted with his thumb and then wiped it on his coat–and an enormous straw hat without a hatband, of the type usually worn by the shepherds of the Camargue as a protection against the scorching sun. He often used to complain of being the only painter in the region, so that he could not talk to anybody about painting. In the absence of any collegue he used to converse with me on the nature of the complementary colors. But for the life of me I could not understand that red should not be red, and green not green!” . . . [quoted in Auden, pp. 353-4]


Vincent went to St. Remy in May, 1889….

“Today I am busy packing a case of pictures and studies. One of them is flaking off, and I have stuck some newspapers on it; it is one of the best, and I think that when you look at it you will see better what my now shipwrecked studio might have been.

“This study, like some others, has got spoiled by moisture during my illness. . . .

“That touched me to the quick, not only the studio wrecked, but even the studies which would have been a souvenir of it ruined; it is so final, and my enthusiasm to found something very simple but lasting was so strong. . . .”  [Letter #588 (to Theo), April 30, 1889]


“. . . that lessens the horror that I retained at first of the attack I have had, and which, when it comes on you unawares, cannot but frighten you beyond measure. Once you know that it is part of the disease, you take it like anything else. . . . the shock was such that it sickened me even to move, and nothing would have pleased me better than never to have woken up again. At present this horror of life is less strong already and melancholy less acute. But I have no will, hardly any desires or none at all, and hardly any wish for anything belonging to ordinary life, . . . That is why I have not yet reached the point where I ought to think of leaving here; I should have this depression anywhere. [Letter #592 (to Theo), May 25, 1889]


He quickly recovered his interests, in painting and literature, at least.

“And so what Rembrandt has alone or almost alone among painters, that tenderness of gaze which we see, whether in the “Men of Emmaus” or in “The Jewish Bride” or some such strange angelic figure as the picture you had the good fortune to see, that heartbroken tenderness, that glimpse of a super-human infinitude that seems so natural there — in many places you come upon it in Shakespeare too. And then above all he is full of portraits, grave or gay, like “Six” and like the “Traveller”, and like “Saskia”. [Letter #597 (to Theo), June 30-July 4, 1889]He had more attacks that summer. Dr. Peyron, head of St. Paul’s, wrote Theo:

“I add a few words to your brother’s letter to inform you that he has quite recovered from a crisis, that he has completely regained his lucidity of mind, and that he has resumed painting as he used to do. His thoughts of suicide have disappeared, only disturbing dreams remain, but they tend to disappear too, and their intensity is less great.”

“His appetite has returned, and he has resumed his usual mode of life.” [Letter #602a, September 3/4, 1889]


“. . . I am working like one actually possessed, more than ever I am in a dumb fury of work. And I think that this will help cure me. Perhaps something will happen to me like what Eug. Delacroix spoke of, “I discovered painting when I no longer had any teeth or breath left”, . . .

“And you will see this when you put the portrait with the light background that I have just finished next to the self-portraits in Paris, and that I look saner now than I did then, even much more so.”

[Letter #604 (to Theo), September 5/6, 1889]


Vincent could tolerate a variety of restraints — as long as they didn’t get in the way of his painting….

“Yes, we must be done with this place, I cannot do the two things at once, work and take no end of pains to live with these queer patients here — it is upsetting. . . .

“In the long run I shall lose the faculty for work, and that is where I begin to call a halt, and then I shall send them — if you agree — about their business. And then to go on paying for it, no, then some artist who is hard up will agree to share a home with me. . . . [Letter #605 (to Theo), September 10, 1889]

“. . . very often terrible fits of depression come over me, and besides the more my health comes back to normal, the more my brain can reason more coldly, the more foolish it seems to me, a thing against all reason, to be doing this painting which costs us so much and brings in nothing, not even the outlay. Then I feel very unhappy, and the trouble is that at my age it is damnably difficult to begin anything else. . . .” [Letter #611 (to Theo), c. October 25, 1889]


“How kind you are to me, and how I wish I could do something good, so as to prove to you that I would like to be less ungrateful. The paints reached me at the right moment, because what I had brought back from Arles was almost exhausted. The thing is that this month I have been working in the olive groves, because their [Bernard’s and Gauguin’s] Christs in the Garden, with nothing really observed, have gotten on my nerves. Of course with me there is no question of doing anything from the Bible–and I have written to Bernard and Gauguin too that I considered that our duty is thinking, not dreaming, so that when looking at their work I was astonished at their letting themselves go like that. For Bernard has sent me photos of his canvases. The trouble with them is that they are a sort of dream or nightmare . . .

