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11 Interesting Facts About Vincent van Gogh

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Vincent van Gogh has got to be one of the most interesting artists of history. He is one of the most famous artists in history, yet during his lifetime he was hardly known and suffered financial hardship. I wonder how he would feel about his post-mortem fame?

Despite his current fame, many people do not know all that much about his life. So here are 11 interesting facts about Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Palette, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Palette, 1889

1. There were four other Vincent van Goghs.

Vincent van Gogh was not the only one with his name in the family. Van Gogh the artist was named after his stillborn older brother, who was in turn named after their grandfather.

His other brother Theo van Gogh also named his child Vincent.

2. He only started painting at the age of 27.

Van Gogh only started painting at the relatively late age of 27 and was mostly self-taught. His early paintings are not the colorful displays which most people are familiar with. When he started painting, he used a dull palette of colors and painted some of the harsh realities of life. Poverty and financial hardship was a common theme in many of his early works. The painting below is a representation of how he painted at the start of his career.

Vincent van Gogh, The Poor and Money, 1882
Vincent van Gogh, The Poor and Money, 1882

It was only later in his artistic career that he started using the vivid colors which he is so well known for.

3. He was close friends with Paul Gauguin.

Van Gogh met Paul Gauguin in Paris in 1887. The two painted together frequently but were stylistically different.

His friendship with Gauguin is thought to have ended after the ear cutting incident which involved both of them (this is discussed later in this post).

In a letter to Theo in 1888, van Gogh said of Gauguin:

Gauguin gives me courage to imagine, and the things of the imagination do indeed take on a more mysterious character.

Below is a portrait by Gauguin of van Gogh.

Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers, 1888
Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers, 1888

4. His life is documented through the many letters he wrote.

Van Gogh wrote over 800 letters during his lifetime to his brother and close friend, Theo, his artist friends Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard, and many others. Many of the letters are undated, but historians have been able to place most of the letters in chronological order.

These letters are the most comprehensive source of information available on the life of van Gogh and they provide a window into van Gogh's world.

There were over 600 letters exchanged between van Gogh and his brother Theo. These letters tell the story of their lifelong friendship and van Gogh's artistic views and theories. Theo kept all of van Gogh's letters to him and van Gogh kept few of the letters he received. After both of them passed away, Theo's widow Johanna van Gogh collated and edited letters. A majority of the letters were published in 1914.

You can read most of his letters here.

5. He attempted many other careers before declaring himself an artist.

Van Gogh was only a painter for the last decade of his relatively short life. Before painting, he tried his hand at many other careers such as an art dealer (like his brother Theo), school teacher and preacher.

He had little success in any of these areas and announced himself as an artist in a letter to Theo in 1880. He then traveled through Belgium, Holland and France in pursuit of his artistic vision.

6. He was extremely busy during his time as an artist.

Van Gogh had a relatively short life as an artist, however during this time of around 10 years he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings. Many of his paintings were created in the last two years of his life.

It is amazing to think that despite the financial hardship and mental illness which he suffered, he was able to create a body of work greater than most artists are able to complete in a lifetime much longer than his own.

Vincent van Gogh Paintings

7. His "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" sold For $82.5 million in 1990.

Van Gogh created one of the most expensive paintings of history. His Portrait of Dr. Gachet which he painted in 1890 sold for $82.5 million in 1990. Not bad considering the financial hardship he suffered for most of his life.

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890
Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890

8. He did not experience much commercial success during his lifetime.

In fact, van Gogh is only thought to have sold one painting during his lifetime, being the Red Vineyards Near Arles. Had he lived a bit longer, he may have had the chance to experience some of the fruits of his later fame.

Vincent van Gogh, Red Vineyard, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Red Vineyard, 1888

9. He was troubled by illness.

Van Gogh was troubled by mental illness for most of his life. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy.

Evidence suggests that he had manic depression and suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions. Many modern-day psychiatrists have attempted to diagnose van Gogh with possible diagnoses including from schizophrenia, porphyria, syphilis, bipolar disorder and epilepsy.

He also neglected his physical health through poor diet and heavy drinking. Whether this contributed to his poor mental health is unknown.

