Story of Vincent Van Gogh

May 4, 2019 Off By Gregory

Vincent Van Gogh has long been a familiar name to me. However, it is only since the recent visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam that I started to have a better understanding about this great artist and his life. I was so touched by his story that I continued to research further about him on the internet after I returned from the trip.

Thanks to the Van Gogh Museum, their “Van Gogh at Work” exhibition running so far has provided the visitors not only a great display of the artist’s works but also a good information base on the background. As such, I had learnt a lot about him and was particularly fascinated by what had transpired in the last ten years of the artist’s life and beyond.

This writing is not about repeating the key life history of Vincent Van Gogh but rather, what I have taken in from his story. And, here are my thoughts.

Vincent Van Gogh had a surprisingly short life — only 37 years (born in 1853, and died in 1890). One couldn’t help but sigh at such a tremendous loss of talent at a prime time like his.

Despite his rather “shortened” life, he had left a treasure of works for hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy and linger. In the few days I was in Amsterdam, never one moment did I not see people queuing up outside the Van Gogh Museum. It was such a hot property. When I thought it would be “safe” to arrive there an hour before opening time, I only realised that there were already some seventy to a hundred people before me. And, all these people might have come from all corners of the earth. What an interesting occasion.

As much as Van Gogh’s fame as a “superstar” in art, he wasn’t perceived as an inborn talent at all. As it was reported, in his earlier days of doing art, he struggled a lot with the handling of human figures in the paintings. It was only by 1885 that his work “The Potato Eaters” managed to give him a first taste of recognition. His success had a lot to do with hard work and his untiring efforts in exploring various media and technique. His devotion to art was not just full-time but 247. He was analytical in his approach, taking reference of the style and works of other artists around and before him. For example, his visit to Paris in early 1886 had “transformed” him from working on just earth colours to a palette of bright and exotic colours. For a long time, he was meticulous in striving for the colour harmony and vibrancy according to the colour theory. The Japanese prints and culture had an influence on him too as was the pointillism styles by leading artists at that time the like of Seurat and Signac.

Because of Van Gogh’s unequalled devotion and dedication to art, he was a “mass producer”. Over the span of the ten years to his death in 1890, he had produced some 2,000 works, consisting of 1200+ sketches and 800+ paintings. During the last thirty months of his life, he had produced 463 paintings (that is, an average of 15+ paintings a month). And, to top it all, his last 2 months alone had generated some 70 works (an average of over 1 painting a day) and most of which are generally regarded as his bests. No wonder Vincent sometimes spoke of himself as “painting like a machine.”

To mention Vincent Van Gogh’s success without mentioning his brother Theo’s part in all that is grossly unjust. Virtually from the very beginning of Vincent’s art life, Theo had been there all along to support him, not just financially but also in all other ways imaginable. These brothers shared an immense love for each other. The bond between them was incredible. One could only imagine how a younger brother could be so caring and supportive almost to the point that his mere existence were for him. Theo died in January, 1891, only six months following the death of Vincent. Understandably, he would have gone through enormous grief because of his brother’s suicide.

The bond between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother didn’t stop there. It flowed onto Theo’s wife Johanna (Bonger) as well. The love and respect from Theo’s family to Vincent was so evident. Their son was named after the uncle Vincent. Following the death of Theo, Johanna had devoted most of her time promoting Van Gogh’s works and bringing them to the spotlight of the world. She had been instrumental to the publishing of the collection of letters between the brothers too. What an effort. We as the world have much to thank this lady for. Without her act of faith, Van Gogh would hardly have a mention in the art world. We would of course missed out seeing and appreciating his colours and brushstrokes.

In a nutshell, the story of Vincent Van Gogh is a story of determination, persistence, and perseverance. It is a story of following one’s passion in art and an untiring effort to strive for excellency. It is of course a story of tremendous bond and love.

Would history portray him as the “unlucky painter” who struggled through poverty and died too early — missing out all the great fortune he could have enjoyed from the sale of his great works? (Sometimes, people might contrast him with Picasso who as we all know had enjoyed during his lifetime both the fame and fortune as one of the most sought after artist in his time.)

Before we jump to our conclusions, let us not forget that Van Gogh’s rather unfortunate happenings had somehow sealed with a silver lining. A substantial portion of the artist’s works ( including some 200+ paintings, 400+ drawings and 700+ letters) had been preserved and kept together under one roof, now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for the enjoyment of so many from all corners of the earth, and also the generations to come. These works are and always will be well looked after by the team of world-class professionals in the field. What an honour for any artist to dream of?

Van Gogh’s story is truly thought-provoking. It is truly inspirational.

What do we take home from all these? I don’t know about you. For me, I believe in the importance of following one’s passion religiously. I trust that this is the window to tap into what God has installed for each one of us: the unique gift (talent) and purpose for our being. The pride and joy to be able to explore this potential to the fullest and bring glory to God is beyond description. I believe that Vincent, despite all the adversities, had found his meaning in life and carried it through to the end. He should be content with himself because he had spent his prime time doing the things he liked to do the most. It is beyond silver and gold.