Vincent van Gogh: The Tragedy of a Genius

Vincent van Gogh's artwork is considered to be some of the best in the world, but his artwork was not appreciated in his time. How did this dramatic change happen? Furthermore, what led Van Gogh to be the artist and person that he was? Van Gogh led a difficult life. Struggling with his mental health, he wanted to be a successful artist; but not many people valued his artwork as much as he valued it. Van Gogh's journey through life was a unique one, and it sadly ended with him taking his own life.

Despite the several challenges that Vincent van Gogh faced during his early and later life, he was able to have a tremendous influence on both the world and his family.

Even from a young age, Vincent van Gogh had always taken an interest in being an artist. Seeing his mother draw flowers when he was just a child, he became fascinated and was inspired to be as good of an artist as she was.

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Soon, nature began to pique Van Gogh's interest in art.

As young Van Gogh took a great interest in art and nature, his Uncle Vincent saw his immense interest and invited Van Gogh to work for him. His Uncle Vincent worked as an art dealer in a place called the Hague which was an art gallery in Holland. This was a new and exciting opportunity for Van Gogh. As he began to work at the Hague, his fascination for art grew substantially day by day.

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Accordingly, one day as he was working, his uncle suggested for him to take a better job offer that was in London; and young Van Gogh took the job with excitement and was off to London.

After traveling to London, Van Gogh had problems at his new job; and he soon quit since he wanted to pursue a different career. Trying to figure out what career would be best, he began to travel more and finally decided on a career in preaching as his father had done. He shortly started evangelist schooling. Although he failed his schooling, he was offered a lay preacher job in a deprived, coal mining area. Unsure where else to go, Van Gogh took the job and fully devoted himself to helping the needy coal miners in the area. He sent a letter to the pastors who had sent him there, asking for supplies and further help for the needy people. Weeks later, Van Gogh received a letter that said he was fired from his lay preaching job only because he had asked for further help for the coal miners. The pastors did not like nor understand how he had been such a selfless and generous lay preacher toward those less fortunate.

As Van Gogh struggled from being fired from his job as a lay preacher, he began to draw as a way of comfort, which made his family concerned and scared for him since it was not a stable career. He would spend all day drawing sketches of people that were around him. He would admit his sketches were not good, but they were somehow able to capture something unspeakable about human emotions. Because he lived the same ways that the poor people had, he was able to understand and draw their raw, unfiltered emotions. "Sketching was Vincent's only comfort, and he devoted himself to it". Concerned with his well-being, Van Gogh's family sent his younger brother, Theo, to try to talk Van Gogh into coming home and figuring out what career path Van Gogh should pursue. After talking for a while, they both thought it would be best for Van Gogh to pursue the career of becoming an artist.

Although financially struggling, Van Gogh returned back home to work in the Hague once again; this time he was determined to concentrate on being a full-time artist. Seeing that Van Gogh was struggling financially, Theo was supportive and even offered to give his older brother an allowance until he could make enough money on his own. Motivated Van Gogh took Theo's offer and began to buy art supplies. Van Gogh became so devoted to his art that if he spent a substantial amount of money on art supplies and ran out of money; he would not buy food to be able to eat, in order to be fully focused on his art. Often, as he would wait for Theo to send him more money, Van Gogh would take walks to ease his mind of stress and to get inspired by the nature around him.

Stressed out, Van Gogh soon heard of another artist opportunity in Paris and decided to take it in hope that things would get better. When he got to Paris, Van Gogh began studying the impressionist's ways of painting and practicing painting. Theo began to notice that Van Gogh was getting significantly better, and he and the rest of Van Gogh's family finally felt relieved for Van Gogh. However, just as Van Gogh's life seemed to be getting better, things began to worsen. Van Gogh's pride got the best of him, and he began to be irritable and argumentative with everyone around him. Theo took pity on him because although Van Gogh was very talented, he had a hard time getting along with people. Realizing how physically and mentally difficult it was for him to stay in Paris, he once again decided to move away and to seclude himself.

This time, Van Gogh moved to a small city called Arles in France. In Arles, he found himself indescribably invigorated and excited. Excited to paint in Arles, he would wake up early each morning to be able to have enough daylight to paint. He would paint from before the morning sunrise to late at night using the light of candlelight to be able to see. Within ten months of being in Arles, Van Gogh completed over 180 pieces of artwork. Van Gogh's personal painting style was first developed as he was in Arles. Since he spent so much time outside in the Arles countryside, he began to use more of the color yellow because he had been inspired and had grown a deep appreciation for the sun.

As Van Gogh ran around the Arles countryside, most people in Arles thought him to be messy and crazy and would try to avoid him, except two people in particular. Despite what people thought of him, Van Gogh had managed to make two friends, the post office official, and his wife. The post officer's wife, in particular, was very concerned for Van Gogh and would help him by making sure that he would eat. His worried friends were also able to help Van Gogh find a little yellow house for him to be able to rent.

Once Van Gogh moved into his new home, he thought it would be a good idea to allow another artist to live with him and paint alongside him; but, unfortunately, his optimistic idea did not turn out as well as he had hoped it would. After a few months of living together, the other painter Van Gogh had invited to live with him, Gauguin, began to irritate Van Gogh. Van Gogh and Gauguin began to argue bitterly. As the arguments continued, both of the painters would get mentally exhausted; therefore, Gauguin was thinking about moving out and leaving before any of the arguments would grow to be more physically damaging. Desperate Van Gogh pleaded for Gauguin to stay, but nothing he said could convince Gauguin. Feeling alone and abandoned, Van Gogh was mentally pushed to the edge.

