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IST 605: Vincent van Gogh

An Overview of van Gogh's Life and Art Career

Introduction to LibGuide

This guide will help undergraduate students who are seeking a general survey of Vincent Van Gogh’s life, work, and legacy with an emphasis on his work as a painter and artist.

You will be able to understand his artistic achievements, as well as some background on his family, and his personal struggles of mental illness and alcoholism.

  • In the introduction, you will also find guidelines on how to do additional research on this topic as well as databases to survey.
  • The biography lists some important facts about van Gogh’s life as well as two very important family members: his brother Theo and sister-in law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. Both Theo and Johanna contributed to our understanding of van Gogh’s life and art, and promoted him extensively during and after Vincent’s early death. Since van Gogh did not sell much of his work while alive, the efforts of his family were crucial to bringing his art to the public.
  • The artistic accomplishments section discusses his role in post-impressionism and the legacy of his creative endeavors and in popular culture.
  • We’ve also provided numerous videos, books and other more 'fun' and less scholarly resources, as well as a Reference page so you may explore this topic independently.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1889. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Vincent van GoghSelf-Portrait, 1889. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Start with Vincent van Gogh or van Gogh. 

You may want to combine with the words below. For example: Vincent van Gogh AND watercolors. Van Gogh AND memoir OR letters

Words related to biography: memoir, narrative, personal narrative, letters, epistolary, correspondence

Words related to art: Art Media, acrylic, chalk, charcoal, ink, mixed media, oil, watercolors, woodcuts, Post impressionism, van Gogh paintings, Starry Night, van Gogh Sunflowers, van Gogh self portraits, Dutch Painter

Family: Theo van Gogh, Joanna van Gogh, Van Gogh, van Gogh relatives OR family

Related keywords: van Gogh mental illness, van Gogh ear, van Gogh and Gaugin, van Gogh and other artists

Base your search on the aspect of van Gogh's life or work that you are seeking information about. 

Below you will see some databases that will be useful as you search for scholarly information

There are other databases that may be helpful to you in your search for scholarly information about Vincent van Gogh that can be accessed through the University at Albany database finder:

We recommend searching for articles or books several ways: 1) within these databases 2) by using keywords to look for articles in UAlbany's Discovery Platform (also known as Primo) 3) on Google Scholar, as opposed to just searching Google search engine, to find quality scholarly articles. 

-van Gogh topics range from art to psychology to culture.  Once you know what research topic you want to pursue narrow down by topic as well

-there is a wealth of van Gogh material that is not scholarly.  If you want scholarly articles do make sure you check peer reviewed

-you may want to start with dictionary, encyclopedias,  and biographical information first to get a big picture look at van Gogh's life before deciding on a more specific research idea. 

Remember that you can always ask for research help from a librarian!



Vincent van Gogh's life and art have been the subject of numerous books, movies and countless exhibitions.

At age 27, after trying a few professions, van Gogh decided to dedicate himself to art. "Over the course of his decade-long career (1880–90), he produced nearly 900 paintings and more than 1,100 works on paper. Ironically, in 1890, he modestly assessed his artistic legacy as of “very secondary” importance." (Met Museum, 2004)

The artist struggled in his life and wanted to be understood. He was the eldest son of six children and at age 16 van Gogh "was apprenticed to The Hague branch of the art dealers Goupil and Co., of which his uncle was a partner." (Britannica). 

Many topics interested Vincent- especially religion, literature, and art. He was very close to one sibling - Theo (see next tab), but was primarily a loner.

Vincent van Gogh suffered from intense psychotic episodes that have been attributed to alcoholism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia, among other things. It is widely believed that his lifestyle, which included a lack of sleep and significant drinking, contributed to worse mental health. Vincent was also chronically poor and malnourished as most of his biographers note, which makes most health matters more challenging. 

As Buckley (2017) writes: 

it seems most likely to me that Van Gogh suffered from a recurrent bipolar illness that at times may have intensified perception and thus found its way into the intense and unusual use of color in his paintings. 

His mental illness also lead to his death by suicide, though there is controversy on this topic as well since not everyone believes it was a self inflicted wound. However, the overall consensus is that, "Vincent van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, from an apparent gunshot wound to the belly sustained approximately 30 hours earlier on July 27." (Arenberg et al, 2020)

Listen to this summary for more on his life.


Theo van Gogh was Vincent's younger brother and a successful art dealer who also become Vincent's best friend and confidante.  They were so close that in 1914, Theo's widow Jo Bonger van Gogh reburied Theo's remains next to Vincent's.

