Vincent Van Gogh’s emphatic brushwork and striking use of color continues to influence the wave of Expressionism in present-day art.

Van Gogh completed over 2100 paintings, out of which 860 were oil paintings while the remaining 1,300 were sketches, drawings and watercolors.

The 1800s represent a significant period which art historians estimate to be the beginning of transition from the Neoclassicism art movement which was founded on the Roman art, to the Romantic era that advocated for expressive art. Painters who lived during the period attempted to reach out to their audience by touching what went on during the period they lived (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). This paper presents a biography of Vincent Willem van Gogh, a Dutch painter who because his emotional and psychological struggles, found solace in painting, and even became the forerunner of the revolutionary Expressionism art movement. 

Date and Place of Birth

Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch painter who is generally considered the second greatest after Rembrandt van Rijn, and one of the most successful Post-Impressionist artists, was born in Groot-Zundert, a small village in the Brabant region of Netherlands on March 30th 1853. Van Gogh was a son to Theodorus van Gogh, a protestant pastor, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus, a moody artist who demonstrated huge love for nature and from whom Van Gogh possibly inherited his exceptional skills in drawing and watercolors (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). The artist was the eldest of his five siblings, having been born exactly one year after his parents’ first son, a stillborn, who was also named Vincent. Van Gogh had two brothers Cor and Theo who later played a significant role in Van Gogh’s life as a supporter, a confidant and an art dealer. He also had three sisters Anna, Elizabeth and Willemien. Van Gogh’s family members, friends and neighbors, knew him as a quiet young boy, a self-contained person, and a youth who spent much of his free time wandering in the countryside because of his great love for nature (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). Even so, Van Gogh’s melancholic personality was associable to the calamitous coincidence of having been born on the same date his late brother and namesake was born and died.      

Early Life and Education

Van Gogh attended King Willem II College between 1866 and 1868 but was forced to drop out to seek a job because of his family’s financial struggles. He was only 15 when he dropped out. Van Gogh’s first employment was at his uncle Cornelis’ art dealership, Goupil & Cie, an organization of traders of art in Hague (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). The painter’s multilingual nature played a significant role in elevating his status at his place of work. By the time he joined his uncle’s company, he was not only fluent in Dutch, his native language, but she also demonstrated great mastery of German, French and English languages. In June 1873, Van Gogh got a transfer to the Goupil Gallery in London (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). It was during his stay in the English land that he fell in love with the English culture. He would spend much of his free time visiting art galleries, and reading the works of George Elliot and Charles Dickens. Unfortunately, Van Gogh fell in love with his landlady’s daughter Eugenie Loyer who disappointedly rejected his advances, something that made the young enthusiastic man feel really dejected. For the period of the emotional breakdown, he halted his frequent visits to the art gallery, threw away all his books except for the Bible. He thereafter dedicated his life to God and unnecessarily displayed anger towards his colleagues at work. Besides, Van Gogh constantly acted unthinkably by asking clients to stop buying the “worthless works of art,” a strange behavior which led to his dismissal.

Priesthood Life

Van Gogh had been born and raised in a religious family. However it was until his heartbreaking encounter with Loyer that he earnestly began devoting his life to the church. He taught at Methodist Boys’ School and at the same time preached to congregations. Van Gogh went ahead to take the entrance examination to the School of Theology in Amsterdam with the hope of finally qualifying to be a clergy. However because of his indifferent attitude towards Latin, often referring to the language as a dead one and even refusing to take Latin examination, he was denied entrance into priesthood (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). Afterwards, Van Gogh joined the Church of Belgium where he continued to demonstrate his resentful attitude. He became part of the ministry after he volunteered to relocate to an impoverished coal mine in southern Belgium in 1878 (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). It was in the region where preachers of his kind, the indignant ones, were often taken as punishment. Van Gogh gave sermon and attended to the sick, often drawing pictures of the miners and their families. As a result of their Christly perception of him, they nicknamed him “Christ of the Coal,” a title which never pleased the evangelical committee. They openly contested Van Gogh’s lifestyle which as time passed, began taking the tone of martyrdom. When they eventually refused to renew his contract, he was left with no other alternative but to leave and seek another job. 

