The rapid evolution of a style characterized by canvases filled with swirling, bright colors depicting
people and nature is the essence of Vincent Van Gogh's extremely prolific but tragically short career.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in Holland, son of a Dutch Protestant pastor
and eldest of six children. His favorite brother Theo was four years younger. When Vincent was twelve to
sixteen years old, he went to a boarding school. That next year he was sent to The Hague to work for an
uncle who was an art dealer, but van Gogh was unsuited for a business career. Actually, his early interests
were in literature and religion. Very dissatisfied with the way people made money and imbued with a
strong sense of mission, he worked for a while as a lay preacher among proverty-stricken miners. Van
Gogh represented the religious society that trained him in a poor coal-mining district in Belgium. Vincent
took his work so seriously that he went without food and other necessities so he could give more to the
poor. The missionary society objected to Vincent's behavior and fired him in 1879. Heartsick, van Gogh
struggled to keep going socially and fin!
ancially, yet he was always rejected by other people, and felt lost and forsaken.
Then, in 1880, at age 27, he became obsessed with art. The intensity he had for religion, he now focused
on art. His early drawings were crude but strong and full of feeling: "It is a hard and a difficult struggle to
learn to draw well... I have worked like a slave ...." His first paintings had been still lifes and scenes of
peasants at work. "That which fills my head and heart must be expressed in drawings and in pictures...I'm
in a rage of work."
In 1881, he moved to Etten. He very much liked pictures of peasant life and labor. Jean-Francois Millet
was the first to paint this as a main theme and his works influenced van Gogh. His first paintings here were
crude but improving. Van Gogh's progress was interrupted by an intense love for his widowed cousin Kee
Vos. On her decisive rejection of him he pursued her to Amsterdam, only to suffer more humiliation.
Anton Mauve, a leading member of the Hague school was a cousin of van Gogh's mother. This
opportunity to be taught by him encouraged van Gogh to settle in Den Hague with Theo's support. When
van Gogh left Den Hague in September 1883 for the northern fenland of Drenth, he did so with mixed
feelings. He spent hours wandering the countryside, making sketches of the landscape, but began to feel
isolated and concerned about the future. He had rented a little attic in a house but found it melancholy, and
was depressed with the quality of his equipment. "Everything is too miserable, too insufficient, too
Physically and mentally unable to cope with these conditions any longer, he left for his parents' new
home in Nuenen in December 1883. Van Gogh had a phase in which he loved to paint birds and bird's
nests. This phase did not last long. It only lasted until his father's death six months later. "The Family
Bible" which he painted just before leaving his house for good, six months after his father's death in 1885,
must have meant a great deal to him. Van Gogh had broken with Christianity when he was fired from the
missionary which proved to be the most painful experience of his life, and one from which he never quite
At Nuenen, van Gogh gave active physical toil a remarkable reality. It's impact went far beyond what
the realist Gustave Corbet had achieved and beyond even the quasi-religious images of Jean-Francois
Millet. He made a number of studies of peasant hands and heads before embarking on what would be his
most important work at Nuenen. The pinnacle of his work in Holland was The Potato Eaters, a scene
painted in April 1885 that shows the working day to be over. It was the last and most ambitious painting of
his pre-Impressionist period, 1880-1885. When van Gogh painted the The Potato Eaters, he had not yet
discovered the importance of color.
Van Gogh went to Antwerp in November 1885, partly to escape local gossip. He vainly attempted to
make money from painting portraits,