“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.
You can almost see the insecurity of his mind within his troubled eyes. This self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt, revealed what might be going on within. An obsessive compulsive personality became apparent not only in his daily behavior, but also in his art work. Largely self taught, Vincent spent his life chasing the light, so to speak. He was an outdoor painter hoping to capture the light in the moment. His bold, post impressionistic brush strokes and often primitive style, were not popular in his time. Demand for his work came after his death.
Vincent was born on this day in 1853 to Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. His mother was strictly religious and her hovering became almost claustrophobic to Vincent. It’s easy to blame the mother for a child’s mental state later in life, but Vincent admitted that he was a quiet child who kept pretty much to himself. His relationship with his brother, Theo would last for his entire life. They corresponded relentlessly and Theo saved the letters over time.
As a child, he was encouraged by his mother to follow his interest in art. Yet he was expected to become involved in the work of the church by his father. His early works included still life drawings and were nothing in comparison to those he would produce the last ten years of his life. He would later refer to his childhood as “austere and cold, and sterile”.
In his short time on earth, his greatest amount of work was produced in his last ten years. He created 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in his last two years. His existence was riddled with tragedy and poor choices in his lifestyle and relationships. He spoke of hearing voices and was admitted to an asylum for mental illness. We’ve all heard the story of his cutting of his earlobe with a razor and practically bleeding to death. He sent the lopped ear to a prostitute he was acquainted with. He drank too much. Didn’t take care of his physical well being. He was a constant customer of prostitutes and never really settled into any one thing permanently.
At the age of 37, he shot himself and died a few days later from the gunshot wound he suffered. He continues to exist in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius, the artist “where discourses on madness and creativity converge”. His mental state was probably due to malnutrition, over work and alcohol, but he could well have been suffering from bipolar disease, because his difficult times were episodic.
His work became popular posthumously. He became a new voice in the art arena. His bright yellows and oranges, his bold intentional brush strokes and his zeal were all part of what makes an artist. What makes a genius is what is often hidden in the recesses of the same mind that took his life.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, VINCENT VAN GOGH.