Generally speaking, most of us know three things about Vincent van Gogh. 1. Starry Night 2. The Ear Incident 3. The Suicide, in no particular order. While these three landmarks surely signify tumultuous moments fit for dramatic retellings and speculation, they by no means uncover the acute sensitivities, work ethic, and aspirations of the man we know as van Gogh.
So, we dive into this conversation about VvG from a different, un-talked about angle. Taken almost entirely from his personal letters (you can find an amazing hardcover edition here and a solid $10 version here). Prepare to wrap you brain around five van Gogh facts nobody’s talking about.
1.He thought color was rebellious
The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant color, well arranged, resplendent.”—Vincent van Gogh, Arles, September 9 and 14, 1888, to Willemien van Gogh
2. He had famous friends
van Gogh often wrote letters to Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and other artists who would go on to be considered master painters. Not surprisingly, many of these friendships deteriorated under van Gogh’s manic, stubborn disposition.
3. He owes his legacy to his sister-in-law
van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, and his wife, Joanna, frequently (like every day). She sometimes doesn’t get all the credit in his historical tellings, but after her brother-in-law died, she spent years compiling his letters and bringing his inner-working to the world. Yo go, Jo!
4. He was basically a poet
When he first began writing, van Gogh was pretty matter of fact about life. But, as he continued to write and read (a lot), his written letters began to read like stanzas of poetry.
“I haven’t got it yet, but I’m hunting it and fighting for it, I want something serious, something fresh—something with soul in it! Onward, onward.”— To Theo, The Hague, January 3, 1883
5. The last line of his last letter was really ominous.
“Ah well, I risk my life for my own work and my reason has half foundered in it – very well – but you’re not one of the dealers in men; as far as I know and can judge I think you really act with humanity, but what can you do.”— To Theo, Auvers-sur-Oise, Wednesday, 23 July 1890
Yup, van Gogh was all sorts of emotional and also brilliant. His 900 works in just 10 years (he started painting when he was about 27) marks an earth shattering productivity-level, especially when you consider that many of them became the most well-known masterpieces in history.
Want the full scoop on van Gogh? Learn more in Basics: Vincent van Gogh