Vincent van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853, in Groot-Zundert, the Netherlands. He left school at a young age and was apprenticed with an art dealer, Goupil & Cie, in 1872. In 1873, he transferred to London and continued to work with Goupil & Cie until 1876. After a brief spell as a bookseller, he returned to Amsterdam before working as a lay preacher in Belgium. In 1880, with the encouragement of his brother Theo, he began to focus on art and spent the next few years travelling around the Netherlands and drawing. In 1885, he moved to Antwerp to enrol in the Art Academy, though he quickly tired of the academicism and moved to Paris in 1886, where he began to take lessons in the studio of Fernand Cormon. When he left for Paris, van Gogh had a bold and assured style, though his palette was dark and subtle, as exemplified in The Potato Eaters, 1885 (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam).
In Paris, van Gogh was introduced to Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat, as well as other members of the Impressionist circle. Meanwhile, his studies at the Atelier Cormon brought him into contact with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin. Consequently, van Gogh would develop his unique artistic style over the next two years, introducing a much brighter palette of pure colours and short, striated brushwork. His subjects changed from rural labourers to city life – scenes of the cafés and boulevards, as well as local countryside and the Seine. Van Gogh also developed a new source of inspiration in Japanese woodcut prints, with the bold outlines, cropped viewpoints and colour contrasts influencing his own work.
In 1887, he frequently painted alongside Émile Bernard and Paul Signac in Asnières before he tired of Paris and moved to Arles in 1888, where he depicted the Provençal landscape and people. Enamoured with the local light and colour, van Gogh began to squeeze paint directly onto the canvas and his brushwork became increasingly loose and expressive; he was so captivated by the landscape and climate that he envisaged creating a new artist’s colony there – the ‘Studio of the South’. To this end, he rented four rooms in the ‘Yellow House’, where he was joined by Gauguin in the autumn of 1888. The two spent a productive, but increasingly tense, two months, which culminated in van Gogh cutting of part of his year when Gauguin threatened to leave. Van Gogh was admitted into a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he would remain until 1890; he produced around 150 paintings over the year, and was included in the exhibition of Les Vingt in Brussels (1890).
In May 1890, van Gogh moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, where he quickly befriended the homeopathic physician Dr Paul Gachet. An amateur painter, Gachet encouraged van Gogh to dedicate himself to painting; he would work feverishly, producing almost a painting a day. In spite of his productivity, van Gogh’s mental health suffered, exacerbated by his precarious financial situation, and he committed suicide, dying on 29 July 1890, in Auvers.
Van Gogh’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the National Gallery, London; the Tate Collection, London.