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Creator / Vincent van Gogh

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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, including psychotic episodes that lasted days or even weeks, 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.

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:

  • Art Imitates Art: Just one example: Look familiar?
  • 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, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (where he's played by Martin Scorsese of all people), and At Eternity's Gate. Not to mention the Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor."
  • Nice Hat: His yellow straw hat that often appears in his self-portraits.
  • Post Something Ism: Post-Impressionism, which became popular when his work gained acceptance.
  • Referenced by...:
    • In The 100, the survivors living in Mount Weather have a store room of classic art, including some of Van Gogh's. They end up putting Starry Night in Clarke's cell with her, as a Pet the Dog moment.
    • 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 and Amy meet Van Gogh. The episode's ending is considered by many to be one of the most poignant pieces ever put to broadcast: The Doctor decides to bend the rules of time travel to take Vincent into the modern day to visit an art museum... where he learns that in the future he is admired as one of the greatest painters to have ever lived, but sadly it isn't enough to alleviate years of poor mental health and he still commits suicide - he does however dedicate Sunflowers to Amy.
    • 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.
    • At Eternitys Gate has Willem Dafoe play Van Gogh during the last period of his life.
    • 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.
    • An episode of The Nanny featured this one-liner:
      Fran: Oh, you heard me?
      Niles: Van Gogh heard you. He's dead AND missing an ear.


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