Essay on Van Gogh: The Expressionist

Essay on Van Gogh: The Expressionist

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"What lives in art and is eternally living, is first of all the painter, and then the painting." - Vincent Van Gogh

Expressionism is an art form in which the very style itself and the symbols that the artist uses are meant to express his innermost feelings on the subject. Vincent van Gogh has often been hailed as the quintessential expressionist painter. His artwork covers a range of moods over the years, and his canvases are almost mirrors into his troubled soul.

Vincent van Gogh lived a troubled life. He once described his childhood as " cold, gloomy and sterile." He alienated himself from his parents and siblings by being a stubborn and reclusive child. He was clumsy, uncommunicative, and lived an early life of solitude, being misunderstood by his own family. The only sibling he had any sort of close relationship with was his brother, Theo. He would later be Vincent’s biggest supporter, both moral and financial, during the formative years of his unsuccessful career in art.

As the young Vincent grew up, he realized that art was his calling in life. He decided that he would paint and make a living off his sales. Ironically, though his paintings may sell for millions today…van Gogh actually sold only one painting in his lifetime, and this, for the meager cost of 40 francs.

Van Gogh’s problems were numerous. First of all, he just didn’t have the social skills to be happy in his personal life. He had a few disastrous relationships with women before sinking deep into solitude and depression. His paintings during his troubled romances and the ensuing heartbreaks are filled with darkness and pain, reflecting his inner sorrow. Secondly, while Vincent’s paintings were indisputably brilliant, he simply didn’t have the interpersonal skills to make any sales! The legend has it that he actually used to argue with buyers who praised them, trying to convince them forcefully that his work was not remarkably good! He was an extremely modest man, perhaps overly so. He signed all of his works with simply "Vincent," never adding the surname.

His numerous personal failures are arguably evident in his works at the time. His inability to find companionship and his constant dependence on Theo for financial support depressed him considerably. In his portraits of people and his scenes during this period, one could argue that the lines and the som...

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...aintings spoke of deep, deep anguish and sadness. His life had been a failure. Yet at the same time, they glowed with the yellows and reds of his mania…that undying spark of madness and genius that dwelled within.

Vincent van Gogh transcribed his emotions onto canvas throughout a brief and troubled life. He is the epitome of expressionism, and will live on as such for generations to come.

"Well, even in that deep misery I felt my energy revive, and I said to myself: in spite of everything I shall rise again, I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing, and from that moment everything has seemed transformed in me." -Vincent van Gogh, 1886 (On his drive to paint, even in the midst of despair)

Bonnie Butterfield, "Troubled Life of Vincent Van Gogh", <a href=""> [available on Feb. 21, 2001]
Ed. By Francesca Castria Marchetti Vincent van Gogh Rizzoli International Publications Inc., New York, 1999.
Encarta 2000 Encyclopedia [CD Rom], Article: "Expressionism" Microsoft Incorporated, 2000

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