Between November of 1881 and July of 1890, Vincent van Gogh painted almost 900 paintings. Since his death, he has become one of the most famous painters in the world. Van Gogh’s paintings have captured the minds and
hearts of millions of art lovers and have made art lovers of those new to world of art. The following excerpts are from letters that Van Gogh wrote expressing how he evolved as a painter. There are also links to pages describing some of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings, Starry Night, Sunflowers, Irises, Poppies, and The Potato Eaters, in great detail.
In December of 1881, at the age of 28 just as he began his first paintings Vincent wrote to his brother Theo about becoming a painter,
“Theo, I am so very happy with my paintbox, and I think my getting it now, after having drawn almost exclusively for at least a year, better than if I had started with it immediately…
For, Theo, with painting my real career begins. Don’t you think I am right to consider it so?”
Van Gogh worked at a feverish pace costing him money, causing him mental and physical stress and leaving him no time for any other source of income. But he was persistent. In a letter from March of 1882, Van Gogh wrote again to his brother Theo,
“Although I find myself in financial difficulties, I nevertheless have the feeling that there is nothing more solid than a `handicraft’ in the literal sense of working with one’s hands. If you became a painter, one of the things that would surprise you is that painting and everything connected with it is quite hard work in physical terms. Leaving aside the mental exertion, the hard thought, it demands considerable physical effort, and that day after day.”
In the same letter to Theo from 1882, Van Gogh writes, “There are two ways of thinking about painting, how not to do it and how to do it: how to do it – with much drawing and little colour; how not to do it – with much colour and little drawing.
Van Gogh firmly believed that to be a great painter you had to first master drawing before adding color. Over the years Van Gogh clearly mastered drawing and began to use more color. In time, one of the most recognizable aspects of Van Gogh’s paintings became his bold use of color.
About a year before his death Van Gogh predicted that there would be a great “painter of the future” who would know how to use color like no one else and would become the future of painting. He expressed this in a letter to his brother Theo in May of 1888,
“As for me, I shall go on working, and here and there something of my work will prove of lasting value – but who will there be to achieve for figure painting what Claude Monet has achieved for landscape? However, you must feel, as I do, that someone like that is on the way – Rodin? – he does not use colour – it won’t be him. But the painter of the future will be a colourist the like of which has never yet been seen.
But I’m sure I am right to think that it will come in a later generation, and it is up to us to do all we can to encourage it, without question or complaint.”
During his lifetime Van Gogh was never famous as a painter and struggled to make a living as an artist. Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime The Red Vineyard. This painting sold in Brussels for 400 Francs only a few months before his death.
Vincent van Gogh died at the age of 37 bringing his career as a painter to an end, but beginning his legacy as the great painter of the future who inspired the world.
About a week after his death, Van Gogh’s brother Theo wrote to his sister Elizabeth about Van Gogh’s legacy as a great artist,
“In the last letter which he wrote me and which dates from some four days before his death, it says, “I try to do as well as certain painters whom I have greatly loved and admired.” People should realize that he was a great artist,