There’s more to the story than paintings of sunflowers and a chopped off ear.

The Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh has produced some of the most famous paintings like The Starry Night and his series of self-portraits. Tragic events, however, led to him shooting himself at the young age of 37. With several works still being discovered today, the short life of this troubled artist is shrouded in mystery.

Troubled early life and failed romance

Born in 1853 in the Dutch town of Zundert, Van Gogh’s childhood house was filled with culture. His father was a pastor and his mother was an artist. As a young and impressionable boy, he aspired to follow in their footsteps. He lacked confidence, however, but showed extreme enthusiasm for certain things. 

Because of financial struggles, teenage Van Gogh left school and began working in the art world. He moved to London to work at a gallery and fell in love with an English girl who declined his marriage proposal. This rejection didn’t sit well and caused him to renounce all books and art and focus only on the Bible.

Gogh Museum

Van Gogh began preaching but quickly came to the conclusion that religion conflicted with his lifestyle and was sent away. With no career or money, he decided to become an artist with the help of his brother who offered him financial support. Not knowing where to begin, Van Gogh was a self-taught painter trying to find himself. He spent a year moving around the Netherlands where he painted people and scenery everywhere he went.   

During this time he fell in love with his cousin who also dismissed him. Another rejection combined with prostitutes, which were a large part of Van Gogh’s life, caused him heartache. It was this nonacceptance combined with his overzealous personality that led to his suffering.

Creativity and psychotic breakdown

Van Gogh eventually moved to Paris where his brother Theo, who still supported him, managed a gallery. Here he met other painters such as Monet and Gaugin who inspired him to run a house for other like-minded impressionist artists where they could feed off each other’s creativity.

Gaugin agreed with his vision and they lived together at The Yellow House, however, they argued constantly. Van Gogh was using alcohol and absinthe while his psychological health steadily declined. After an argument between the two, he took a razor and ended up cutting off his ear lobe. It is unknown if it was the result of a tussle or a psychotic breakdown. Afterward, he wrapped up the ear, went to a brothel, and gave it to a prostitute.

I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.”

This episode landed him in an asylum for several years, where he spent his days painting the scenery and his well-known masterpieces. 

Van Gogh shifted between episodes of depression and focused creative phases. Although he eventually left the institution, his mental issues grew more extreme. His brother had to cut off his finances, which caused a lot of anxiety for the struggling artistOne morning he went outside with a loaded pistol and shot himself in the chest. 

During his lifetime he only managed to sell one artwork, although he created more than 2,100 paintings. Vincent Van Gogh was a misunderstood, mentally ill painter. Aside from being creative, he was also deeply passionate and his work continues to have an impact on the art world today.

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