Rachel McGeachy

Vincent Van Gogh, as we know him today, is an extremely talented artists who created around nine hundred paintings and over a thousand drawings and sketches in his lifetime. Although Van Gogh is very popular in today’s era, he had only started painting late in his life, and only became famous after his death in 1890. Before he died, Van Gogh was only just becoming noticed and he never saw how appreciative people were of his great work.

Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert in the Netherlands to Pastor Theodorus Van Gogh and Anna Carbentus, and is the eldest of five siblings, Anna, Theo, Wil, Elisabeth, and Cor. Schooling for Van Gogh did not go well, he hated it and dropped out after his second academic year (1867-68) in secondary school, never to return. When he was sixteen, Van Gogh’s uncle found him a job at the international art dealer Goupil & Cie. During his time at the company, Van Gogh was transferred to both the London and Paris branches where he became more appreciative of Art and became very religious, and even planned to be a minister at one point but he couldn't keep up with his studies.(2) However, after a while, Van Gogh became bored with his job at Goupil & Cie and the company dismissed him in 1876.

After leaving, Van Gogh went back to London, unemployed and his brother began supporting him financially. In many of his letters to Theo, Van Gogh included some drawings and sketches and because of that Theo encouraged him to pursue a career as an artist and Van Gogh, feeling that he could serve God as an artist, liked the idea and 1880 began to work on his art professionally. Van Gogh went to a couple art schools, to increase his skill. He met a few artist friends there and after he left even tried to make an artist studio in the south of France with some of them, but only one came. Van Gogh moved around a lot and throughout the years his style went from dark to light, and this transition made his art more likable and people began to notice it more. However, Van Gogh had some trouble with mental illness and could be very unstable at times. When his brother told him that he had quit his job, Van Gogh began to worry that Theo wouldn't be able to support him anymore and this stress led Van Gogh to suicide. On July 27, 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest and died three days later on July 29.

Throughout his life, Van Gogh met many people and befriended few artists he met. However, Van Gogh was a hard man to be around. He was short-tempered and a little narcissistic at times.(2) Despite this, all Van Gogh wanted was some friends and someone to be there and love him. He was so lonely and he hated it. He did try, but ultimately, no one could stay with him for very long.

Vincent and his parents:
Van Gogh’s relationship with his parents was not exactly warming. There was a lot of tension between the three of them. His parents were not happy when Van Gogh had dropped out of school, it was clear to them that he had no real purpose in life and they were disappointed at that.(2) Van Gogh, after having left home to work in the London branch at Goupil & Cie, had moved around a lot when he lost his job, looking for new work. Once he had settled on being an artist and was no longer being payed, aside from his brothers financial assistance, Van Gogh moved back in with his parents in 1881. They were very unhappy with his career choice, they basically saw him as a failure.(2)

It seemed that everything Van Gogh did just disappointed his parents even more, nothing could make them happy. They were very displeased with the women that Van Gogh would fall in love with and it caused many fights between them, one fight caused Van Gogh to leave on Christmas day.

Despite this fight, Van Gogh eventually moved back in with his parents again bt only for a short time. His parents had a new home, and at first Van Gogh was able to make up a small studio in the back of the house for his work, but later he rented a larger space in the village. His parents found Van Gogh hard to be around, they found him to be irritable and temperamental.(2) Van Gogh felt the same way and spent most of his time in his studio and after his father died in 1895, Van Gogh permanently moved in there.

Although their relationship wasn’t as good as it could be, Van Gogh’s parents stilled cared for him and wanted him to succeed, however their expectations for succeeding were too high for Van Gogh to meet.

Vincent and Women:
Just like everyone else, Van Gogh wanted someone to be with and love. Van Gogh did love many women, but many women did not love Van Gogh. Van gogh had proposed to three women Caroline Haanebeek in 1872, Eugénie Loyer in 1873 and Kee Vos-Stricker in 1881. All three of them turned him down.

