Vincent Van Gogh did not begin painting until 1880 when he was already 27 years old. He began at the most basic levels, working from beginners’ handbooks such as “Cours de dessin”. After two years he started looking for commissions to keep his art career afloat. He found them in his Uncle, Cornelias Marinus, the owner of a world famous gallery in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, his work did not prove to live up to his uncle’s standards and even after a second commission, Van Gogh was unable to impress him. Thus the earliest VanGogh paintings were considered failures.
Potato Eaters – 1885
However, despite his failure to impress Marinus, Van Gogh continued painting, shutting himself into a studio and working tirelessly to improve his technique. In 1882, he began painting what many would consider his first masterpieces, the single person and item, black and white studies that led to his later revelations. The next year, he started working on multi-figure paintings. These however, were largely destroyed after one of his brothers commented on their lack of appeal and liveliness.
In 1883, after more than a year spent improving his technique and painting with the support of his brother Theo, Van Gogh visited famous Hague scholars such as Weissenbruch and Blommers to learn more about the techniques and technical aspects of painting. It was in Nuenen that Vincent Van Gogh’s full size paintings were started. The Potato Eaters, painted in 1885, is considered by many to be his first full sized masterpiece. Two other large canvas paintings, The Old Tower and The Cottage, survive from this time period. Unfortunately, he destroyed many of the rest.
After more failures progressing in the art world, Vincent Van Gogh came to the conclusion that his short comings were a result of technical problems, not artistic talent. So, he left for Paris to study further and better improve his technique. While in Paris, Van Gogh learned much about the impressionist movement that had the art world so entranced. He did not, however, progress much himself until after moving to Arles.
In Arles, Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings reverted back to many of the more traditional theories of painting that had intrigued him as a youth. He began painting series of images that reflected particular subjects for a given purpose. The first of these, Flowering Orchards was painted in 1888 and depicted series of three paintings. In a series of single figure paintings, he created The Roulin Family and after Gauguin had made the move to Arles to live beside Vincent Van Gogh, painting of his famous The Decoration for the Yellow House series was commenced.
Le Moulin de la Galette – 1886
The final period of Van Gogh’s life, those years spent in the Saint-Remy asylum are marked by his constant use of swirls and spiral patterns. Starry Night is arguable the most famous painting he composed during the year he spent there. He also painted numerous works depicting the wheat field outside the window of his cell, many of which have been sold for exorbitant prices.
His self portraits are another major portion of his life’s work. While pics of Van Gogh are few, the single image that has been recovered, originally taken Victor Morin, was believed to be used as the basis for the dozen or more self portraits and Van Go pictures. This single stock photo of Van Gogh has been authenticated as the man’s likeness and even the portrait of Vincent with a bandaged ear is believed to be drawn from this very photo. The close up of Van Gogh portrayed in the image is the identical angle and time frame of the numerous images he painted of himself in those final years of his life.
During his lifetime, Van Gogh is said to have gone through numerous stages. His early years were spent merely understanding the basic mechanics of the paintbrush, creating still life drawings and paintings and crafting his now famous single figure black and whites. His years in Paris, eventually jaded by the impressionism exhibits and galleries of the day that saturated the city, were spent reimagining his style and in Arles he began to paint the Post-Impressionist images that led to some of his greatest masterpieces, punctuated by his time in Saint-Remy.