Finding Comfort in Art 

Van Gogh decided to move to Brussels and pursue painting as a career in the fall of 1880. Despite the fact that he had no formal training in art, he got huge help from his brother Theo who offered him financial support (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). Van Gogh began taking lessons on his own. Some of the books which he paid close attention to included Jean-Francois Millet’s “Travaux des champs” and Charles Bargue’s “Cours de dessin.” In general, the Dutch found much solace in art, even managing to stay emotionally balanced after a long period of time. In 1885, Van Gogh created “Potato Eaters,” a painting which is considered the painter’s first masterpiece. However, Theo who by the time lived in Paris doubted whether Van Gogh’s painting would have been well-received in the French capital of Paris where Impressionism was accepted as the trend. In March 1886, Van Gogh relocated to Paris where he showed up at Theo’s small apartment uninvited. It was during Van Gogh’s stay in Paris that he was drawn to the Impressionist art (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). He was greatly inspired by the paintings’ color and light, and so he began studying with Camille Pissarro, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and others. In a bid to save money, Van Gogh and his colleague artists posed for one another in preference to hiring models. However his friends soon became tired of his bickering because of the manner in which he constantly argued with them about their works. Van Gogh also got influence from Japanese art. As a result, he began studying the Eastern philosophy with the aim of enhancing his art and life. In fact, he even dreamt of travelling to Japan, but was discouraged by his friends who convinced him that light in the village of Arles in France was the same as light in Japan. Fully convinced not to travel to Japan, he boarded a train and moved to the presently-famous “yellow house” where he demonstrated his undying affection for art by spending his money on art instead of food.


Van Gogh completed over 2100 paintings, out of which 860 were oil paintings while the remaining 1,300 were sketches, drawings and watercolors. Some of his most popular paintings include “Starry Night” which he created in 1889, a year before his death, while in asylum in France where he stayed at Saint-Remy-de-Provence (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). Van Gogh sought asylum after he deliberately chopped off his ear with a razor and the people of Arles signed a petition which indicated that he was dangerous to the public. The oil painting on canvas which combines emotion, imagination, memory and observation, portrays an expressive whirling night sky, and an unusually quiet village with a huge flame which looks like cypress and somewhat represents the bridge between life and death, is presently stored at Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Sunflowers,” a painting that Van Gogh did its two series while in Arles France is another popular brilliant work from the artist (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). The oil painting on canvas which illustrates wilting yellow sunflowers on a vase and which is at present displayed in Munich, Philadelphia, Amsterdam and Tokyo was painted between September 1888 and January 1889 (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). Van Gogh’s other popular painting is “Self-Portrait”. For more than a decade, the Dutch painter created over 43 self-portraits in forms of paintings and drawings which are at the moment displayed in various museums around the globe including New York, Paris, Amsterdam and Washington D.C.   

Greatest Achievement

Van Gogh’s emphatic brushwork and striking use of color continues to influence the wave of Expressionism in present-day art. No wonder the artist amassed remarkable popularity in the 20th C when his paintings sold at record-breaking sums in various auctions across the globe (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018). “Irises” sold for $53.9 million while the “portrait of Dr. Gachet” also sold for a record of $82.5 million. Majority of his works rank amongst some of the most expensive paintings around the world. Besides, the exceptionality of his work has elevated his status to an extent that his works have been featured in blockbuster touring exhibitions. The world has and will continue to appreciate the efforts of the painter in raising the notch in painting by mythologizing him in popular imagination as the classic tortured artist. 


The emotional turbulence which Van Gogh often experienced because of rejection by family members, friends and colleagues who abhorred his inflexible nature, coupled with unsuccessful love life, time and again swayed him to take his own life. Apart from the December 1888 incident in which the painter intentionally disfigured his ear leading to loss of too much blood, the artist again attempted suicide on July 27th 1890 by shooting himself in the chest with a gun (Van Gogh-Bonger and Gayford, 2018).  So distraught about his future with false perception that his brother Theo was no longer interested in selling his art, Van Gogh died on July 29th 1890 and his body was buried at Auvers cemetery.  


Van Gogh-Bonger, J., & Gayford, M. (2018). A Memoir of Vincent Van Gogh. Getty Publications.