However, not even a biographical film starring Kirk Douglas, obscene records sales by Don McLean, or a proliferation of Starry Night coffee mugs, shower curtains and umbrellas could dilute the wonder of seeing van Gogh’s art in the flesh.
Was there more to the man than the myth?
Of course there was; just as there’s more to a painting than a starry night blanketing a village punctuated by a lone, cypress tree reaching for the stars.
This is what I learned about the man.
Between 1860 and 1880, van Gogh struggled to find his true calling, working unsuccessfully as a clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher (his father was a Dutch Reformed minister) in the Borinage (a dreary mining district in Belgium) before discovering a determination to give happiness by creating beauty via his art.
Van Gogh’s love life was a catastrophe. At the age of 20, while living and working in London, England, Vincent suffered a breakdown when he was rejected by love interest Eugenia Loyer, the daughter of his landlady. Later, when his widowed cousin Kee was repulsed by his advances, he threatened to burn himself by holding his hand over an oil lamp. The cousin fled to Amsterdam, van Gogh to The Hague, where his next love interest was Clasina Maria Hoornik, an alcoholic prostitute. She became his companion, mistress and model until van Gogh’s family (throughout his adult life, younger brother Theo, an art dealer, provided Vincent the moral and financial support to allow Vincent to pursue his artistic interests) threatened to withdraw support.
What Vincent lacked in formal art training he made up for in terms of his zealousness to learn from the masters. He studied briefly (3 months) at the Antwerp Academy in Belgium before moving on to Paris in 1886, where he lived with his brother, Theo, while attending classes at Fernando Cormon’s studio. While in Paris, Vincent met Impressionist painters Pissarro, Monet, Bernard, and Gauguin, and began trying to imitate their techniques. Unable to successfully copy the Impressionist style, he developed his own more bold and unconventional style.
It turns out van Gogh's obstinacy and often loutish, remote and bizarre behavior, behavior that often alienated him from friends and family (you think!?), allowed him the perspective needed to hone his skills and truly achieve greatness.
A painting of a landscape entitled "Sunset at Montmajour" was discovered and unveiled by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in September 2013. Before the Van Gogh Museum acquired the painting, a Norwegian industrialist had stored it away in his attic, thinking it wasn't authentic. The painting is believed to have been created by van Gogh in 1888—around the same time that his artwork "Sunflowers" was made—just two years before his death.
Following the death of Vincent in 1890 by suicide, and the death of his brother Theo six months later (January, 1891) of a broken heart and tertiary syphilis, van Gogh’s sister-in-law, Theo’s wife, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, began collecting as many of van Gogh’s paintings as she could; she was instrumental in establishing a market for Vincent’s art. She discovered van Gogh’s own mother had thrown away crates full of his art. Johanna also delayed the publication of Vincent’s letters (650 of the 928 letters saved were between Vincent and his brother, Theo) until 1914, contending “It would have been unfair to the dead artist to arouse interest in his person before his work, to which he had sacrificed his life, was recognized and appreciated as it deserved to be.”
By the way, all low resolution images (sorry) in today's post are courtesy of Wikipedia's public domain.