Creator / Vincent van Gogh
A self portrait of the artist.

For they could not love you but still your love was true,
And when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night,
You took your life as lovers often do;
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

Don McLean, "Vincent" from his album American Pie.

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 29 July 1890) was a famous post-impressionist artist, famous for his hard life, insanity and vividly colored paintings.

His last name is pronounced the Dutch way: [ˈvɪnsɛnt vɑn ˈɣɔx]. The parts "Vincent" and "van" are more or less pronounced as you'd expect, although in Dutch the second V is more of an "f" and the A is more of a short "ah" sound. People have many ways of pronouncing "Gogh". In regular Dutch, there would be a guttural Dutch G, a short O (as in "log"), and another guttural G. In the dialect that Van Gogh spoke, the G sound is similar but softer, like the "h" in "human". English speakers are more divided. Some pronounce it as "van goch", as though it rhymes with the Scottish word "loch", while others say "van go" or "van goff". As with any Dutch last name, the "van" is spelled without a capital letter unless his surname is written on its own.

Van Gogh was born to a minister and his wife, a Replacement Goldfish to their dead son. After growing up with his brother Theo and going to boarding school, he left his small home in the Netherlands to work at an art dealer. After expressing rage at the thought of art becoming a commodity, he was fired. He fell in love with the landlord's daughter Eugénie Loyer, who rejected him when he finally confessed his feelings. This would start a chain of romantic failures. Van Gogh proposed to his cousin Kee Vos-Stricker, who had no interest in him. Van Gogh held his hand over an open flame, saying he would hold it there until he could change her mind. She absolutely refused him. Van Gogh fell in love with a prostitute named Sien Hoornick; his father did not approve of the marriage. She drowned herself in the river in 1904.

Van Gogh fell into depression, but decided to enroll in a school to do something with his life. He befriended Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec there, but because of his problems they fell out. He then moved to Arles, a city in the south of France which he described as a disgusting and filthy city. This didn't show in his artwork, as he made some of his most colorful and vibrant pictures of the city there. He found a friend in Paul Gauguin, who came to stay with him at the yellow house he bought in the country side. However, the two men did not get on. The main issue was that Gauguin treated Van Gogh as a pupil, whereas Van Gogh wanted to be treated as an equal. After an argument in which Van Gogh allegedly threatened Gauguin with a razor blade, Gauguin ran out and Van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of mental illnessnote . He gave the bit of flesh to a prostitute at a hotel.

After increasing tension and a state of angry paranoia and mental illness, he returned to Arles. There 30 townspeople made a petition to get rid of him. He was having paranoid delusions of people trying to poison him. They called him fou roux (the redheaded fool/madman) and had him committed to an asylum. There, he threw himself into painting, making brilliant painting after painting. After he left, he moved to the outskirts of Paris and remained reclusive. In 1890 he shot himself in the chest with a revolver in the middle of a field. Unfortunately for him, he survived and had to stay in the hospital another two days, eventually dying of infections from the gunshot wounds.

Recent academic research has discovered, and told during a July 29, 2012 segment of 60 Minutes, that Van Gogh might not have shot himself as the tale goes but received his fatal wound as a result of a village boy shooting him by accident, and told the authorities he'd shot himself so the poor kid wouldn't get in trouble.

In short: poor guy. He remains influential and recognizable today, and a subject of many Art Imitates Art situation.

The letters writen by him to his supportive brother Theo not only give a detailed account of his life, but are fascinating literature in their own right. Also, he once got into a fight with an invisible alien... Alright, alright, it didn't really happen. Sorry.

Tropes applying to the artist:

