He’s one of the most beloved and highly esteemed artists in history, but Vincent van Gogh has always been something of a mystery. From cutting off his ear to his complex state of mind, the iconic painter was quite the enigma. Here are 10 things you may be surprised to learn about van Gogh.
- He likely suffered a number of mental illnesses – Modern scholars believe van Gogh exhibited signs of schizophrenia, syphilis, manic depression, hypergraphia, Gershwind syndrome, temporal lobe epilepsy and fell somewhere on the autism spectrum.
- He didn’t pick up a paint brush till 27 – Van Gogh only decided to start painting and drawing after a string of failed jobs, including as an art dealer, teacher, bookstore worker and pastor.
- He lived with a prostitute – When he moved to The Hague, van Gogh began living with a prostitute named Sien, whom he fell in love with and drew many portraits of. Their relationship never worked out, however, as van Gogh’s brother believed she was driving the family apart.
- The paintings we see today are different colours – Like many artists at the time, van Gogh used an unstable pigment called “chrome yellow”, which tends to fade and become brown over time. That means his colourful landscapes would have been even more vibrant.
- He loved a good selfie – Yep, more than a century before “selfies” were event invented, van Gogh proved he was ahead of the curve, painting an impressive 43 self-portraits. Rather than vanity, however, many believe this was because he couldn’t afford professional models and had no friends to pose for his artworks.
- It’s believed he had a homosexual relationship with Paul Gauguin – According to Harvard Magazine, van Gogh and famous post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin lived together in the South of France and enjoyed a “stormy homosexual affair” which involved “endless, often argumentative discussions.”
- Some speculate Gauguin drove van Gogh to cut off his ear – Everyone’s heard of van Gogh’s infamous self-surgery, but certain scholars believe it was an argument with Gauguin that led him to accidentally slice off part of his own ear instead of wounding Gauguin.
- Most of his art was created in a mental hospital – Starry Night, perhaps van Gogh’s most well-known artwork, was just one of many to be painted while in rehabilitation at a French mental asylum, where he checked himself in after a mental breakdown in 1888.
- He may have been murdered – It’s widely believed that van Gogh was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot, but some biographers claim he was accidentally shot in the stomach by a teenage boy who used to mock him.
- His sister-in-law made him a star – Johanna, the wife of van Gogh’s brother Theo, inherited hundreds of paintings after Vincent and Theo passed away, and decided to start promoting his work at exhibitions. Her son later founded the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
Tell us in the comments below, have you ever seen any van Gogh paintings up close and personal? Which is your favourite?