March 30 was the birthday of one of my favorites artists, Vincent Van Gogh. He was born in 1853, so we celebrated his 167th birthday. We ate homemade French onion soup with crusty bread from Grand Central Bakery, and watched Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Vincent in “At Eternity’s Gate.”
Vincent was born in the Netherlands, and his father was a minister. He tried to do a lot of jobs before turning to painting, including art dealer and minister. Dutch painters (those from the Netherlands) used mostly browns and grays at the time, and he didn’t start using the bright colors we love until he went to Paris to paint in 1886.
He didn’t stay in Paris for long, but took his new love of color to the south of France when he moved to the little town of Arles. His deep blues and shimmering golden wheat fields capture, for me, the essence of the Provencial region.
Although he is now one of the world’s most famous painters, during his lifetime he sold only one painting. His mental health was unsteady and he didn’t take proper care of himself. He ate too little and drank far too much, and had long periods when he was hospitalized. Through all his troubles, he was supported by his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris.
In the last two years of his life, Vincent did over 200 paintings and 100 drawings. These are the vibrant irises, wheat fields and self-portraits we know him by.
Vincent died in Arles in 1890 of a gunshot wound at the age of 37. For years it was believed he shot himself, but now some folks say he was shot by some boys in the town, though there is no evidence of this. Movies like “At Eternity’s Gate” and “Loving Vincent” propose this idea, but we may never know.
Vincent Van Gogh had a hard life and an eye for color that was ahead of his time. He said he wanted to paint “to show people how he saw and how he felt.”
His works are gifts to our eyes and our souls.