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The life through the many written letters: Vincent Van Gogh

The post-impressionist period in the history of art that developed towards the fag end of the 19th century and continued till the early 20h century saw many exemplary artists rule the canvas. However, there have been very few whose lives have been as unusually interesting and painfully tragic as Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent was an exceptional artist who died pretty young and got all the fame and popularity only post his demise. The maestro created the majority of all van Gogh paintings only during the last two years of his life. While the world knows about the masterpieces that van Gogh’s paintings created, most art lovers do not know about his personal life and challenges. As he died young, not much was written and documented about Vincent van Gogh’s artworks and his life.

However, we got a sneak peek into his life thanks to Vincent’s letters and letters. These letters continue to be the only source of van Gogh’s life story and take us through the journey of his art and paintings.


Vincent Van Gogh & His Tragic Life

Vincent Willem van Gogh was of Dutch origin and was born in 1853. During his early adulthood, Vincent worked as an art dealer but took solace in painting after being unhappy and depressed with his work life. However, it was only in 1881, the last decade of his life, when he took up painting, and we began to learn about Van Gogh Drawings. 

Van Gough struggled with psychotic conditions for a significant part of his short life. While he was concerned about his mental health, it took a toll on his physical health, something he never cared enough about. He did not eat well and was drinking in excess. At the same time, Vincent never tasted financial success and spent most of his time in poverty. All of this led him to suffer from severe depression, which also became a cause of his death.

On 27 July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh is believed to have committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. He died from the shot two days later.

Origin of the Letters

Van Gogh used letters frequently to correspond with his family and acquaintances when traveling actively for work. The letters in point here are about 903 letters that survived the test of time and have been preserved and compiled. Out of these, 820 are written by Vincent, while 83 are the letters received by him.

As many as 650 of these letters were from Vincent to his younger brother Theo, and it was Theo’s wife went on to recover, compile and publish these treasured letters. In addition to these, there exist letters that van Gogh wrote to his sister Wil, some other relatives, as well as to fellow artists like Paul Gauguin, Anthon van Rappard, and Émile Bernard.

Significance of Vincent’s Letters

Van Gogh’s letters are incredibly significant in painting a picture of the artist’s life in its entirety. During different periods, Van Gogh wrote the letters in Brabant, Paris, London, The Hague, Drenthe, Nuenen, Antwerp, Arles, Saint-Remy, and Auvers.

Interestingly, these letters chronicle his corporal travels during the early days and his artistic adventures towards the end, including the origin of some of the Vincent van Gogh artworks. 

What do the letters narrate?

There were times when Vincent wrote to his brother every day. In his letters to Theo, he acknowledged the financial support he received from him during that period. He extensively talked about the pieces he was living in, his surroundings, and the people around him. His descriptions and narrations about England and the Netherlands are incredibly vivid.

It is even more interesting to note how these letters imbibe his spiritual and theological underpinnings in them. Moreover, being Vincent’s artist, his letters also contained many beautiful sketches. These Vincent van Gogh drawings were portraits of everyday people like miners and farmers and sceneries and scenarios. We have mentioned some outstanding ones here.

Sketches in Vincent’s Letters

The Yellow House

The Street, the Yellow House – Vincent Van Gogh

The sketch is a miniature of one of Vincent’s finest works of art – the 1888 oil painting by the same name. Here in the sketch, he is presumed to be sharing the idea of the painting with his brother.

It’s a stunning visual delight and articulately detailed depiction of the residence called ‘The Yellow House,’ where Vincent spent considerable time. In the painting, van Gogh also depicts painted in pink the restaurant where he used to have his meals. One can locate this building towards the left edge of the painting.

The Sower

The Sower – Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh, as an individual, was significantly connected to the earth, the soil, and peasants, especially sowers, were one of his favorite characters to paint. However, it can be observed from the van Gogh paintingsthat he had his idea of the farmer, which was reinvention in contrast to the depictions by other artists at that time.

Here in this painting, one can see a sower in the autumn of 1888, depicted in a lively manner, using rich colors and striking elements.

Dr. Paul Gachet

Dr. Paul Gachet – Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent also shared a little sketch of the doctor helping him fix his nerve disorders in his letters. The doctor was referred to him by his friend and fellow painter Pissarro. This little sketch is significant because it shows us Vincent’s expertise and fondness for creating portraits and not just painting broad canvas scenarios. 

Wheat Fields

Wheat Fields Near Arles – Vincent Van Gogh

The sketch of White Fields is an excellent depiction of one of the van Gogh pieces featuring a beautiful field landscape. The painting shows a wide field of ripening wheat crop, with several crows in the backdrop. Again, the painting reiterates Vincent’s finesse for land, soil, and farming.

The Bottom Line

While Vincent Van Gogh had a tragic life, studying his letters opened a window to the man he was. These let us view van Gogh’s pieces and his exemplary work differently and help us track down the immense pain and hardships that acted as the light behind his art.

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