Caroline Haanebeek was Van Gogh’s second cousin on his mom’s side. Van Gogh told his brother about their relationship, saying that it was fatal and Haanebeek had decided to marry Willem van Stockum.(2) Van Gogh met Eugenie Loyar while working for Goupil & Cie in London, she was his landlady’s daughter. It is said that the two who had a brother and sister relationship and not much more. In the end it turned out that Loyar was secretly engaged to Samuel Plowman. Kee Vos-Sattricker was Van Gogh’s cousin and wanted nothing to do with him. But Van Gogh kept trying to pursue her, which made her wanted him even less. Van Gogh’s continuous attempts to attract her, even caused many fights with his parents. After many rejections, Vos-Stricker had finally got it to stick by saying “no, nay, never”.(2)

In 1882, Van Gogh met Sien Hoornik, a pregnant prostitute with a young daughter, whom Van Gogh felt he should rescue by allowing them to stay in the small studio that he lived in at the time. Sien soon became both Van Gogh’s model and lover. Van Gogh had really wanted a family, and this was more or less the best he could find. They lived a fairly happy life together for a while, but they were often short on money. Their relationship put pressure on both of the families, the Van Gogh’s intensely disapproved of the relationship and urged Van Gogh to end it. Sien’s mother felt that Sein was better off returning to prostitution. This pressure caused problems in their relationship and when Sien stopped coming home at night, Van Gogh packed up his supplies and moved to Drenthe with a heavy heart.(2)
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Vincent van Gogh, Woman Sewing, with a Girl (1883) and Boy (1882-1883)

Sien wasn’t the only woman that Van Gogh’s parents disapproved of, after he had moved back in with them in 1884 Van Gogh had began a relationship with their neighbor’s daughter Margot Begemann, who was 10 years older than him. Their relationship did not last long but did end dramatically, with Margot trying to kill herself with rat poison. She luckily survived but their relationship did not.(2)

Van Gogh also had a short relationship with Agostina Segatori the owner of the restaurant Le Tambourin. But it seems that all of Van Gogh's relationships with women were just that, short.
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Vincent van Gogh, In the Café: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin (1887)

Vincent and other artists:
Throughout his time as an artist, Van Gogh went to a couple art schools, like the Academy of Art in Antwerp and the Studio of Fernand Cormon, and along the way did meet some fellow artists, and did befriend a few of them. At the studio of Fernand Van Gogh met Emile Bernard who was somewhat of a father figure to him and worked together during their time in school there, along with Henri de Toulouse-Lauttrec who often brought his work to show him. John Peter Russell was another artist Van Gogh met, he was very talented and Van Gogh was impressed with his work. Russell did a great portrait of Van Gogh, and it is said to be the most accurate portrayal of Van Gogh.(2) Van Gogh didn't stay very long at Cormon’s studio, but both Emilie and Henri corresponded with him for a while.
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John Peter Russell, Vincent van Gogh (1886)

Anthon Van Rappard was also one of Van Gogh’s friends, and because Van Gogh loved to show off his artwork, he showed Anthon his new masterpiece, The Potato Eaters. Van Gogh was very excited to hear Anthon’s reaction, but when he ended up criticizing the piece instead of praising it, Van Gogh was very hurt and angry.(2) Van Gogh and Anthon didn’t see each other again after that.However they did remain in correspondence.
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Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters (1885)

As soon as Van Gogh became an artists he was so excited to meet other artists and share work and commentary, and although Van Gogh did manage to make some friends it seems that he was only able to keep them when they didn't have to be around him all the time, when they were just communicating through letters.

Vincent and Paul Gauguin:
At Cormon’s studio, Van Gogh also met Paul Gauguin, who was someone Van Gogh could look up to. While they got to know each other, they swapped paintings and ideas. Van Gogh’s brother Theo, an art dealer, had even exhibited some of Gauguin’s works in his gallery in Boulevard Montmartre. It was clear that Gauguin was very talented and accomplished, Van Gogh felt he could learn a lot from him.

As soon as Van Gogh left Paris and moved to Arles in the south of France, he wanted to to make a “studio of the south”, where other artists could come and and live and work with him there. He had even gotten a place with four rooms called the Yellow House in Arles. Van Gogh had Theo ask a few different artists including Paul Gauguin, Emilie Bernard and, Henri de Toulouse-Lauttrec, but only Paul Gauguin agreed to come, and he only agreed after lots of bargaining with Theo.

