As for me, I am rather often uneasy in my mind, because I think that my life has not been calm enough; all those bitter disappointments, adversities, changes keep me from developing fully and naturally in my artistic career.
—Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh died thinking his life was worthless. Today, his every work of art is priceless.
On November 11, 1987, “Irises” was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York for $53.9 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting. Three years later, “The Portrait of Doctor Gachet” changed hands within three minutes for $82.5 million, as the most expensive painting ever auctioned. The irony is that Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime and became renowned only after his death. It was “The Red Vineyard” sold in 1680, at Brussels for 400 Belgian francs, roughly equivalent to today’s INR 700!
Acknowledged to be the greatest Dutch painter, since Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt, the troubled genius left behind over 2,100 works, comprising 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolours, drawings and sketches.
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in 1853 to a minister in Holland. Throughout his life, he battled with mental illness, anxiety disorder and low self-esteem. He held on to various jobs including that of a preacher, before learning by himself, to paint. Spurred in love on various occasions, he was nicknamed “The Christ of the Coal Mines,” due to evangelical outbursts in the coal mines of Belgium.
He began his prolific journey beginning with the oil rendering, “Potato Eaters” in 1885.
An image of himself in a straw hat was among the twenty plus self-portraits he developed within just two years. These self-portraits notwithstanding, Vincent was no narcissist. He was simply too poor to afford models to sit for him. Though he was influenced by the grandiose baroque works of Peter Paul Rubens, Vincent himself preferred coarse and ungainly peasants as his models, as he considered them more original. His brother, Theo, however, persuaded Vincent to move from the dull and dark earth tomes to vivid colours, heralding Vincent’s forays into Impressionism, colour-led by the brush strokes of Claude Monet.
Vincent went on to produce over 900 paintings within 10 years, most of them in Paris which included the famous “Sunflowers”, and the “Starry Night,” when he boarded with Paul Gauguin. However, it also was a time of great turmoil for Vincent, as his mental illness and physical decline began to strongly manifest.
Tortured in mind and body, Vincent Van Gogh endeavoured to portray his own emotional and spiritual state in almost all of his works. He expressed himself with dense and visible brushstrokes rendered in all radiance and opulence. A study of each of his works reflects a coordination of Vincent’s tortured mind, impaired vision, and troubled heart.
As Vincent himself said, “The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths, it has its pearls too.“ His distinct and emotionally evocative style has influenced artists to this day, and up to the present day, epitomizing Van Gogh’s priceless contribution to art.
Vincent’s desire to express himself through spirituality and nature set the brush strokes for dramatic, imaginative, rhythmic, and emotional canvases that convey far more than mere graphics. These methods and practice came to define many subsequent modern movements from Fauvism to Abstract Expressionism.
His vast and diverse array of art has been copied by thousands but duplicated by none. Van Gogh’s unique life has inspired millions to become active in art. He gave style and substance to the life of an artist.