  • The Alcoholic: Vincent suffered from alcoholism.
  • Art Imitates Art: Just one example: Look familiar?
  • Beard of Sorrow
  • Big Brother Mentor: Subverted. It was actually Theo, Vincent's younger brother, who was more succesful than him and had to give him emotional and financial support.
  • Biopic: Several. There's Lust for Life, Vincent and Theo and a 1990 French film called Van Gogh.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Probably the best example of this trope ever. Was poor for his entire life, only managing to sell a single painting while alive, yet after his death his work was sold for millions.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: His life was very tragic.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sort of. He did (maybe-see above) shoot himself, but it took complications from the injury to finish the job.
  • Ear Ache: Besides his paintings, van Gogh is most well known for cutting off at least a significant chunk of his left ear.
  • Forgets to Eat: Another thing that contributed to his poor health. He often used the very little money he got from his brother to buy art supplies, and the only thing he'd buy to consume was coffee and absinthe. For food he just leeched off his friends and acquaintances — when they were available.
  • Genre Popularizer: Post-Impressionism
  • Historical-Domain Character: No other artist has as many movies about his life as Vincent: to name a few, Lust for Life, Vincent and Theo, Van Gogh, Loving Vincent, and Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (where he's played by Martin Scorsese of all people). Not to mention the Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor."
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: May have been his actual cause of death.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: The correct Dutch pronunciation of Van Gogh is as follows: "van" rhymes with "one", and "Gogh" is a soft Southern Dutch guttural G, a short O (as in "log"), and another soft guttural G. Not "Van Goth", "Van Goff" or "Van Go". Note that Van Gogh was born in the southern province of Brabant, so he wouldn't have used the rough guttural G that's used in standard Dutch.
  • Loners Are Freaks
  • Lost in the Maize: He attempted suicide in a cornfield, and supposedly his last painting was of one.
  • Mad Artist: Famously. The Long List of his many health problems:
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Temporal Lobe Epilepsy: Random seizures without altered consciousness, but ending in a state of confusion and paranoia.
    • Thujone poisoning (from his absinthe alcoholism)
    • Lead and chromium poisoning (chromium yellows had recently been introduced and he used a LOT of them).
    • Hypergraphia (a condition in which you feel the need to write continuously, which might explain why he wrote 800 letters in his lifetime)
    • Sunstroke: He often got so wrapped up in painting outside he forgot that he was about to pass out.
    • Some historians believe he was also a paranoid schizophrenic.
  • Mood-Swinger: He was bipolar.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Letters to his brother indicate that he ate close to nothing and stayed alive on coffee and absinthe.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: As mentioned above, thirty townspeople made a petition to get rid of him.
  • Nice Hat: His yellow straw hat.
  • Not Good with People
  • Paste Eater: At times he would nibble on his paint, which given the poisonous components probably didn't help both his health and sanity (to the point doctors at one time forbid him to paint before he ate the ink to kill himself).
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Van Gogh is best known for having almost sold no paintings during his lifetime and dying broke, while after his death millions are paid to own one of his works. The anecdote how he cut off his own ear is also more infamous than his art.
  • Post Something Ism: Post-Impressionism, which became popular when his work gained acceptance.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Made paintings based on street scenes in Paris, his own bedroom, the starry night across the fields and of himself.
  • Reclusive Artist
  • Replacement Goldfish: Vincent had an older brother who died at birth, also named Vincent, born on the same day as him, but one year earlier. Every week when his family went to church, Vincent would have to walk past a gravestone with, essentially, his name and birthdate on it, only off by one year.
  • Short-Lived Big Impact: His first major work came four years before his death. Most of his paintings came from the last two years of his life.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Irving Stone novel Lust For Life, adapted to the big screen as the Kirk Douglas film Lust for Life is based on his life.
    • The Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor had the doctor meet Van Gogh.
    • Vincent, a ballad by Don McLean from his album American Pie.
    • Robert Altman's Vincent And Theo (1990) tells the story about the relationship between Vincent, played by Tim Roth, and his rich brother Theo.
    • Loving Vincent (2017) is an animated film about the last few weeks of Van Gogh's life.
    • In Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990) during the segment Crows an art student (a character wearing Kurosawa's trademark hat who provides the POV for the rest of the film) finds himself inside the vibrant and sometimes chaotic world of Van Gogh's artwork, where he meets the artist (played by Martin Scorsese) in a field and converses with him. The student loses track of the artist (who is missing an ear and nearing the end of his life) and travels through other works trying to find him. Van Gogh's painting Wheat Field with Crows is an important element in this dream.
    • Vincent And Me is about a girl whose paintings look like Van Gogh and whose work is actually sold under his name instead of hers.
    • Three opera's have been based on his life, among them Vincent(1990), composed by the Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara.
    • Suske en Wiske: Lambik travels back in time to meet him in De Kleurenkladder. He shocks Van Gogh by making an abstract painting.
    • De Kiekeboes: In Hotel O. a man receives the keys to the Van Gogh room, while a servant brings a jar with sunflowers for the room. The hotel lobbyist advices him: Watch out when you're shaving!, a reference to Van Gogh's cut off ear.
    • His clone counterpart appears sporadically in Clone High. In his first appearance, he's voiced by Andy Dick and depicted as an emo kid, curled up in his bedroom in Arles while talking on the phone to Ghandi about his depression. When Ghandi puts him on speaker phone so everyone at a party can laugh at him, Van Gogh takes vengeance by painting a naked mural of Ghandi in front of the school.
    • Aliens apparently highly value his work, too, as one episode of Supergirl has an alien art fence commissioning a theft of Starry Night.
    • Jon wants to be an artist and decides to start with painting. Garfield suggests he should start by cutting off an ear.
  • Starving Artist: Literally. Poor nutrition also was a contributing factor to his terrible health.
  • Sunny Sunflower Disposition: Painted sunflowers in a vase, which was sold for a record breaking price in 1987.
  • There Are No Therapists: At least until Saint Remy. Historians have speculated that a lot of his problems came from him actually being a paranoid schizophrenic, which couldn't have been treated then.
  • The Unpronounceable: His surname; in English people argue whether it's Van Go or Van Goff, while the actual Dutch pronunciation is quite different from either.