“. . . I have been knocking about in the orchards, . . . What I have done is a rather hard and coarse reality beside their abstractions, but it will have a rustic quality, and will smell of the earth.

“. . . I still have a great desire to do for the mountains and the cypresses what I have just done for the olives . . .” [Letter #615 (to Theo), November 16, 1889]


In January, 1890, Jo gave birth to a boy whom she and Theo named Vincent. Also during this month, the (first and) only study of Vincent’s work to appear during his lifetime was published: the Mercure de France published a lengthy, favorable piece by Albert Aurier. Vincent wrote a letter thanking Aurier but expressing unease at his failure to recognize Vincent’s debt to such other painters as Monticelli and Gauguin — and at his criticism of Meissonier.

Vincent’s paintings were exhibited at the Vingtistes‘ exhibition (Les XX) in Brussels and Anna Boch, sister of his Belgian friend, Eugene Boch, bought one for 400 francs. This was the only painting to be sold during his lifetime.

[above, Blossoming Almond Tree (1890)]

Theo had been exploring alternatives to St. Paul’s and arranged to have Vincent stay in Auvers (an hour’s train ride from Paris) where he could be close to Dr. Gachet — a mental doctor, friend of Pissaro’s, lover of art. Vincent felt that there was no need for someone to accompany him the entire distance from St. Remy to Paris:

“I have tried to be patient, up till now I have done no one any harm; is it fair to have me accompanied like a dangerous beast? Thank you, I protest. If an attack comes, they know at every station what to do, and then I should let them do what they like.

“But I dare believe that my mental balance will not fail me. I am so distressed to leave like this that my distress will be stronger than my madness, so I shall have, I think, the necessary poise. . . .” [Letter #631 (to Theo), May, 1890]


That May he traveled — without incident — from St. Remy to Paris; visited with Theo, Jo, and his infant nephew for several days; and then went on to Auvers and Dr. Gachet….

“I have seen Dr. Gachet, who gives me the impression of being rather eccentric, but his experience as a doctor must keep him balanced enough to combat the nervous trouble from which he certainly seems to be suffering at least as seriously as I. [Letter #635 (to Theo), May 20, 1890]


“. . . Last year I read in some book or other that writing a book or painting a picture was like having a child. This I will not accept as applicable to me — I have always thought that the latter was the more natural and best — so I say, only if it were so, only if it were the same.

“This is the very reason why at times I exert myself to the utmost, though it happens to be this very work that is least understood, and for me it is the only link between the past and the present.” [Letter #641a (to his mother), June 11/12, 1890]


And then this brilliant portraitist, consummate student of the human figure, painter of “Woman at a Table in the Cafe du Tambourin”, Pere Tanguy, Patience Escalier, Dr. Gachet, with staggering humility asked his brother to send him the very same drawings he, a beginning student, had worked from 10 years earlier in Belgium:

“I am terribly anxious to copy once more all the charcoal studies by Bargue, you know, the nude figures. I can draw the 60 sheets comparatively quickly, say within a month, . . . If I neglect to study proportion and the nude again I shall be badly muddled later on. Don’t think this absurd or useless.” [Letter #638 (to Theo), June 4, 1890]


On July 27, 1890, Vincent went out into a field near Auvers and shot himself (in the chest). A letter was found in his pocket. It seems to be an earlier, unmailed version of the letter he sent Theo on July 23 or 24. It’s harsher, more downbeat than the letter sent:

“Thanks for your kind letter and for the 50-fr. note it contained.

“There are many things I should like to write you about, but I feel it is useless. I hope you have found those worthy gentlemen favorably disposed toward you.

“Your reassuring me as to the peacefulness of your household was hardly worth the trouble, I think, having seen the weal and woe of it for myself. And I quite agree with you that rearing a boy on a fourth floor is a hell of a job for you as well as for Jo.

“Since the thing that matters most is going well, why should I say more about things of less importance? My word, before we have a chance to talk business more collectedly, we shall probably have a long way to go.

“The other painters, whatever they think, instinctively keep themselves at a distance from discussions about the actual trade.

