Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and a failure.
He became famous after his suicide, and exists in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius, the artist where discourses on madness and creativity converge.
Born into an upper-middle-class family, Van Gogh drew as a child and was serious, quiet and thoughtful. As a young man he worked as an art dealer, often travelling, but became depressed after he was transferred to London.
He drifted in ill health and solitude before taking up painting in 1881. His younger brother Theo supported him financially, and the two kept up a long correspondence by letter.
Who am I in the eyes of most people. A nobody, a non-entity, an unpleasant person. Someone who has not, and never will have, any position in society, in short the lowest of the low. Well then, even if that was all absolutely true, one day I would like to show by my work, what this non-entity has in his heart.
Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo in 1882
In 1886, he moved to Paris, where he met members of the avant-garde, who were reacting against the Impressionist sensibility. As his work developed he created a new approach to still lifes and local landscapes.
His paintings grew brighter in colour as he developed a style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in the south of France in 1888.
During this period he broadened his subject matter to include series of olive trees, wheat fields and sunflowers.
Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, did not eat properly and drank heavily.
His friendship with Gauguin ended after a confrontation with a razor, when in a rage, he severed part of his own left ear. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals.
After he discharged himself and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homoeopathic doctor Paul Gachet.
His depression continued and on 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He died from his injuries two days later, in the early hours of 29 July. According to Theo, Vincent’s last words were:
The sadness will last forever.