February 21, 2022

Why are Van Gogh’s Paintings so Special?

Vincent Van Gogh is likely one of the most well-known artists. The post-impressionist painter’s art is acclaimed, even among those who are not traditionally considered art lovers. But why is that? Yes, Gogh’s paintings are breath-taking, but many artists have visually appealing art. Instead, with Van Gogh, each piece is more captivating and his style difficult to mimic.

Who Is Vincent Van Gogh?

To understand the extent of Van Gogh’s impact, it is imperative that you understand his upbringing and history. Vincent Van Gogh was born in Groot Zundert, Netherlands, on 30 March 1853. From birth, his life was complex. His parents named him after an older brother Vincent Willem Van Gogh, born in 1852, also on the 30th of March. But Van Gogh’s older brother was a stillbirth. His birth and death took place on the same date the great artist was born, bar one year. This ill-fated similarity was something Van Gogh had to contend with from his early childhood. Sharing the same birthday as his older brother also meant that when visiting the grave of his late brother, he would see his name and date of birth on the tombstone, an occurrence that possibly impacted his mental health.

Van Gogh’s Life and Art

Van Gogh’s career-defining moments are separated into four eras: his time at The Hague, his unremarkable middle years, his one year in Arles, France, and his short stay at an insane asylum.

The Hague

During his time at The Hague, Van Gogh was introduced to landscape work. It’s also here where the artist could hone his technique.

Van Gogh also completed his first commissioned artwork — commissioned by his uncle who was an art dealer — at The Hague and likely contributed to his fervent pursuit of perfection. During his time in The Hague, Van Gogh solidified himself as a prolific artist, not because of the quality of his art, but rather the number of pieces, churning out hundreds during this time.

The Middle Years

Following The Hague era, Van Gogh endured a period where his ongoing artistic development suffered. From 1884 -1887, a period that many view as insignificant to Van Gogh’s development as an artist, Van Gogh would paint his first master — potato eaters. The piece was gloomy yet full of life, displaying Van Gogh’s extraordinary technique.

Arles, France

Then, in Arles, Van Gogh’s mental health took centre stage. But the artist also dabbled extensively in portrait work.

It was also here that the artist would become equally known for his art as he would for his struggles with his mental health.

Van Gogh is said to have had bipolar disorder and some type of depressive condition. This mental illness is often seen through his art, going from vivid, vibrant colours to more sombre pieces.

But nowhere is his fragile mental health more on display than when Van Gogh moved to the south of France in early 1888, where he rented the infamous yellow house.

After moving to Arles, France, Van Gogh invited more established artist Paul Gauguin to help him achieve his vision of turning the town into an artist commune.

Gauguin moved to Arles, but not because of Van Gogh’s insistence. Instead, it was because Van Gogh’s younger brother Theo — who was financially supporting Van Gogh at the time — agreed to pay Gauguin 150 franc a month if he moved there.

When Gauguin moved to Arles, Van Gogh was inspired. He painted almost daily, painting 232 pieces in the 14 months he lived there. But, when the pair had a falling out a few days before Christmas, Van Gogh severed his ear, was taken to an insane asylum and painted the renowned self-portrait of his head wrapped in bandages.

The Asylum

It was at this asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence that Van Gogh painted his most popular piece — Starry Night Over the Rhone. A piece that would define years of tireless labour to perfect his one true love: art.

Starry Night, which was first featured in the Societe des Artistes Independent exhibit in Paris, thanks to assistance from his brother Theo, now lives on at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

But one thing is clear: these eras give insight into the evolution of Van Gogh. They display how he used colour and his brushstrokes to create masterpieces. But they also show how Van Gogh could see the beauty in pain.

During his middle years, he painted Potato Eaters shortly after his father passed and his relationship failed. In Arles, he painted his self-portraits, and while stuck in an asylum, he painted starry nights. It’s perhaps this tenacity that is responsible for his artwork being admired and appreciated all over the world. A message that even casual art lovers can savour.

In essence, whether it is for his brushstrokes or his life, Van Gogh is remarkable. But his paintings are remarkable because they evoke deep human emotion in such a unique way.

You can visit an exhibition in London that gives you the chance to be immersed in the work of Van Gogh . The exhibition runs until the end of May 2022.

Angela Edwards work


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