Thursday, January 3, 2013

Vincent van Gogh: Finding His Way (1853-1886)

Childhood and Youth: 1853-1869
Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853. His parents lived in the village of Groot-Zundert, near the city of Breda, in the historically Catholic area of southern Netherlands. He was their oldest surviving child. His father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. His grandfather had received a degree in theology from the University of Leiden and one of his uncles, Johannes Stricker, was a respected and published theologian. In contrast, three other uncles were art dealers. Both theology and art would profoundly influence his life.

Early Career as an Art Dealer: 1869-1876
In July 1869 he began work with an art dealer in The Hague. In 1873 he was transferred to their office in London. It was to be the happiest year of his life. He enjoyed London, worked well, and fell in love with his landlady’s daughter. But after she rejected him, he socially isolated himself, was transferred to Paris, and finally fired in 1876.

Attempts at Church Ministry: 1876-1880
For a year he wandered before settling in Amsterdam to prepare for the entrance exam needed to attend seminary and become a Dutch Reformed minister. After a year of preparation under his uncle, the theologian Johannes Stricker, he took the exam but failed. He then enrolled in a three-month course near Brussels for Protestant missionaries but failed that too. In January 1879 he began work as a missionary to coal miners in a village in Belgium. He identified with the workers to the point that he chose to share their poor living conditions. His religious superior fired him for doing so. He returned home and lived there in a tense relationship with his parents.

Life as a Painter: 1880-1890
In Belgium and the Netherlands (1880-1886)
Vincent took his younger brother Theo’s advice and committed himself to becoming a painter. He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels in November 1880 where he studied anatomy and perspective. He aspired to serve God by leading people to him through art.

In April 1881 he moved back in with his parents who lived near Etten. He continued to develop his talent by constantly sketching life around him. He also fell in love with his recently widowed cousin. When she refused to marry him, he traveled to Amsterdam to gain the support of her father, Johannes Stricker, for the proposal. When he refused his support on the basis of Vincent’s poverty, Vincent regarded him as an unforgivable hypocrite and rejected him and Christianity completely. After that he refused to go to church.

In 1882 Vincent moved to The Hague and learned painting in oils and watercolors from a distant relation named Anton Mauve. By December 1883, however, he was back with his parents now in Nuenen.

Vincent continued to develop his knowledge, skill, and creativity by constantly drawing and painting. He created his first major oil painting, The Potato Eaters, in 1885. At this time he used dark colors for his paintings. Writing from Paris, his brother Theo—an art dealer—told him his paintings weren’t selling because the Impressionist painters there were all using much brighter colors and the people buying paintings much preferred them.

In November 1885 he moved to Antwerp. He continued painting and began an intensive study of color. He studied the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens in the museum there and started collecting Japanese woodcuts.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.