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Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous painters the Netherlands has ever known. Van Gogh only decided he wanted to paint when he was 27 years old. In a span of ten years he makes 900 paintings and 1,100 works on paper. He also leaves 902 letters, many of which were addressed to his brother Theo. Van Gogh wrote several of these letters in Drenthe, where he stayed for three months in 1883.
Van Gogh was born in 1853 in the village of Zundert in Brabant. At age 16, he leaves for the Hague to work for his uncle, who manages the The Hague branch of the French art and prints dealership Goupil & Cie. This is where Van Gogh first encounters paintings and drawings.
After being fired in 1876, he tries to make a living as a teacher and a minister's assistant in England. He wants to become a minister like his father, but does not complete the training. In 1879, Van Gogh is 26 then, he is sent to a poor mining village in Belgium as a missionary. Moved by the terrible poverty he sees there, he starts to draw and paint the rough miners. His brother Theo is impressed by his work and advises him to become an artist.
Love for the Countryside
Van Gogh returns to his parents in Brabant, where he paints the rural environment and local farmers. In 1881 he travels to The Hague, where he takes drawing and painting classes. It's there that he realises he doesn't want to work in the city, but prefers the countryside. Inspired by his friend Anthon van Rappard and the painter Max Liebermann, Van Gogh decides to travel to Drenthe by train.
Van Gogh arrives in Hoogeveen on 11 September 1883 and moves into the guest house of Albertus Hartsuiker. After two weeks, he takes the horse-drawn canal both to the south east, toward Nieuw Amsterdam/Veenoord. There he stays in the guest house of Hendrik Scholte (1841-1915), from where he explores the area and takes a day trip to Zweeloo. During his stay in Drenthe, Van Gogh painted and drew forty works, the most famous being 'Drawbridge in Nieuw-Amsterdam'.
The wild, uncultivated Drenthe landscape and simple rural life leave an indelible impression on Van Gogh. He writes about it in his letters to his brother Theo: 'it is so strange here, so quiet, so peaceful. I can find no other word for it than peace (...) It is a matter of wanting something entirely new, embarking on a kind of recreation of yourself. He even asks his brother to quit his job and join him in Drenthe.
But his brother, who works in the Paris branch of Goupil & Cie, stays where he is. Van Gogh visits him in 1886. Paris is where he is first introduced to impressionism, a refined style of painting with light and colour. In 1888 he rents a studio in the South of France, where he paints colourful landscapes and self-portraits.
Van Gogh suffers from depressions and mental health problems. When the French artist Paul Gauguin comes to stay with him, Van Gogh threatens him with a razor. Later he uses the knife to cut off a piece of his left ear. His mental health continues to decline, and Van Gogh has himself committed in a psychiatric institution. In 1890 Van Gogh ends his own life.
Van Gogh did not become world renowned until after his death. Today his works are worth millions. His work ‘L’Arlésienne’, for example, was auctioned for 33.9 million euros in 2006. Other famous works by Van Gogh include The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House, Sunflowers, The Bedroom, Wheatfield with Crows, Starry Night, and Café Terrace at Night.