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Most casual art lovers see Van Gogh as a troubled but successful artist. This is far from the actual truth of his chaotic life which was filled with failure in every occupational pursuit he attempted including painting, and was marked by episodes of depression, violence, and abnormal behavior.
Thanks to the preservation of thousands of letters Van Gogh had written to friends and family, especially to his brother Theo, we have a nearly complete understanding of his feelings, experiments, and views on every aspect of his life. Surprisingly, his incredible artistic talent went unnoticed and unrecognized until he was 27 years old, after he had already failed at two other career choices as an art dealer and a Protestant minister. Following his failure as a preacher, he began to study art. He obsessively began thousands of sketches and oil paintings. Many observers of Van Gogh's life believe that his oddities, which were apparent from early childhood, built up to create many experiences that directly impacted the development of Expressionistic painting. Therefore, a look into his childhood will give us an understanding of Van Gogh's creative expression.
Vincent's sister, Elizabeth Van Gogh, described his behavior as a child (1) "he was intensely serious and uncommunicative, and walked around clumsily and in a daze with his head hung low." She continued by saying, (1) "Not only were his sister and brothers strangers to him, but he was a stranger to himself."
A servant who worked for the Van Gogh family when Vincent was a child described his as an (1) "odd, aloof child who had queer manners and seemed more like an old man," than the child he was. Vincent later described his childhood as (2) "gloomy, cold, and sterile." Unaware of his own artistic ability, Vincent Van Gogh first tried to learn the art of selling art work. At the age of 16, he became the apprentice of an art dealer at the firm Goupil and Co. located at the Hague in Belgium and was later transferred to the London and Paris galleries. He quickly learned all the painters and their personal styles, along with what makes a piece of art valuable. In fact, he actually learned too well! If a customer became interested in purchasing a poorly done painting, Van Gogh would explain why it was junk. He was even known to be argumentative with clients. Van Gogh was fired from the art firm and with the help of his relatives, he temporarily took a position as an assistant teacher and curate.
Following his failure as an art dealer, Van Gogh wrote to his sister, Wilhelmina Van Gogh, that the galleries and art firms (1) "are in the clutches of fellows who intercept all the money" and that only "one-tenth of all business that is transacted... is really done out of belief in art." During this period he fell in love for the first time and openly showed his love for Eugenia, a respectable, upperclass woman. Eugenia was insulted by his unwanted advances and harshly refused him. Van Gogh's inability to read the intent and emotions of others caused him to fail to see that she had no feelings for him. This made the second major failure for Van Gogh.
After his short period as a teacher he returned home to Holland for a visit to his parents and decided to stay. While working as a clerk for a bookseller, he rented a room with a family named Rijken. Mrs. Rijken said that she had to scold numerous kids for taunting Vincent, calling him(3) "a queer freak." He was only 24 years old at the time.
When Vincent realized that he was inadequate as a teacher and bookseller, he became desperate to find work. His parents didn't want to continue supporting their oldest son, who was a failure in their eyes. This made Van Gogh decide ro fulfil his father's wish of him becoming a minister. In Amsterdam he began studying for the University entrance exams in theology, but soon found he couldn't learn the required math and foreign languages. With a relative's help he entered an evangelical school in Brussels and became a missionary in the Borinage,a mining district in Belgium.
Van Gogh found his personal calling working with the miners
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Modern art, Post-Impressionism, Vincent van Gogh, Van Goghs family in his art, Sien, Early works of Vincent van Gogh, Portraits by Vincent van Gogh
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