In 1880, at the suggestion of his brother Theo, Vincent decided to devote himself fully to art. He had continued to make drawings and sketches since childhood, but this marked the beginning of a serious and lifelong pursuit to be an artist. In this period, van Gogh was particularly inspired by artists such as Jules Breton (1827-1906) and Jean-François Millet (1814-75), known for their images of peasants. Despite some aversion to a formal course of study, van Gogh moved to Brussels toward the end of the year to attend the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, where he studied life-drawing, anatomy and physiognomy. Theo, who had begun working for Goupil’s, began to support him financially at this point, so that Vincent could focus completely on his art.
Van Gogh continued his studies as an artist in the spring of 1881, when he moved to his parents’ home in the village of Etten, in the Netherlands. His course of self-instruction during this period involved collecting and drawing from prints and reproductions and studying from books. Partly due to his falling in love with his cousin Kee Vos-Stricker, who was a widow and was not interested in a relationship with Vincent, van Gogh’s relationship with his parents became increasingly strained. The problems came to a head in the winter of that year, when van Gogh left his parents’ house to move to The Hague, which was at that time the nucleus of the Dutch painting scene. Significantly, the move also marked the end of van Gogh’s religious fervor.
Fisherman’s wife, 1883
In The Hague van Gogh began living with Clasina Maria “Sien” Hoornik, an abandoned mother from the lower classes who worked as an occasional prostitute, had a young daughter and was again pregnant. Both she and her family would serve as models for van Gogh during this time. Vincent’s parents and Theo disapproved of this relationship, and although he initially persisted, he ultimately decided to leave Sien.
In 1883, the artist left Sien and moved to Hoogeveen in the northern Netherlands.This decision was in part the result of a continued desire to be a painter of peasants. By this point he had begun producing independent works of art that were intended as finished pieces, rather than just sketches or studies.
After spending time living again with his parents, van Gogh moved to Antwerp in November of 1885. His father had passed away in the spring, a loss that deeply affected Vincent. His time in Antwerp was brief, and in February of 1886 he moved to Paris, where he shared an apartment with his brother Theo. In Paris, van Gogh came in contact with many other notable artists of the nineteenth century, including Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Émile Bernard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Gauguin. Late in 1887, van Gogh arranged an exhibition for several of his artist friends and himself. The exhibition, held at theGrand-Bouillon Restaurant du Chaletin Paris’s Montmartre district, was notable for the first sales of several rising stars in the art world.
Woman (Sien) seated near the stove, 1882
The Potato Eaters, 1885