Vincent van Gogh

Look Ma, no ear
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Francisco Serrador

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Vincent van Gogh’s first career choice was actually in missionary work. The angsty artist soon however, became disillusioned with organized religion.

Van Gogh felt that it did more to help the church than actually do anything to help the poor. We might be in agreement. The artist would know as a member of the poorer class himself. Though he painted over 800 paintings, he was only able to sell one of them in his lifetime. He wrote: “I can't change the fact that my paintings don't sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.” The man was right. As of this writing, only fifteen paintings have ever been sold for more than $100 million. Van Gogh painted six of them.

Local townspeople in Arles, France called Van Gogh "fou roux" or "red madman". Insensitive really, as van Gogh's mental state landed him in an insane asylum on several occasions, and led him to cut off part of his ear, wrap it in a piece of cloth, and give it to a prostitute for "safekeeping". Several theories have been proposed for van Gogh’s personality issues: schizophrenia, syphilis, porphyria, bipolar disorder, and temporal lobe epilepsy. A possible contributing factor was that van Gogh occasionally ate his paints, which had bases of copper, arsenic, lead, and mercury.

He died from a gunshot wound to the stomach when he was only 37. There is a debate about whether it was suicide or murder (the gun was never found), but either way, he never got to see the adulation his paintings eventually received and all the media his life inspired:

  • You can read more about the murder theory in Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s biography "Van Gogh: The Life."
  • He's featured in Irving Stone’s 1934 "Lust for Life" and subsequent 1956 movie adaptation featuring Kirk Douglas. 
  • Don McLean's 1972 mega-hit "Starry Starry Night" captures the tragedy of van Gogh's life perfectly.
  • In an episode of the British cult-classic "Doctor Who," van Gogh fought actual monsters rather than ones in his mind.
  • Google Doodle-d him for his 152 birthday! 

Vincent van Gogh is mentioned on Sartle Blog -