Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous and influential artists of all time, I am sure you have heard about him or at least saw one of his paintings. But, if you didn’t, that is not a problem. Let me introduce you to a few facts about this famous and magnificent painter.

Legendary Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous artists of all time. His sunflowers are iconic, his cut-off ear legendary, and yet, during van Gogh’s lifetime, he was pretty much unknown and considered himself a failure.

He was born in the village of Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853, born into a religious, upper-middle-class family. He was into landscapes, still-life painting, portraits, and sketches with their vibrant colors. While he was creating breathtaking and unique artworks he fought depression and mental illness. Popular retellings of his tragic story include Vincente Minnelli’s Hollywood biopic Lust for Life (1956) with Kirk Douglas and Robert Altman’s quirky Vincent and Theo (1990) starring Tim Roth.

Despite the fact that he considered himself a failure, today Vincent’s artworks sell for hundreds of millions of dollars and he’s a household name. There are some facts about his life and work that might still surprise you.

1. He started painting at 27

He started painting at 27 years old. He is proof that we can do anything if we want and that it’s never too late for following our dreams and ambitions. He killed the illusion that for us to be successful and good at any skill we need to practice from a young age. He started painting after he was thrown away from his family home after various failed careers. He was too poor to buy a set of paints, so his brother Teo bought one for him. His brother helped Vincent financially during the whole decade.

Vincent’s self-portrait as a painter 1887-1888

2. During his lifetime he sold only one painting

The bittersweet truth about his artist career is that during his lifetime he sold only one painting. 1888 he painted the oil painting with red vineyards near Aires. It was exhibited at the exhibition of Less plaintiff in Brussels and sold in 1890 and was purchased by Anna Bach. She was his fellow painter, friend and art collector. She bought the painting for 400 franks, 1000$ in today’s money. Later, the painting went to the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin. Today the painting remains in the Pushkin Museum of fine arts in Moscow.

Vincent Van Gogh’s first sold painting The red Vineyard, 1888

3. He suffered from several mental illnesses

Because of his state and life, he is known as a symbol of sadness and tortured artist archetype, but his problems were bigger than just common depression. Modern psychiatrists conclude by studying his life, that Vincent Van Gogh suffered from multiple illnesses, including schizophrenia, syphilis, hypergraphia, manic depression, temporal lobe epilepsy, Geschwind syndrome, many also believe that Van Gogh was autistic. They came to the autistic conclusion because he was non-communicative and clumsy as a child.

Story about his time in the hospital

4. Selfie king

Van Gogh painted 43 self-portraits. One of the theories why he painted himself is that he was too poor to pay a model or due to his lack of communication with people. Even asking a friend to pose was a huge challenge for him. There is a story about him when he welcomed a pregnant woman named Seon Hornik into his home, and took care of her and her baby. They made a compromise. He gave her a home and food, in return, she was his model. He worked with her the whole winter. She was a prostitute, but also the love of his life. After the birth of her second child, life became financially difficult and he left her after 18 months together. Vincent had many lovers throughout his life, but Seon was his only love.

5. The story about the “Starry Night” painting

Vincent van Gogh painted his famous artwork “Starry Night” in 1889 while he was in a mental hospital Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. His life during hospitalization was good, he had a lot of freedom, more than other patients. His privileges were that he could leave the hospital estate, he was allowed to paint, read, and withdraw into his room. Also, he was so lucky that he had his own studio in the hospital. While he was in the hospital he was diagnosed with epileptic fits – it seemed like his metal health was recovering. He started to suffer from hallucinations and suicidal thoughts while he was diving into depression. According to his mental state, there were a lot of shifts in his work. He started to use darker colors again like he used to do at the beginning of his career. Starry Night is an excellent example of that shift. While this painting is the one most associated with Vincent van Gogh, he was not satisfied with it.

Starry Night, June 1889

6. He was a man of letters

His life is documented trough many letters he has written. Vincent van Gogh started writing letters to his brother Theo in 1862. Altogether, he sent 600 letters to his brother. On average, he would write one letter every 10 days and send it to his brother, for the rest of his life. The letters between Vincent and his brother tells us the story about Vincent’s theories, his view of life and art. Theo kept all letters that he got from Vincent and Vincent kept a few letters that he got from his brother. After both of them passed away, Theo’s widow Johanna collated and edited the letters. Letters were published in 1914. The last letter was found on Vincent’s chest after he committed suicide on the 27th of July 1890. It was dedicated to his brother.
Except for his brother, he had written to his friend Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard, and many others. He had written more than 800 letters. These letters are the best source to go through Vincent’s life and to step into his world. Also, these letters are the most comprehensive source of information about his life.

7. There was suspicion that his death wasn’t a suicide

The truth that is known to the world is that Vincent Van Gogh took his own life as a result of his mental health. There is doubt that his gunshot wounds weren’t self-inflicted. History tells us that he shot himself in the stomach in the field and walked a mile back to where he was staying to die. Some biographers believe that Gogh was shot by a teenager who used to mock him. They said that due to his mental state, Gogh saw this as a favor and choose to die from his injuries rather than seek any help. This theory was supported by the fact that no gun was found near his body.

As I was researching the material for this blog post topic, it was extremely nauseous to hear about the difficult moments in his life. Everything is so black and white. Lots of injustice and pain. I cannot believe that one soul can go through so much suffering. The most frightening thing to me is that he was so magnificent as an artist and was still so judgmental and hard on himself which made him an obstacle to his own success during his life. He is so well known and respected today and he will never know it. What we can definitely learn from his experience is that it is never too late to start something new and be great at it.

Did you enjoy these facts?

I hope you learned something new today about this famous artist and that you enjoyed this post. If you know any interesting facts about Vincent or would like to see some more blog posts like this one, please share it in the comments below.

Here are some useful links if you want to know something more about him:
Vincent’s most famous paintings
Vincent’s online gallery
PDF letters
The scene from Doctor Who
The virtual tour through Vincent’s museum in Amsterdam


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Happy painting!

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