Vincent van Gogh, in full Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853, Zundert, Netherlands— 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise, France) is considered the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt and one of the greatest Post-Impressionists. The eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor, he was born and raised in a small village in the Brabant region of the southern Netherlands. At 16, he was apprenticed to The Hague branch of the art dealers Goupil and Co., of which his uncle was a partner.
In 1881, Van Gogh studied drawing at the Brussels Academy and then moved back to The Hague to assist Anton Mauve, a Dutch landscape painter. In this starting phase, his paintings focused on three types of subjects—still life, landscape, and figure—all interrelated by their reference to the daily life of peasants (see “The Potato Eaters,” 1885). After briefly refining his skills and knowledge at the Antwerp Academy in 1886, he left to join his brother in Paris. Theo Van Gogh was in the art world. Still, as an art dealer, he introduced Vincent to many relevant artists, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gaugin, and others involved in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements. By the summer of 1887, he was painting in pure colors and using broken brushwork that seemed influenced by Pointillism, but by the beginning of 1888, his unique style had crystallized. Finally, maybe in search of the perfect light or because of his mental health issues, Van Gogh decided to leave Paris for Arles in southeastern France.
The pictures he created over the following 12 months—depicting blossoming nature, self-portraits, humble interiors, portraits of friends, and landscapes—marked his first great period. His fellow artist and friend Paul Gauguin, with whom van Gogh kept an intense exchange of letters from which we now know the struggles he was going through, decided to join him, arriving in October 1888: for the following two months, the two worked together, but, while each influenced the other to some extent, their relations rapidly deteriorated.
On Christmas Eve 1888, physically and emotionally exhausted, van Gogh snapped, following a hard argument with Gauguin, and cut off the lower half of his left ear. After the scary outburst, he entered an asylum but continued to paint; during his 12-month stay at the psychiatric ward, he completed 150 paintings and drawings. Another burst of activity followed a move to Auvers-sur-Oise in 1890, but he soon suffered a relapse and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound that July. His 10-year artistic career produced over 800 paintings and 700 drawings, of which he sold only one in his lifetime.