Vincent van Gogh

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, 1887

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, 1887

Perhaps more so than any other figure, the 19th-century Dutch painter and draftsman Vincent van Gogh has come to embody the myth of the tormented artist. Popular legends surrounding the artist’s life have become as or more famous as his artworks: that he was entirely self-taught, that he lived with a prostitute, that he cut his ear off for love, and that he shot himself out of depression. A closer examination of the artist’s life, in large part made possible thanks to extensive correspondence that has been preserved, reveals a far more complex figure than what is generally assumed.

During a career that lasted only around ten years, van Gogh produced over 2000 works of art, including drawings, watercolors, prints, and oil paintings. The claim that he only sold one of these works during his lifetime — The Red Vineyard, to the painter and collector Anna Boch — is likely to be more of a romantic myth than reality. We know that on a few occasions the artist received commissions for works (whose end results were not always well-received), and in other instances he traded works with his peers.

Toward the end of his life, van Gogh began to receive some recognition among art collectors and critics. Still, the success that he sought and worked so hard to achieve did not come while he was still alive.

Following his death, his fame grew steadily, and the impact of his work on subsequent generations of artists was enormous. In particular, he had a profound influence on the various strains of Expressionism that formed a crucial part of the art world in the 20th century.