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Vincent van Gogh and French Culture

A French 12 assignment on an important historical figure and his significance to French culture.

Lydia T

on 11 September 2013

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Transcript of Vincent van Gogh and French Culture

Months later, he left Arles to be voluntarily admitted into an asylum in Saint-Rémy with the assistance of Theo. While institutionalised, Vincent alternated between struggling with his mental illness and bursting of creativity. It was there where he was inspired by the view from his window, and painted The Starry Night, and while it is his most famous piece today, van Gogh himself was critical of it. In 1890, he left Saint-Rémy for Auvers-sur-Oise in the north, where Theo introduced him to Dr. Paul Gachet, who Vincent befriended even as he doubted the doctor's ability to help him.
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh is remembered as one of the most extraordinary artists who ever lived, his paintings world-famous and his tragic story unforgettable. He was born in the Netherlands, but his time in France is the most renowned, as it is both when he reached the height of his career (he produced some of his finest work there) and when he experienced the notorious mental breakdown that brought the end of his life. Before his suicide, van Gogh frequently painted the French countryside as he immersed himself in nature for inspiration.
Today, his works of art hang in world-class museums, have a profound cultural effect, and are worth millions. While misunderstood in his lifetime, van Gogh left behind a grand legacy, influencing other artists and leaving a permanent mark on French culture.
In Holland, the early 1880's, Vincent van Gogh was just beginning to paint and his style consisted of dark colours accompanied by a sombre atmosphere. He painted and identified with the poor of Europe, wanting to portray them as realistically as he could, finding ugly models to capture their misery. Van Gogh wanted to show the city people how different the lives of peasants were, but The Potato Eaters (1885) (now his most famous piece from that period in his life), was criticised harshly. Van Gogh still believed the piece to be his best so far even after he arrived in Paris in 1886 to live with his brother.
The Potato Eaters, 1885. Oil on canvas.
Theo van Gogh was an art dealer, Vincent's confidante, and his closest sibling, who he often badgered for money. Their exchange of letters provides a documentation of both their lives with an insight to van Gogh's varying degrees of mental health and progress as an artist.
Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887. Oil on pasteboard.
In Paris, van Gogh began painting with lighter colours and adopted the brushwork of Impressionists he met, two signature characteristics of his most famous pieces. An unfortunate Paris influence, however, was alcohol. Van Gogh indulged in drinking, damaging his already fragile health further and putting him at odds with Theo. In 1888, Vincent grew weary of the competitive attitude in Paris and moved to Arles, where the peaceful southern French countryside appealed immensely to him due to the natural beauty and light.
View of the Roofs of Paris, 1886. Oil on canvas.
The Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas.
However, van Gogh grew lonely and depressed, dreaming of creating an artist's community in the south, free from a combative Parisian atmosphere. He invited his friend, Paul Gauguin, to live with him and decorated his home with sunflowers. Gauguin found buyers of his art in Paris, while van Gogh could not. Doubting himself and suffering from psychotic fits, Vincent began to drink again. His strange behaviour (most likely caused by a bipolar disorder) created tension between the two artists. In December, van Gogh advanced on Gauguin with a razor in hand before running away to a brothel, where he sliced off some of his left ear. Gauguin left, and van Gogh was put in the Arles hospital, where he painted in between attacks of mental instability.
Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, 1889. Oil on canvas.
Paul Gauguin. The Painter of Sunflowers (Portrait of Vincent van Gogh), 1888. Oil on jute.
Ward in the Hospital in Arles, 1889. Oil on canvas.
Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890. Oil on canvas.
Van Gogh felt alone and a failure despite the doctor's efforts, painting large wheat fields to express himself. After writing a last letter to Theo, Vincent went into the wheat fields and shot himself in the chest before going back to his inn to die two days later at the age of 37, with his brother by his side. Throughout his life, van Gogh portrayed his emotions through beautiful, colourful paintings and only wanted people to understand. While never managing that during his lifetime, today, many worldwide have grown to love his art.
Wheatfield with Crows, 1890. Oil on canvas.
Undeniably, the artist's most productive years were spent in France and therefore, he painted French themes. Much of his work depicts Paris, its religion, and the northern and southern countryside. Vincent immortalised nature through his art, revealing its beauty to the city dwellers of his time and to the people of today. His work is unique, as van Gogh infused the natural appearance of the world around him with his own imagination. A major reoccurring subject was poor French manual workers, and he captured their backbreaking labour through colour and symbolism.
Red Vineyard at Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas.
The Church at Auvers,1890. Oil on canvas.
In Paris, van Gogh met with fellow artists often in Père Tanguy's paint shop, where they exchanged art, influenced one another in style, and collaborated. This group of friends individually grew later to be some of the greatest artists in Post-Impressionism, their names well known in France and globally.
Portrait of Père Tanguy, 1885. Oil on canvas.
The beauty of Vincent's work made him one of the most celebrated artists in history; he inspired many artists after death (both Expressionists and Impressionists), and was an important contributor to the foundations of modern art. Van Gogh's passionate struggle with himself, the world, and his art resonates with many; his story connects to those who seek their own identity. The meaning behind his work still captures the world's attention today, as people try to interpret that mad, eccentric, and brilliant mind. It is almost as if the public wants to make up for the past, when van Gogh was ostracised and his talent dismissed, honouring his art even if he can never know how much it is loved.
Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889. Oil on canvas.
Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, 1888. Oil on canvas.
Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate), 1890. Oil on canvas.
In the end, Vincent van Gogh left behind a great legacy. His work and life brings thousands of tourists to France; they visit his homes, the places he painted, and the museums his works now reside. While Vincent's masterpiece, The Starry Night, resides in the acclaimed Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Musée D'Orsay, Paris, holds a large collection of some of his exceedingly popular works. As one of the most visited art museums in the world, it hangs dozens of van Gogh's paintings, from the Portrait of Dr. Gachet to Bedroom at Arles.
The Starry Night, 1889. Oil on canvas.
The Yellow House, 1888. Oil on canvas.
Undoubtedly, his largest influence was to the field of art, as van Gogh's use of vivid colours and his imagination to portray emotions was revolutionary, inspiring other famous painters and the artists of today. While unappreciated and tormented throughout his life, Vincent van Gogh's wondrous art lives on, and he is truly one of the greatest painters in history.
His work is celebrated but his name bittersweet, as one cannot speak of his story without including both the creativity and the tragedy. Van Gogh's poignant life has captured the hearts and minds of many since his death, with many tributes to him through literature, music, theatre, and film adding to his legend. Vincent's letters to his brother have crept into French literature and have been compiled into books to be read.
Bedroom in Arles, 1888. Oil on canvas.
A Letter from Vincent Theo (with The Sower), 1888. Ink on paper.
Musée D'Orsay, Paris, France.
Starry Night Over the Rhone,1888. Oil on canvas.
Café Terrace at Night, 1888. Oil on canvas.
Almond Blossoms, 1890. Oil on canvas.
Wheatfield with Reaper, 1889. Oil on canvas.
Self-Portrait, 1889. Oil on canvas.
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