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Vincent van Gogh: Five things to know

As the revolver with which Vincent van Gogh is believed to have shot himself goes under the hammer on Wednesday, here are five things to know about the acclaimed artist.

– France: most creative period –
Born to a middle-class Dutch family in 1853, Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886, joining his brother Theo who ran an art gallery in Montmartre.

He spent the most prolific years of his career in France, inspired by his friends Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard, and meetings with Impressionists Georges Seurat, Camille Pissaro and Paul Signac.

Attracted by the bright light of Provence in southern France, he moved to the small town of Arles in 1888.

His Post-Impressionist friend Paul Gauguin stayed with him in his “Yellow House” for several months.

After a year in a mental asylum, Van Gogh passed the last months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris.

There he was under the care of doctor and amateur painter Paul Gauchet, the subject of a famous 1890 portrait.

– Vivid colours –
Hugely inspired by the works of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists but not respecting their rules, Van Gogh developed a unique style.

As a young man, he studied Dutch painting and admired English engraving and Japanese woodcuts, which he collected with his brother.

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His fascination with Japan can be seen in his splashes of vivid colours and use of black, which was avoided by pure Impressionists.

He applied the colours with energetic brush strokes, with paint often undiluted on the palette.

– Mental illness –
In 1888, after a fierce argument with Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off part of an ear in a fit of madness, offering it to a prostitute as a gift.

He was admitted to a mental asylum in Saint-Remy-en-Provence where he convalesced for a year.

He produced some of his biggest masterpieces during this period of intense creativity, characterised by swirling and spiralling motifs, like “The Starry Night” (1889).

He left the asylum in May 1890. Several months later he shot himself with a revolver in Auvers, dying two days afterwards on July 29, 1890, aged 37.

– Posthumous recognition –
Supported financially during his life by his brother, to whom he regularly sent canvases, Van Gogh enjoyed only moderate recognition in his last years.

He sold only one painting during his lifetime, “The Red Vineyard at Arles” (1888).

His brother’s widow Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, who organised several exhibitions, played a key role in his posthumous recognition which accelerated between the two World Wars.

In 1930 an exhibition of his work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was visited by 120,000 people.

Today on show in the world’s biggest museums, his brilliant artistic career and personality have created a mythical figure that continues to inspire and has been the subject of films, songs and cartoons.

– Rare at auction –
Van Gogh is one of the most expensive Impressionist and modern artists, with 12 of his works having gone for more than $30 million at auction.

In 2017 “Laboureur dans un champ” (1889) went under the hammer for $81.3 million.

His output of about 2,000 pieces, of which 900 are paintings, are mainly held in museum collections, which means they are a rarity on the art market.

“There are no more than two or three auctions of Van Gogh works in the world each year,” the French auction house Artcurial said in Paris in 2018, when presenting one the works from his youth.

VANGUARD

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