10. He cut his own ear.

There are many theories surrounding the van Gogh ear cutting incident. One of the popular theories is that van Gogh took a razor to his left ear and partially severed it after getting into a fight with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. He then wrapped the partially severed ear in paper and delivered it to a woman at a brothel which both he and Gaugin used to frequent.

Other theories suggest that it was Gauguin who cut his ear. This is still a bit of a gray area.

Facts About Vincent van Gogh | Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear, 1889

11. He committed suicide in 1890.

On 27 July 1890, van Gogh shot himself in the chest and died 2 days after. It is thought that the shooting took place in the wheat field where he had been painting. After the shooting, he managed to walk back to his residence at Auberge Ravoux where he was treated by two doctors. However, he eventually passed away as a result of infection. According to his brother Theo, his last words were "La tristesse durera toujours", meaning:

"the sadness will last forever".

Did you enjoy these facts about Vincent van Gogh?

I hope you learned something new today about van Gogh. There were actually many other interesting van Gogh facts which I could not fit in this list. If you have any interesting van Gogh facts you want to share, please add them in the comment section.

Thanks for Reading!

Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my fundamentals course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

Read more of my articles. 

64 comments on “11 Interesting Facts About Vincent van Gogh”

  1. I knew most of these as I did a presentation of Van Gogh in University, but the details of his death were new to me. I also love the way you presented the information, in an insightful, but sensitive manner and a positive light.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing. Have you seen the animated film Loving Vincent .there they suggest quit intresting analys about him. Kindly regards Viveca

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  3. Hi Dan, I’ve been interested in Van Gogh as long as I can remember but never did much serious research on him. So , with that I thank you for doing all the hard work of compiling all this very interesting stuff about one of my favorite artists.

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  4. I WAS CAPTURED BY VAN GOGH AND THE PAINTING STARRY NIGHTS. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHY HE PAINTED IT AND WHAT COLOURS HE USED. I KNOW HE USED OILS AND ACRYLICS

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  5. There is so much known about Vincent, yet so little. I have a book of his letters, and it is through these letters that you contact the inner Vincent. He is maybe at the top of my list for people whom I would like to meet if I could go back in time. I would recommend the movie, “Loving Vincent”, if you have not seen it. I think after reading so many of the letters, the movies brings his story to life. You can purchase the movie on Amazon.

    Reply
    • Hi Dianne. Thanks for the great comment. I have heard about Loving Vincent but yet to see it. It is on my to-do list!

      Dan

      Reply
  6. I have only taken up painting this last year after the death of my mother I think sometime something just inspires you. All your emails and advice is so helpful the Vincent story just encourages me more Thankyou X

    Reply
  7. If he cut his left ear, why is it the right one with the bandage in the painting?!
    I am amazed and appreciative of the quantity of painting(s) he did in the last decade of life. Inspire to hurry up.

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  8. ืชื•ื“ื” ืขืœ ืฉืฉื™ืชืคืช ืื•ืชื ื• ื‘ื—ืœืง ืžื—ื™ื™ื• ืฉืœ ื•ื™ื ืกื ื˜ ื•ืืŸ ื’ื•ืš, ื”ื™ื” ืžืื•ื“ ืžืขื ื™ื™ืŸ

    Reply
  9. I took up – or rather returned to painting after retirement. VanGogh has always been my favourite artist and the song “Starry Night” makes me cry when I hear it. He is my inspiration, although I paint in my own style from memories and mental images. I was fortunate enough to have visited the VanGogh museum and left amazed.

    Reply
  10. Thank you for the very informative article on Van Gogh. It contained new information I had not seen before. I enjoy your painting tips and informative articles. Your passion for art comes through in your writings. I enjoy the very much. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  11. I have seen several movies on his life and read many of the books about Vincent. There seem to be so many different versions that are in conflict with each other. There are differing versions of his death including him being shot and not self inflicted. He was indeed a tragic figure who deserves our understanding and admiration.

    Reply
  12. A very interesting presentation on Van Gough. It was refreshing. I had studied Art almost 50 years ago in college. I was a BFA major at the time, but do not recall this from my studies. A very interesting synopsis.

