Tate Britain’s latest exhibition, Van Gogh and Britain pays tribute to the artist’s work and his time spent in Britain. Although Van Gogh struggled to achieve success during his lifetime, he is now recognised as an icon of Post Impressionism. There are many myths and intrigues surrounding his life but who was the man behind the paintings? We uncover the facts you might not know about Van Gogh’s life and how to bring a touch of the famous colourits’ art into your home.
1. One sale in his lifetime
After a few failed career choices as a teacher, art dealer and preacher, Van Gogh became a full-time artist at the age of 27 and would paint for a decade, up until his death in 1890. Even though his brother worked as an art dealer, Van Gogh’s style was too different from the fashion of the time to sell commercially.
This being said, Van Gogh managed to sell one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard at Arles which sold for 40 Francs (equivalent to $2,000 today). The painting was exhibited at the Belgian Les XX annual show and was a testament to Van Gogh's work as exhibition was by invitation only. The painting was purchased by the Impressionist painter Anna Boch and was later acquired by the Pushkin Museum in Moscow where it resides today.
2. Avante- garde circles
Like many aspiring artists of the 19th century, Van Gogh moved to Paris to immerse himself in the artistic communities where he befriended the likes of Paul Signac and Paul Gauguin and took drawing classes in Fernand Cormon's studio. This period signalled a move away from Van Gogh’s raw depictions of country life as he adopted the lighter colour palettes of the Impressionists.
We have a special selection of Van Gogh’s work during this time, including Peach blossom in the Crauand which expands on Seurat's Pointillism technique.
No background to understanding Van Gogh’s style would be complete without including work from his contemporaries. Explore our collection of prints by the Impressionists featuring artists such as Monet and Degas. Bring a museum treasure into your home with a print, perfect for lovers of colour and idyllic scenery.
3. Japanese inspiration
Van Gogh was hugely inspired by Japanese woodblock paintings by the likes of Hiroshige and Eisen and avidly collected prints once he moved to France. The visual composition of Japanese paintings and the importance of nature influenced Van Gogh’s change in artistry- creating flat surfaces with swirling brushwork and vibrant colours.
Explore our V&A Japanese collection which offers decorative works that look stunning in colourful interiors accessorised with house plants. For the committed Japanese enthusiast, discover our Ukiyo-e art prints which depict idealised images of everyday life in Japan between the 17th - 19th Century. These beautiful paintings undoubtedly resonated with the troubled artist who held the Japanese style in high esteem.
4. Hopeful soul
In 1888, Van Gogh moved to the Southern French town of Arles where he hoped to establish his own artistic community. At the start only Paul Gauguin joined Van Gogh in the South where they began painting in healthy competition. However, initial excitement simmered away as they debated and disagreed on many aspects of art which culminated in Vincent’s ear mutilation. There is academic debate as to whether Gauguin, a great fencer, attacked Vincent or if he did it to himself in a mad outrage. Either way, the ear fell into the hands of a prostitute!
Shop the hopeful and bright artworks Van Gogh created whilst living in Arles, the place he hoped would offer sunny inspiration and new artistic freedoms. From his workshop in The Yellow House, some of his best loved works emerged.
5. An obsessive creative
Struggling with his demons, Van Gogh admitted himself into an asylum in Saint-Remy in 1889. Despite his mental afflictions, he was allowed to continue painting which proved the best remedy and some of his most iconic works were created whilst hospitalised.
Add an iconic print to your home such as Starry Night which is one of Van Gogh’s finest pieces. The dramatic use of swirling brushstrokes and choice of luminous stars instead of silhouettes creates a magical tone and emotion.
6. A lasting legacy
Van Gogh’s fame was largely due to the persistence of his brother’s family who inherited hundreds of paintings after his death. His sister in-law loaned many works to exhibitions and published his letters in order to share Vincent’s story with the world. Van Gogh’s nephew also continued to celebrate his work, founding Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 1973.
In 2019, British artist, Anthony Padgett will unveil his sculpture of Van Gogh in Arles as part of the new Britain and Europe Van Gogh Sculpture Trail which will feature as the keystone work. This is part of a project including a further 6 sculptures in locations that Vincent visited across England, France, Holland and Belgium. The work coincides with the blockbuster exhibition at Tate Britain titled: Van Gogh and Britain.