Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. His paintings and drawings include some of the world’s best known, most popular and most expensive art. Van Gogh spent his early adult life working for a firm of art dealers. After a spell as a teacher, he became a missionary worker in a poor mining region. He embarked on a career as an artist at the age of 37 in 1880.

Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait 1889
Self-Portrait 1889 71 500 000 $
Auction House – Christie’s, New York

Van Gogh worked only with sombre colours until he encountered Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism in Paris. He incorporated brighter colours and their style of painting into a unique style, which was fully developed during the time he spent at Arles. He produced more than 2,000 works, including around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches, during the last ten years of his life. Most of his best-known works were produced in Languedoc and Provence during the final two years of his life.

Van Gogh arrived in Arles on the River Rhone on 21 February 1888 and took quarters and found lodgings at the Hotel-Restaurant Carrel, 30 Rue Cavalerie. He had ideas of founding a Utopian art colony. His companion for two months was the Danish artist, Christian Mourier-Petersen. In March, he painted local landscapes, using a gridded “perspective frame.” Three of his pictures were shown at the annual exhibition of the Societe des Artistes Independants. In April he was visited by the American painter, Dodge MacKnight, who was resident in Fontvieille nearby.

On 1 May he signed a lease for four rooms in the right hand side of the “Yellow House” at No. 2 Place Lamartine. The house was unfurnished and had been uninhabited for some time so he was not able to move in straight away. On 7 May he moved out of the Hotel Carrel, and into the Cafe de la Gare where he became friends with the proprietors, Joseph and Marie Ginoux. Although the Yellow House had to be furnished before he could move in, Van Gogh was able to use it as a studio. His major project at this time was a series of paintings intended to form the decoration for the Yellow House.

In June he visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue. He gave drawing lessons to Paul-Eugene Milliet, who also became a companion. MacKnight introduced him to Eugene Boch, a Belgian painter, who stayed at times in Fontvieille (they exchanged visits in July). Gauguin agreed to join him in Arles. In August he painted sunflowers; Boch visited again. He finally spent his first night in the Yellow House on 17 September. 

Les Alyscamps 1888
Les Alyscamps 1888
Auction House – Sotheby’s, New York
66 330 000$

On 23 October his friend Paul Gauguin arrived in in Arles. During November they painted together. Van Gogh painted some pictures from memory, deferring to Gauguin as this was not his usual practice. Their first joint outdoor painting exercise was conducted at the picturesque Alyscamps. In November van Gogh painted The Red Vineyard.

In December the two artists visited Montpellier (in the Herault departement) and viewed works by Courbet and Delacroix in the Musee Fabre. However, their relationship was deteriorating. They quarreled about art. Van Gogh felt an increasing fear that Gauguin was going to desert him, and their relationship reached crisis point on 23 December 1888, when Van Gogh stalked Gauguin with a razor and then cut off the lower part of his own left ear lobe, which he wrapped in newspaper and gave to a prostitute named Rachel in the local brothel. Gauguin left Arles and did not see Van Gogh again.

Van Gogh was hospitalised, apparently in a critical state for a few days. In January 1889 Van Gogh returned to the “Yellow House”, but spent the following month between hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and paranoia that he was being poisoned. In March the police closed his house, after a petition by thirty townspeople, who called him le fou roux (“the redheaded madman”). Signac visited him in hospital and Van Gogh was allowed home in his company.