Kelly Richman (2020) writes:

"Theo's success as a dealer of contemporary paintings, sculptures, and graphic design greatly contrasted the career trajectory of his older brother. At 27 years old, Vincent had only just decided to pursue a career in painting after failed stints as a school employee, a bookshop worker, a student of theology, and a lay preacher. Aware of his older brother's struggles, Theo selflessly strived to financially support Vincent, helping him to buy art supplies. “You speak of money which you owe me, and which you want to give back to me,” he wrote in 1888. “I won't hear of it. The condition I want you to arrive at is that you should not have any worries.” (Richman, 2020)

When you read his letters to Theo, you get a real sense of his philosophical outlook and the deep well of creativity that he had.  Learn more about their relationship.




Theo van Gogh died at aged 33, his health having declined rapidly after Vincent's death.

Theo worked hard to raise public awareness of his brother’s work and now Jo would go on to do the same, in memory of her husband.

In her lifetime, Jo did the following:

  • became editor and translator of the letters between the brothers
  • "pursued contacts with artists, critics, and intellectuals associated with the Dutch artistic journal De nieuwe gids (The New Guide) and beyond to better understand the artistic milieu and nascent social awareness from which Vincent’s singular genius emerged." (Shilliam, 2021)
  • organized  several Van Gogh exhibitions in Europe and the United States
  • was the main curator of Vincent's work.

Read more on her own words:

Artistic Accomplishments

As the authors of the Getty Institute put it, though van Gogh studied briefly in Antwerp and Paris, "he was largely self-taught."  This self-taught master has influenced many fellow artists and left a lasting artistic legacy.

"He ultimately chose to live in the country, and most of his paintings capture his deep affinity for nature. Theo, an art dealer, introduced Vincent to Paris's most advanced painters, and his work changed under the influences of Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The flatness of color and shape in Japanese woodcuts also inspired him.

Van Gogh's color expressed his emotions as he responded to the world. His insistence on color's expressive possibilities led him to develop a corresponding expressiveness in applying pigment. His brushstrokes of thick, opaque paint almost seem drawn. His often violently interacting colors and forms and strong expressive line influenced nearly every artistic movement that came after him: Symbolism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and beyond." (Getty 2022)

Source: Getty Institute


Per Oxford Art Online:

Post-Impressionism is a term used to describe the reaction in the 1880s against Impressionism. It was led by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. The Post-Impressionists rejected Impressionism’s concern with the spontaneous and naturalistic rendering of light and color. Instead they favored an emphasis on more symbolic content, formal order and structure. Similar to the Impressionists, however, they stressed the artificiality of the picture. The Post-Impressionists also believed that color could be independent from form and composition as an emotional and aesthetic bearer of meaning. Both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism include some of the most famous works of modern art such as Monet’s Waterlilies, a Series of Waterscapes and van Gogh’s Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh searched for personal expression in his art, and is often also considered the father of expressionism (see Legacy tab).


The major legacy of Vincent van Gogh is his large body of work. 

Per the van Gogh Museum, "His legacy was a large body of art works: over 850 paintings and almost 1,300 works on paper."

Van Gogh is also considered one of the pioneers and founders of the expressionism movement (Johnson, n.d.):

The expressionists imbued spiritual life and energy into their paintings, often feeling dynamic and moving. Something which the beautiful scenes depicted by expressionism lacked. The artists often focused on feeling and depicted their anxieties, fears, worries, and frustrations.

Van Gogh was notorious for making his paintings deeply personal. For example, Van Gogh had a breakdown at one point in his life and is famous for cutting off his own ear. He immediately painted a self-portrait and checked himself into a mental hospital.

His work exerted a powerful influence on the development of much modern art (Brittanica, n.d.)  but they also state that a large part of his legacy may be how we've come to see the role of artists, specifically, the myth of the tortured artist, which has become prevalent in popular culture:

Van Gogh’s fame dates from the early years of the 20th century, and since then his reputation has never ceased to grow. A large part of this reputation is based on the image of van Gogh as a struggling genius, working unappreciated in isolation. The dramatic elements of his life—poverty, self-mutilation, mental breakdown, and suicide—feed the drama of this mythology. The notion that his unorthodox talent was unrecognized and rejected by society heightens the legend, as it is just that sort of isolation and struggle that has come to define the modern concept of the artist. This mythical van Gogh has become almost inseparable from his art, inspiring artists to dramatize his saga in poems, novels, films, operas, dance ensembles, orchestral compositions, and a popular song.

Videos Worth Watching

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