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15 Facts About The Tortured, Miserable Life of Vincent van Gogh

Updated July 30, 2020 64.0k views15 items

Although it resulted in some of the most remarkable artwork ever created, the life of Vincent van Gogh was marked by poverty, loneliness, rejection, and mental illness. Vincent van Gogh's biography is sad enough on its own; that his paintings would ultimately become the most sought after and expensive status symbols in the art world is an irony practically too cruel to comprehend. To an individual who frequently had to choose between purchasing food or canvas and paint, the idea that even a single Van Gogh would today fetch hundreds of millions of dollars would seem inconceivable. But in the context of the painter's life, it is only appropriate, considering these sad and bizarre facts about Vincent van Gogh.  

Vincent van Gogh was a failure in just about everything he attempted in his abbreviated life. But he generated 900 paintings and over 2,000 artworks in a 10-year period. Mostly ignored, battling his own inner demons, and surviving through the intervention and kindness of a sibling, his major flaw was possessing an artistic genius and vision that were way ahead of its time. His life's sacrifice is a body of work that today elicits a cult-like fascination with both his paintings and his tortured and strange existence. 

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  • One Of His Final Paintings Depicts The Field Where He Committed Suicide

    One Of His Final Paintings Depicts The Field Where He Committed Suicide
    Photo: Vincent van Gogh / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In the  three months of his tenure at Auvers-Sur-Oise, Vincent van Gogh composed 70 paintings, many of them his most famous works. On July 27, 1890, Van Gogh made his way to the wheat fields just north of his residence at an inn in Auvers-Sur-Oise. He had borrowed a pistol from his innkeeper, ostensibly to scare off crows while he was painting; instead, he is believed to have turned the gun on himself. Coincidentally, one of Van Gogh's final paintings is the haunting and symbolic Wheatfield With Crows, an abstract work filled with black crows, paths leading nowhere, and ominous skies. It depicts the field where Van Gogh attempted to kill himself. Wounding himself in the chest, he would stumble back to his inn, say little about what he had done, and die 30 hours later with his brother Theo at his side. The cemetery that Vincent and Theo are buried in is only a few hundred feet from this vantage point. 

  • A Postcard Offers Clues To A Hillside Van Gogh Might Have Painted In His Final Hours

    Van Gogh's unfinished painting Tree Roots, depicting tree trunks and roots on a hillside, was likely his final work, perhaps created the day he perished, July 29, 1890, in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Art historians who examined a postcard of the area announced in July 2020 that they think they found the exact spot depicted in the painting.

    The postcard, dated circa 1905, was first noticed by Wouter van der Veen, scientific director of the Institut Van Gogh, which is in in Auvers-sur-Oise; he found it in a collection of postcards borrowed from someone. Researchers, after studying Tree Roots, the postcard, and the hillside in its current state, said they believe the postcard site, next to a road, was the spot in the painting. 

    Van Gogh Museum researcher Teio Meedendorp said the hillside was about 492 feet from the Auberge Ravoux, the inn where van Gogh spent his final days, so the artist probably walked past it many times. Dominique-Charles Janssens, owner of the Institute Van Gogh, said that "45 to 50 percent" of the growth is still in place.

    “[T]he overgrowth on the postcard shows very clear similarities to the shape of the roots on van Gogh’s painting,” Meedendorp said. “That this is his last artwork renders it all the more exceptional, and even dramatic."

  • His Therapist Made Off With Millions Of Dollars Worth Of Van Gogh's Art When He Died

    Vincent van Gogh spent the last 90 days of his life in the small French town of Auvers-Sur-Oise, 20 miles from Paris. His brother Theo sent him to Auvers based on the recommendations from other artists because of a doctor who lived there by the name of Paul Gachet. Dr. Gachet was a physician and devotee of homeopathic medicine, and Theo was hoping that he could help his brother achieve some semblance of stability and happiness. Gachet was also an artist and art collector who traded his services for paintings from the likes of Cezanne, Renoir, and Van Gogh, who famously painted his portrait. Unfortunately, although he became quite friendly with Van Gogh in his last days, Gachet was unable to prevent his suicide in July of 1890. After the funeral of Van Gogh, who was buried in Auvers, in the town cemetery, Theo van Gogh invited the small circle of mourners back to Vincent's lodgings and suggested they each take a painting in remembrance of his brother. When it was their turn, Paul Gachet and his son gathered up as many paintings as they could carry. Although these paintings would be privately kept by Gachet's son for many years, he ultimately donated most of them to the Louvre, and today they make up the bulk of the Van Gogh exhibition at the Musee D'Orsay.  

  • He Only Had One Romantic Relationship In His Entire Life

    Vincent van Gogh was not so reclusive and socially inept that he didn't attempt to romance and even marry female acquaintances that he encountered. While living in England in his early 20s, he was rebuffed by the daughter of a landlady who was engaged to another man. He was also famously rejected by his first cousin with the phrase "No, nay never." In what sounds like a nineteenth century version of a stalker, he showed up in Amsterdam to continue the pursuit to the extent that his cousin would not even agree to see him.

    In 1882, in The Hague to study drawing with a friend, Van Gogh made the acquaintance of a seamstress and prostitute named Clasina Maria Hoornink. Hoornink had a five-year-old daughter and was expecting a child fathered by a man who had abandoned her. Eventually, she would move in with Van Gogh, the only domestic relationship he enjoyed in his lifetime. Although he told Theo he wanted to marry the woman, after his apoplectic pastor father demanded he end the relationship, and his brother sensibly advised the same, Vincent eventually left Clasina Hoornink - but not before she gave Vincent a dose of gonorrhea. She subsequently gave her children to family members to raise and eventually committed suicide by hurling herself into a Rotterdam canal in 1904. Some historians have attempted to connect her son's paternity to Vincent, but it is pretty clear that the dates don't match up.