Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter, whose work represents the archetype of expressionism, the idea of emotional spontaneity in painting. Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert, son of a Dutch Protestant pastor. Van Gogh's birth came one year to the day after his mother gave birth to a first, stillborn child; also named Vincent. There has been much speculation about Vincent van Gogh suffering later psychological trauma as a result of being a 'replacement child' and having a deceased brother with the same name and same birth date. Early in life, he displayed a moody, restless character that was to spoil his every pursuit.

This theory remains unproven, however, and there is no actual historical evidence to support it. In 1869, Vincent van Gogh joined the firm Goupil & Cie. , a firm of art dealers in The Hague. The van Gogh family had long been associated with the art world. Vincent's uncles, Cornelis ('Uncle Cor') and Vincent ('Uncle Cent'), were art dealers.

His younger brother, Theo, spent his adult life working as an art dealer and, as a result, had a tremendous influence on Vincent's later career as an artist. Vincent was relatively successful as an art dealer and stayed with Goupil & Cie. for seven more years. In 1873, he was transferred to the London branch of the company and quickly became in love with the cultural climate of England. In late August, Vincent moved to 87 Hack ford Road and boarded with Ursula Lower and her daughter Eugenie. Vincent is said to have been romantically interested in Eugenie, but many early biographers mistakenly misname Eugenie for her mother, Ursula.

To add to the decades-long confusion over the names, recent evidence suggests that Vincent wasn't in love with Eugenie at all, but rather a Dutch woman named Caroline Haanebeek. The truth remains inconclusive. By the age of 27, van Gogh had been in turn a salesman in an art gallery, a French tutor, a theological student, and an evangelist among the miners at Was mes in Belgium. Vincent felt a strong emotional attachment to the miners. He sympathized with their dreadful working conditions and did his best, as their spiritual leader, to ease the burden of their lives. These early works evidence were dark and serious, sometimes crude.

Unfortunately, this unselfish desire would reach somewhat obsessive proportions when Vincent began to give away most of his food and clothing to the poverty-stricken people under his care. Despite Vincent's noble intentions, representatives of the Church strongly disapproved of van Gogh's somberness and dismissed him from his post in July. Refusing to leave the area, van Gogh moved to an adjacent village, Cuesmes, and remained there in abject poverty. For the next year, Vincent struggled to live from day to day and, though not able to help the village people in any official capacity as a clergyman, he nonetheless chose to remain a member of their community. One day Vincent felt obligated to visit the home of Jules Breton, a French painter he greatly admired, so with only ten francs in his pocket he walked the entire 70 kilometers to Cour ri " eyes, France, to see Breton.

After arriving, however, Vincent was too afraid to knock and returned to Cuesmes absolutely discouraged. All the years of hard work, of continually refining his technique and learning to work in new media, all served as stepping stones toward the production of Vincent van Gogh's first great painting: Potato Eaters (1885, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam). His experiences as a preacher are reflected in this painting. Vincent worked on The Potato Eaters throughout April of 1885.

He had produced various drafts in preparation of the final, large oil on canvas version. The Potato Eaters is acknowledged to be Vincent van Gogh's first true masterpiece and he was encouraged by the outcome. Although angered and upset by any criticism of the work (Vincent's friend and fellow artist, Anth on van Rappa rd (1858-1892), disliked the work and his comments would prompt Vincent to end their friendship), Vincent was pleased with the result and then began a new, more confident and technically accomplished stage of his career. In 1886, van Gogh went to Paris to live with his brother, Theo. Influenced by the work of his brother, the impressionists, and by the work of such Japanese printmakers as Hiroshige and Hokusai, van Gogh began to experiment with current techniques.

Van Gogh began to acquire a substantial collection of Japanese woodblock prints (now in the collection of the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) and his paintings during this time (such as The Portrait of Pere Tanguy) would reflect both the vibrant use of color favored by the Impressionists, and distinct Japanese overtones. Although Van Gogh only ever produced three copies of Japanese paintings, the Japanese influence on his art would be evident in subtle form throughout the rest of his life. Later, he adopted the brilliant hues found in the paintings of the French artists Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat. 1887 in Paris marked another year in which Vincent evolved as an artist, but it also took its toll on him, both emotionally and physically. Vincent's explosive personality put a strain on his relationship with Theo. When Vincent insisted on moving in with Theo, he did so with the hopes that they could better manage their expenses and that Vincent could more easily devote himself to his art.

Unfortunately, living with his brother also resulted in a great deal of tension between the two. In addition, Paris itself was not without its temptations and much of Vincent's two years there was spent in unhealthy extremes: poor nutrition, and excessive drinking and smoking. In 1888, van Gogh left Paris for southern France, where, under the burning sun of Provence, he painted scenes of the fields, cypress trees, peasants, and rustic life characteristic of the region. During this period, living at Arles, he began to use the swirling brush strokes and intense yellows, greens, and blues associated with such typical works as Bedroom at Arles (1888, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh), and Starry Night (1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). For van Gogh all visible phenomena, whether he painted or drew them, seemed to be endowed with a physical and spiritual life. In his enthusiasm, he let the painter Paul Gauguin, whom he had met earlier in Paris, to join him.

After less than two months, they began to have violent disagreements, culminating in a quarrel in which van Gogh wildly threatened Gauguin with a razor; the same night, in deep remorse, he severed his lobe with a razor, wrapped it in cloth, then took it to a brothel, and presented it to one of the women there. Vincent then staggered back to the Yellow House where he collapsed. He was discovered by the police and hospitalized at the H^o tel-Dieu hospital in Arles. After sending a telegram to Theo, Gauguin left immediately for Paris, choosing not to visit Van Gogh in the hospital.

Van Gogh and Gauguin would later correspond from time to time. He spent a year in the nearby asylum of Saint-R'e my, working between repeated spells of madness. As the weeks passed, Vincent's mental well being remained stable and he was allowed to resume painting. The staff was encouraged by Van Gogh's progress (or, at least, at his not suffering any additional attacks) and in mid-June Van Gogh produced his best known work: Starry Night. Under the care of a sympathetic doctor, whose portrait he painted (Dr. Ga chet, 1890, Louvre, Paris), van Gogh spent three months at Auvers.

Just after completing his ominous Crows in the Wheatfields (1890, Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh), he shot himself on July 27, 1890. Vincent van Gogh died at 1: 30 am on July 29 th. The Catholic church of Auvers refused to allow Vincent's burial in its cemetery because Vincent had committed suicide. The nearby township of M'er, however, agreed to allow the burial and the funeral was held on July 30 th. The more than 700 letters that van Gogh wrote to his brother Th " eo (published 1911, translated 1958) constitute a remarkably revealing record of the life of an artist and a thorough documentation of his unusually rich output-about 750 paintings and 1600 drawings.

The French painter Cha " im Soutine, and the German painters Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Emil Nolde, owe more to van Gogh than to any other single source. In 1973, the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, containing over 1000 paintings, sketches, and letters, was opened in Amsterdam.