    Reply
  13. I want to share with you that in April 2018 I took a small private journey for artists to Van Gogh places. It was just wonderful to visit the places where he was born, where his family lived, where he went and painted his paintings! Our group also visited the hospital where he was treated and wrote a series of paintings. All places make an indelible impression when you see them on the artist’s canvases! It seems that you have touched eternity! And after visiting the cemetery, where his graves are located next to brother Theo, his last words โ€œthe sadness will last foreverโ€ become clear.
    And the joy was that we managed to paint the sketches of his famous olive trees besides the hospital and the “Starry night above the Rona”! This journey once again forced to plunge into the difficult world of the great master!

    Reply
  14. I always enjoy your information and always learn so much..keep up the great work and painting ang I will stay tuned.

    Reply
  15. It has now been established by the JAMA that Van Gogh was a Meniere’s sufferer and was not mentally ill. 700 letters Van Gogh sent to his brother were analyzing by medical specialists and the symptoms of Meniere’s disease had been clearly defined. This would be an excellent subject for an article.

    Reply
  16. Thank you again for interesting facts about famous artists. There could be hope for my lateness coming into painting at age 65! I will have to work quickly to match 2100 paintings in the next10 years!

    Reply
  17. I enjoy your most informative commentaries. I share the info with my young students – hoping they will remember that paintings are from real people with interesting lives fraught with trials, failures and some successes. In this age of fast everything, it is good to slow down and enjoy the creative process.

    Reply
  18. Hi Dan. Used this website for my Year 9 art homework. Teacher says it was one of the best presentation she has seen. Thanks so much x

    Reply
  19. Thank you Dan. The way in which you have presented this very special piece of history is highly appreciated. I am a South African citizen and comes from a previously disadvantaged background. I did not grow up in an environment where the finer arts were nurtured and developed among my people. I was hiwever, very fortunate to visit the Van Gogh Museum in 2004 while I was studying in the Netherlands. Ever since 2094 I’ve been a huge fan of Van Gogh’s work. Personally I’m not in the league of all the wonderful people who commented on this forum and really don’t see myself as an artist…maybe an expressionist, but not yet on your level. But one thing I am absolutely sure about is that I can definitely identify with Vincent van Gogh in certain ways. I was also admitted to a so-called “wellness institution” for a mental disorder. It was only when I ended up in the clinic that I discoovered my creative side. It was supressed for so many years. I recently started writing short stories and enjoys every moment of it! And more… I think I can paint… a little, I guess. I am so excited about this! I think I’ve found my niche… at the age of 51. JAnyway, thank you so much for this very inspiring blog of yours.

    Cavin

    Reply
  20. Research on Van Goghs death question his suicide. More than likely he was shot by one of two young men who tormented him and he protected them by claiming he short himself. I’ve been to the place he was thought to have been shot, there is no way he could have walked down the almost mile to his room. It’s a fascinating investigation on his death that will never be resolved.

    Reply
  21. Questions: Did he or didnยดt he cut his ear. – It has been said that Gaugain did it…
    – ” – ” – ” : Van Gogh didnยดt commit suicide. – It was children playing in the field with a gun who shut him…

    Reply
  22. Hi Dan,
    I enjoyed the article tremendously hoping to visit his museum to enjoy his paintings live .
    Thanks again for the presentation & the comments in clear simple language

    Reply
  23. Hi Dan,

    You are the only artist with whom I take the time to read. Your readings are easy to follow and I enjoy the “links” you provide, if I wish to delve deeper. Most important, I keep you on my email list because you do not bombard me with too many emails. Thank you for the knowledgeable tidbits you share.

    Best,
    Karen Smithee

    Reply
  24. Hello,
    Just read an article that says another of his works has just been uncovered. It has yet to be authenticated but there is much excitement surrounding the find at some obscure auction. They say this would be his largest painting and was probably done in the months just before his death. Seems to be a painting of a wheat field and there is speculation that it may be the very field he shot himself in. So sad to imagine his last days and his private musings. What a loss!

    Reply

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