Vincent van Gogh - Brilliance and Bipolar Disorder

Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait
Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait. LatitudeStock - Eric Farrell/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Family & Life:

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, Holland, on March 30, 1853, to Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. He was the second oldest child of six. Though he was involved in two serious relationships, van Gogh never married. He did have a close relationship with his younger brother Theodorus (Théo). After a long stint of physical illness and mental instability, van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Early Experience:

van Gogh's exposure to art began early through his uncle, also named Vincent, who established a branch of an art gallery in The Hague. At the age of 16, van Gogh began an apprenticeship with Goupil & Cie international art dealers. He worked for this company in several locales, including London and Paris, until he was fired in March 1876. At this point, he undertook a career as a preacher, but this endeavor was short-lived as well - he was "dismissed for overzealousness."

The Artist:

In 1881, van Gogh made the decision to study art seriously. Of this decision, one biographer writes, "With surprising speed, the clumsy but enthusiastic apprentice develops a strong artistic personality with his color effects and simple but unforgettable compositions." His early work focused on peasant life and was predominantly dark in coloring. When he moved to France, where his brother Théo lived, meeting renowned Impressionist painters had a considerable impact on his style.

His later work includes themes of nature and landscapes in which his use of vivid colors is renowned, as shown in Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night.

Selected Paintings:

  • Wheat Field with Crows (Auvers-sur-Oise: July 1890)
  • Thatched Cottages at Cordeville (Auvers-sur-Oise: June 1890)
  • Portrait of Doctor Gachet (Auvers-sur-Oise: June 1890)
  • Starry Night (Saint-Rémy: June 1889)
  • Irises (Saint-Rémy: May 1889)
  • Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (Arles: January 1889)
  • The Smoker (Paris, 1888)
  • Self-Portrait with Felt Hat (Paris 1887)
  • The Potato Eaters (Netherlands 1885)

View Selected Paintings

Notable Quote:

"It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill - it's a life which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider. I'm all right when I completely immerse myself in work, but I'll always remain half crazy."

Regarding Bipolar Disorder:

Throughout his life, van Gogh gave evidence of mental instability and having a difficult and moody personality. Various biographies - all from the perspective of history - describe him as suffering from epilepsy, depression, psychotic attacks, delusions and bipolar disorder. In December 1888, van Gogh experienced a psychotic episode in which he threatened the life of Paul Gauguin, a personal friend and fellow artist. This episode also brought about the notorious incident in which van Gogh cut off a piece of his own left ear, offering it as a gift to a prostitute. Subsequently, he consigned himself to a mental asylum for more than a year, but left in frustration because his condition did not improve.

From the van Gogh Museum:

On July 27, 1890, Vincent walks to a wheat field and shoots himself in the chest. He stumbles back to his lodging, where he dies two days later, on July 29, with Thèo at his side. He is buried in Auvers on July 30. Among the mourners are Lucien Pissarro, Emile Bernard and Père Tanguy. Bernard describes how Vincent's coffin is covered with yellow flowers, 'his favorite color... Close by, too, his easel, his camp stool, and his brushes had been placed on the ground beside the coffin.'

During his life van Gogh sold only one painting, Red Vineyard at Arles. After his death his work was recognized as that of an exceptional artist, and today he is universally acclaimed as one of the masters.


Van Gogh Gallery
Van Gogh Museum