Despite only having one of his friends agree to live with him, Van Gogh was very excited for Gauguin’s arrival. Van Gogh knew that Gauguin had liked his sunflower paintings, so while waiting for him, Van Gogh made several large new paintings of sunflowers to decorate the Yellow House with.(2)
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Vincent van Gogh, The Yellow House (The Street) (1888) and, Sunflowers (1889)

However once Gauguin had arrived, it became clear that him and Van Gogh were two very different people and artists. They differed on almost everything, and it became an artistic battle. As tensions rose between them their arguments began to become very heated. Gauguin had started threatening to leave, which made Van Gogh very agitated and unstable. One night after a very intense fight, Van Gogh became so distraught that he threatened Gauguin with a razor. Van Gogh became very confused and ended up cutting off his left ear. He wrapped it up in newspaper and presented it to a local prostitute named Rachel.(3)

Van Gogh woke up in a hospital the next day, not remembering much of what had happened. After making sure that Van Gogh was okay, Gauguin left the house and never saw Van Gogh again. When Van Gogh was able to return home, he went straight back to painting but he was fearing another breakdown so he voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-Mausole psychiatric hospital in Saint Remy in May.

He did some of his most famous paintings at the hospital:
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Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night and Irises, (1889)

Vincent and Theo:
“I don’t really have any friends except for you, and when I’m ill you’re always in my thoughts.”
Van Gogh to Theo, July 1883 (2)

Van Gogh’s brother Theo was his best friend. Van Gogh did not have a stronger relationship than he did with his brother. Although the younger brother, Theo took care of Van Gogh, by providing for him financially and supporting him when no one else in his family did.

Van Gogh and Theo had a lifelong correspondence through letters, and in Van Gogh's letters,(1) he would sometimes provide sketches and drawings. After seeing many of these, Theo encouraged Van Gogh to become an artist full time. After a few years of artistry, Van Gogh proposed to Theo, who lived in Paris, that he should give Theo the works that he had made in return for the allowance that Theo gave him and Theo would sell them on the Paris market. This did not work out at first, because Van Gogh’s early works were much too dark for the French taste.
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Vincent van Gogh, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, (1884), and Birds’ Nests, (1885)

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Vincent van Gogh, The De Ruijterkade in Amsterdam, (1885)

Theo suggested that Van Gogh should come live with him in Paris to see the brightness of the city and to be influenced in putting the brightness into his work.(2) Theo was going to get a larger apartment but Van Gogh was too excited and came before Theo could find one. However, as most people know, Van Gogh was not easy to live with, even for Theo. Despite this, Van Gogh and Theo still remained very close, but after two years Van Gogh grew tired of the city and moved south to Arles.

Although, Van Gogh was a hard character to deal with, Theo did everything he could to make him happy. He fully supported Van Gogh's work and continued to try to sell his work in Paris, and was even getting some appreciation for his works and six were shown at an exhibit in Brussels.
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Vincent van Gogh, The Red Vineyard, (1888), the only painting he sold during his lifetime

After a year of being married to Jo Bonger, Theo sent Van Gogh a birth announcement and They had named their Vincent after Van Gogh. Van Gogh was so excited by the news and made a special painting, Almond Blossoms and sent it to the new family.
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Vincent van Gogh, Almond Blossom, 1890

After hearing the news that Theo had decided to quit his job, Van Gogh became very worried that Theo would no longer be able to support him financially, and this stress became too much for him, and he shot himself in the chest. As soon as Theo heard the news of his brother, he came down immediately and sat at his brother's side as he died.

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Vincent van Gogh’s last painting, Wheatfield with Crows, (1890)

Six weeks after his death, Theo created a memorial of Van Gogh's works. Six months after his brother's death, theo fell ill and died in Utrecht, and was buried next to Van Gogh. His wife Jo had published a book of Van Gogh’s letters to theo and continued on Theo’s work of raising awareness of Van Gogh’s work, and when she died it was then her son, Vincent's job.(2)

All Van Gogh wanted was to have people around him that he loved and who loved him. He was a hard man to be around but he did have a big heart. It was so hard for him to be so alone, it made him very depressed, he loved to work together with other artists and to just have someone there. Despite this however, he was admired by many and other artists did respect him. Many of his friends whom he hadn’t seen in awhile, attended his funeral and mourned his death. Even though he did not have very many friends, he did have Theo, someone was always there for him and someone who truly loved him and whom he loved just as much.


1. Vincent Van Gogh The Letters. Ed. Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, and Nienke Bakker. N.p., n.d. Web.
02 June 2017.


2. "Meet Vincent." Van Gogh Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2017.


3. Impact, The Net. "Vincent Van Gogh Gallery." Vincent Van Gogh Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June