Overwhelmed, Gauguin told Van Gogh that he had finally decided to move out; but Van Gogh thought that he could still convince Gauguin to stay which led to a more disastrous situation. Suffering from the effects of drugs that he took out of anxiety and from sunstroke after painting all day, Van Gogh chased after Gauguin and tried to attack him with a razor. Gauguin, although bigger and stronger, did not fight Van Gogh; but, instead, he was able to calm Van Gogh down and send him back to the yellow house. After Van Gogh got back to his house, he was unable to think clearly and had a sudden seizure. When he regained cognizance, his head still reeling. Van Gogh took his razor that he had originally gone after Gauguin with and cut his ear off as a way to, "punish himself for all his failures".

With his ear newly cut off, Van Gogh found his way to the brothel, and he decided to give his ear to one of the girls there. He found a girl and instructed her to keep his ear as if it were a treasure. The girl was disgusted and horrified with this unique gift and gave the severed ear to the local police. Concerned with the severed ear, the police began to then search for a crazed individual.

The next morning, the police were able to find Van Gogh, but he was in a very distressing state. He was found lying in his bed with many towels around his head, soaked with his blood. Without delay, the police rushed Van Gogh to a hospital where he stayed for several days. The doctor then gave Van Gogh simple instructions: to wear a hat when he was in direct sunlight, to eat well, to avoid alcohol, and to avoid anything that would cause excitement.

Van Gogh soon left the hospital; and although he followed the doctor's instructions for some time, he eventually deviated. At first, he began to feel improved and started to paint again. However, Van Gogh began to go back to his old habits. After he had painted a full day in the direct sunlight without a hat, he had many fits and was put in the local jail. Van Gogh was then told by his concerned doctor that it would be in his best interest to get initiated into a mental hospital. After all that had happened, Van Gogh, wanting to get better, willingly checked himself into a mental hospital.

Starting out, Van Gogh was quite content in his new temporary home at the mental hospital; but he still felt as if he were going crazy which showed in his paintings. Van Gogh allowed painting which made him feel content while he was in the mental hospital. Van Gogh's time in the mental hospital can be best described as the following. The doctor in charge of the sanatorium allowed Vincent to use an empty room as a studio so that he could paint the countryside around St.-Remy. The anxiety that Vincent was feeling at this time shows up in some of these paintings, but they are considered great works of art. In fact, it was during this time, in June 1889, that Vincent painted one of his greatest works Starry Nights. Using beautiful blues and yellows, he paints a story of a quiet village and a night come alive with blazing swirling stars. It is a painting that shows the power of an artist who can take paint canvas and bring a landscape to life. While he painted in the mental hospital, Van Gogh only signed 7 of the 140 paintings that he completed during his time there due to how he felt.

After completing so many paintings, Van Gogh still felt mentally lost even while in the mental hospital; not sure what to do, he turned to Theo for help. Thankfully, Theo happened to know of a physician, Dr. Gachet, who had a fascination for helping painters. In order to start life on his own while still getting help, Van Gogh moved to live near Dr. Gachet in a small city near Paris. Theo finally felt relief for his older brother during this time. After moving to be close to Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh was overtaken with anxiety and began to paint full, completed paintings at least once a day in order to cope.

As Van Gogh's anxiety soon began to spiral out of control, other aspects of his life began to spiral out of control as well. He began to see himself as an unsuccessful, financial burden on his brother. Furthermore, since he had no children or spouse, he felt there was not much more for his life. These thoughts weighed on his mind until he could not take it any longer. On July 27, 1890, Van Gogh walked out to a field and tried to take his life by shooting himself with a gun that he had borrowed. Fatally injured, he somehow made his way back to a cafe where he had been temporarily living; and he dragged himself up the stairs to his room. The concerned owners went up to his room to check on him and were completely shocked to find him lying on his bed, clutching his chest, and angrily muttering about how he had missed the shot. The shaken owners immediately went to go find help for him. Theo heard of what happened and came as quickly as he could. As soon as Theo saw Van Gogh, he was distraught. Van Gogh was aggravated that he had failed in shooting himself but felt relieved knowing that he would die soon. No matter how much Theo begged and pleaded, Van Gogh could not be convinced there could be a happy ending to his misery. Van Gogh passed away on July 29, 1890, two days after he had originally tried to commit suicide.

Although Van Gogh took his own life due to his internal struggle, he was still able to have an extraordinary impact on the world and his family. Van Gogh's art is still influential today, and one of his paintings, Starry Night, is one of the most recognizable pieces of art today. Not only his art but also his depressing life has inspired thousands of people and artists over the past 129 years. Even today, his unique style has been duplicated a multitude of times.

Although he has influence in the art world, it is small compared to the influence that Van Gogh had on his family. After Van Gogh died, his brother, Theo, was completely destroyed over the death of his beloved older brother and died less than a year later. Newly widowed Johanna, Theo's wife, had watched her husband sell art over the years and knew what to do in order to earn a living. She began to pursue selling Van Gogh's art, especially since it was her last option to be able to earn a living. Even though his artwork was appreciated by those who knew him, it had nowhere near the level of popularity it has today. After months of being persistent in selling Van Gogh's artwork, Johanna was able to succeed. Johanna's hard work is most likely the reason Van Gogh has become as popular as he is today.

Van Gogh was a phenomenally gifted artist who was able to have a supreme impact on the world and his family on account of his early and later life difficulties he had to face. He was a complex human being whose mental health took a tragic downward spiral. People loved the story behind the artist's paintings. He was not able to achieve fame on his own, but he was able to achieve it due to the tireless efforts of his sister-in-law after he passed away. Van Gogh had a profound effect on the art world with his unique artworks, his stunning vision, and different takes on what art was at the time. He was able to create artwork that was not just beautiful but also able to create an experience through his artwork that allowed people to feel something.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Vincent van Gogh: The Tragedy of a Genius. (2024, Feb 05). Retrieved from

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