10 Major Myths Surrounding The Life And Art Of Vincent Van Gogh

There are quite several speculations and rumours that have been embedded into popular culture regarding Van Gogh’s work and life throughout the passing of time. For example, it is worth mentioning that the fantasy of American writer Irving Stone, who wrote a novel on the artist’s life entitled ‘Thirst for Life’ in 1934, helped solely to add more myths surrounding the artist’s image and how he died. It was also based on this very book that a 1956 film was released starring Kirk Douglas in the main role.

Furthermore, the Pocket Books publication dating from 1950 adds to our speculation saying a prostitute suggested Van Gogh to prove her love for her by demanding the artist’s ear. This being said, let’s try to figure out what is false and what is true about the life of the famous Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait (1887). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

1. Vincent was an outsider in the world of painting

Van Gogh studied art and its trade from his teens. We can safely say that he was among the first and most significant figures in the art world, both of his time and today. Yes, he was not fully understood by his contemporaries in terms of his original style and manner of execution. He worked as an assistant art dealer at the Goupil Gallery in The Hague and then trained in Brussels, Antwerp, and Paris.

However, his strong innovative ideas prevented him from meeting the expectations of his teachers and, as a consequence, he dropped out of school. Yet this did not ultimately affect the popularity and relevance of his works of art. Thanks to his younger brother, Theo van Gogh, he knew very well the art scene and a huge number of contemporary artists, including many impressionists. Among them was an Australian follower, John Russell.

2. Vincent had no education

In total, he was in the process of state education for a little over four years. Besides this, he received lessons at his home from a governess. By the age of 20, Van Gogh was very well-read and educated. His letters to friends and his younger brother confirm this. He could refer to hundreds of different books. Additionally, he was fluent in French, English, and spoke good German, in addition to his native Dutch. The artist also possessed amazing abilities of eloquent description and observation.

3. Vincent painted in a frenzy

Art historians believe that Van Gogh created his works in one gulp, on a hunch, like a brush will fall. As you like, just not planning. Nevertheless, this is not true. The Dutch artist carefully planned his future paintings which deepened his intricate mind’s thoughts. He also drew inspiration from the work of other artists. In one of his letters written in the Yellow House in Arles, he said that the most outstanding paintings are ‘those that do not leave you in dreams while you smoke a pipe in bed’.

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night (1889). Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

4. Vincent was lonely and had no friends

It is believed that Van Gogh had virtually no friends given his complex human and artistic nature. Despite his constant travels which prevented him from maintaining long-lasting friendships, the artist had a wide circle of acquaintances and friends. Among them, Vincent kept a close and special relation with the French post-impressionist artist Émile Henri Bernard, whom he met in Paris, until the very end of their days.

5. Vincent lived mostly in poverty

He really had very little income at the time when he was a preacher in the coal mining district of Borinage, Hainaut, Belgium. However, he could earn the equivalent of up to £90 a year, working as an art dealer in London when he was 20 years old. It was even more than his father’s salary, which he received as a clergyman. When Vincent decided to completely devote his life to art, his brother Theo supported him financially.

6. The artist went crazy

Van Gogh did have a severe mental illness and suffered several severe crises. In one of them, he cut off a part of his ear. And during his last attack on July 27, 1890, he shot himself in the chest. Medical specialists of that time could not diagnose the artist, but suggest that he suffered from bipolar disorder.

7. His paintings reflect mental problems

Many say that Van Gogh’s paintings reveal signs of his insanity. Especially in his twisted mountains or circles in the sky of Starry Night. Although some of the works conceived during his stay in a shelter in Saint-Remy-de-Provence may bear the imprint of his psychological instability, the vast majority of his paintings find themselves in a completely calm state.

8. Van Gogh’s art came to its end with ‘Ravens Wheat Field’

The canvas painted in 1890 illustrates a wheat field. As you might know, Van Gogh ended his life on a wheat field in the vicinity of the French village of Over-sur-Oise. Thus, this picture is considered a symbol of his decision to die and to be the last of his works.

9. Vincent did not pass away of his own will

This theory was expressed in the biography “Van Gogh: Life” written by Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith in 2011. But this version is disproved by the fact that after the news of the death of the artist, all his close people who knew Van Gogh’s state of mind did not even have a shadow of a doubt that it was suicide. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have left this without an investigation involving the authorities.

10. Vincent did not receive rightful recognition during his lifetime

The artist’s works really began to become popular and gain recognition in the artist’s last years. Nonetheless, documented evidence says that many French newspapers and magazines wrote about his work. Dozens of articles between 1888 and 1890 also mentioned his name. His works were well known in Paris, as well as in Brussels, The Hague, and Amsterdam.

Of course, knowledge of the facts about the life of Vincent Van Gogh can help us enjoy and better understand his intentions. Yet myths about his life and work distract us from the talent and genius of this great master. Nowadays, it is definitely worth admiring his paintings as well as drawing conclusions on the art and life of this great artist.

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