Every Sunday morning, Vincent would put on his best clothes. When he was ready, he would walk to the small, red brick church where his father was the pastor. On the way, he would pass a burial ground, and he would see stones and grave markers. And on one gray stone, he would read the words: Vincent van Gogh. This was his name. But it was also the name of his older brother, who was born dead. And strangely, these two brothers (one alive and one dead) were born on the same date, exactly one year apart.
How did this make Vincent feel? His mother and father had lost their beloved son. Could Vincent fill that empty place in their hearts? His mother was deeply saddened by her loss. Could Vincent comfort her and take away her pain? Could he replace her firstborn son? Many scholars have asked these questions, and we will never know the answers. But this story captures for us the painful and ironic life of Vincent van Gogh.
Today, Vincent van Gogh’s paintings shine as some of the greatest art treasures of all time. But during his life, he sold only one painting. His art was not appreciated while he was alive, and he was rejected by friends, lovers, and artists. He lived his life for art, and often in poverty. But ironically, today many of his paintings have sold for incredible prices. Eleven of his paintings are in the 110 most expensive paintings of all time. They have been sold for a total of nearly 500 million dollars.
Vincent grew up in an artistic and religious family. At the age of 16, he worked with an uncle who was an art dealer. He did this for six years, but Vincent was hard to work with, and his uncle had to let him go. After this, Vincent tried to follow his father’s example. His father was a pastor who met the spiritual needs of people. Vincent tried to serve poor people in Belgium and teach them about faith. But he did not conform to traditional methods, and for this, leaders rejected him. On top of these failures, Vincent also was rejected by the women he loved. Wherever he turned, he found rejection.
Finally, around the age of 27, he began painting. At first, his paintings were dark, but as Vincent travelled and learned from others, his paintings began to shine with vivid color and emotional impact. In his life, he produced around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings. But through it all, he struggled with mental illness. When he was 36 years old, he became very sad and could not paint. This was difficult because he was at the peak of his ability. As he became sadder and sadder, on July 27, 1890, he walked into a field and shot himself in the chest. Two days later, Vincent van Gogh died.
As he was dying, he spoke these words to his younger brother Theo. “The sadness never ends.”