30th March 2019 will mark the 166th anniversary of the death of Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.
Although he was just 37 years old when he took his own life, during his tragically short career, Van Gogh created some of the world’s best known and best-loved paintings including Sunflowers, Starry Night and Irises.
Think of Van Gogh’s work, and what images come into your mind? Almost certainly they’ll include the sun-warmed villages and countryside of Provence, fields of swaying wheat ripening under blue skies, moonlit towns sleeping beneath star-studded heavens – and of course, vases overflowing with heavy-headed sunflowers.
Van Gogh’s paintings depict a world of intense colours and strong light: a world that might in the first instance appear to be a long way from Britain, and the mists, rain and grey skies for which our island is infamous.
It may come as something of a surprise then to learn that Britain played an important part in inspiring Van Gogh. As a young man, he lived in Britain between 1873-76, initially working as a trainee art dealer in London’s Covent Garden, later as a teacher in Ramsgate and Isleworth.
It’s an intriguing chapter in Van Gogh’s story and one that will be told in an exciting major new exhibition being held at Tate Britain next month. From 27th March to 11th August 2019, Van Gogh and Britain will explore how Van Gogh was inspired by the time he spent in this country, and the influence he had on British artists.
Bringing together nearly 50 works from around the world, the exhibition will be the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings seen in the UK for almost a decade. It will be an opportunity to get up close to some of his best-known works including Starry Night on the Rhône, L'Arlésienne, and Sunflowers.
Born in 1853, Van Gogh is arguably one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. Following in the footsteps of impressionist pioneers like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, and Paul Cezanne, Van Gogh took the movement’s philosophy to a new level through his use of bold colours – especially golds, yellows, blues and greys - and by his distinctive technique of applying paint in swirling brushstrokes.
Remarkably, it was not until he was 27 – only ten years before he died, that Van Gogh decided to become an artist. With the financial support of his brother Theo, he taught himself to draw and paint.
After moving to Paris in 1886 to join his brother, Vincent was introduced to many other artists including Edgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Camille Pissarro and Paul Gauguin, and under the influence of Impressionism, his style of painting became brighter and bolder.
In 1888, Van Gogh relocated to Arles in southern France, and it was here that he painted what are now some of his most famous works, including the Sunflower series.
Between flashes of creative brilliance and frenetic productivity however, Vincent was haunted by demons. He invited his good friend Paul Gauguin to come and work with him in Provence, but they argued, and Van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor. Distraught, and appalled by his own actions, Vincent turned on himself and sliced off part of his own ear. It was the first serious sign of the mental illness and periods of depression that would plague him for the rest of his life.
On 27 July 1890, again suffering from depression, Van Gogh shot himself, dying from his wound two days later.
It’s a sad fact that during his own lifetime, only one of Vincent’s paintings – Red Vineyard at Arles (currently at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow) was sold. The rest of Van Gogh's more than 900 paintings were not sold or made famous until after his death.