“Well, the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak. But yet, my dear brother, there is this that I have always told you, and I repeat it once more with all the earnestness that can be expressed by the effort of a mind diligently fixed on trying to do as well as possible — I tell you again that I shall always consider you to be something more than a simple dealer in Corots, that through my mediation you have your part in the actual production of some canvases, which will retain their calm even in the catastrophe.

“For this is what we have got to, and this is all or at least the main thing that I can have to tell you at a moment of comparative crisis. At a moment when things are very strained between dealers in pictures of dead artists, and living artists.

“Well, my own work, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it–that’s all right–but you are not among the dealers in men as far as I know, and you can still choose your side, I think, acting with humanity, but que veux-tu?”   [Letter #652 (to Theo), July 23, 1890 (not sent)]


He regained consciousness, seemed as though he might recover, . . . but then an infection set in and at 1 a.m., July 29, 1890, he died. Theo was at his side.

It seems clear from what he said during this interval of consciousness that he had not suffered an “attack” of the sort he had had in the South. So what did drive him to suicide? “Cold reason” — a hard look at the failure and futility of his work? A feeling of abandonment as Theo became closer to Jo and their child? Guilt and fear as Theo suffered increasing financial difficulties?

In Van Gogh: the Life, a biography published in 2011, authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith argue that van Gogh did not commit suicide. They contend that he was shot accidentally by two boys he knew who had “a malfunctioning gun”. However experts at the Van Gogh Museum remain unconvinced.

Theo, who, in contrast to Vincent, had never been very physically robust, had been suffering from a kidney infection. He himself died in January, 1891 — less than six months after his brother.

Following Theo’s death Jo did much to preserve and promote Vincent’s work. His reputation grew steadily. She organized the more than 600 letters Vincent had sent Theo and had them published, in the original languages, with her own introductory memoir, in 1914.

Interest in his work continued to grow. In the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, there was a steady average of 20-40 books about him published each year. In 1990, the centennial of his death, the number jumped to 109.

In 1987 his painting “Irises” was sold at auction for $53.9 million — the highest price ever paid for a painting at that time. In 1990 the sale of his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” set an even higher record at $82.5 million.


A Netflix search on “Van Gogh” brings up several documentaries, including Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh(Paul Cox, 1989).

The two big (fictionalized) movies are Lust for Life (Vincente Minnelli, 1956) and Vincent & Theo (Robert Altman, 1990). The first, starring Kirk Douglas, is the more famous, but I think the second is better.  The trailer for Vincent & Theo . There’s an interesting youtube “Vincent & Theo vs. Lust for Life” comparing them.

There’s a very good opening scene in Vincent & Theo (from 1:50-5:25, — the 1980s auction of Vincent’s “Sunflowers” interspersed with Theo’s [imagined] visit to Vincent in the Borinage –)  which gives a flavor of the movie.

At Eternity’s Gate is a 2018 movie starring Willem Dafoe.


He was the subject of a much-better-than-average popular song: “Vincent” by Don McLean.



Auden, W.H. Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters revealing his life as a painter, selected by W.H. Auden. Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society, 1961. L.C. Card Number: 61-8632.

  • Hammacher, A.M. and R. Van Gogh; a Documentary Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1982. ISBN: 0-02-547710-2.
  • <Letters> The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1978. ISBN: 0-8212-0735-0.
  • Rewald, John. Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin. New York: Museum of Modern Art, <c. 1956>.
  • Sweetman, David. Van Gogh: His Life and Art. New York: Crown, 1990. ISBN: 0-517-57406-3.

Van Gogh on the Web 

  • David Brooks’ Vincent van Gogh Gallery:    The complete, central Van Gogh site. The most paintings, the most drawings, the best analysis, the best references . . . The source of most the paintings and drawings above.
  • Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum:   Details about its collections and services; plus a virtual tour.
  • Artcyclopedia: Van Gogh :    Links to van Gogh’s paintings which can be viewed online at over 50 art museum sites and image archives worldwide.


Do you know of art –especially contemporary art available through the Web– which expresses genuine feeling?
Email me: Lucius @

Copyright © Lucius Furius 1997;
25 Dec 2000 (links to pictures fixed);
12 Jan 2003 Replace defunct “All about VVG” with “Van Gogh Museum”;
11 Nov 2005 Correct link for Van Gogh Gallery, add Artcyclopedia;
24 Dec 2011 Add paragraph about 
Van Gogh: the Life accidental death theory;
02 June 2017 Change formatting
Link back to Genius Ignored –Table of Contents