Vincent Willem van Gogh was poor and virtually unknown throughout his lifetime. He struggled with mental illness – famously cutting off his ear and offering it to a prostitute – and died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Yet he is considered one of the great impressionist painters, his work notable for its emotion and color; and he was incredibly prolific (maybe his art helped him stay moderately sane), producing some 860 oil paintings, and over 1300 watercolors, drawings, and sketches.
Vincent was born in March 1853 AD in Groot-Zundert, and named after a dead brother. By the time the boy was 15, the family was insolvent, and Vincent took a job at his uncle’s art dealership in The Hague. In 1873, he transferred to the Goupil Gallery in London, where he fell in love with English culture … and his landlady’s daughter. When she rejected his proposal of marriage, van Gogh vowed to devote his life to God.
Failing as a minister, van Gogh wandered to Brussels in 1880 and became an artist, though he had no formal training. He did, however, have contacts among art dealers, and one – his younger brother Theo in Paris – was able to sell a few of his pieces. So Vincent moved on to Paris. Through the next decade he created his impressionist masterpieces, paintings such as 'The Potato Eaters' (1885) and 'Sunflowers' (1888), an inimitable fusion of color and content that would revolutionize civilization’s concept of art.
But van Gogh kept suffering bouts of depression after failed love affairs. Theo became concerned, and in 1888 arranged for the artist Gauguin to work with (and watch over) van Gogh while the two were in Arles together. But that didn’t work out, for the ear incident occurred and Gauguin left in disgust. One day in July 1890, Vincent went out to paint as usual … but took a loaded pistol along.