In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vincent van Gogh

  • Introduction
  • The Letters
  • Overviews of the Oeuvre by Period
  • Materiality, Process, Technique
  • Artistic Strategies: Van Gogh’s Positioning of His Oeuvre
  • Biography

Art History Vincent van Gogh
Cornelia Homburg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0112


Vincent van Gogh (b. 1858–d. 1890) must be considered the most widely known painter of the 19th century—for his art as much as his life and suicide. Turning artist only at the age of twenty-seven, he was largely self-taught, though his prior training as art dealer, infatuation with religion, and a life-long passion for literature had a profound impact on his art. Van Gogh spent most of the first half of his career between the rural environs of his parents’ home and The Hague where he was in contact with members of The Hague School. His work was influenced by his admiration for the School of Barbizon, in particular Jean-François Millet, and his objective to become a painter of peasant life. In 1886, after a brief stay in Antwerp, he settled in Paris where he soon participated in the contemporary art scene. He associated with Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists, and other artists such as Emile Bernard and John Russell. Moving to Arles in early 1888, he developed his personal brand of intensely colored, expressive art while articulating his ambitions and artistic allegiances in his many letters. His admiration for Rembrandt and Delacroix, as well as Japanese art, motivated his ideas, as did his two-month-long collaboration with Paul Gauguin at the end of 1888. Despite his mental breakdown and ensuing year-long isolation in the asylum of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Van Gogh continued to pursue his art with impressive clarity of mind. Interrupted by periods of illness and frequently shaken in his confidence, he created ambitious works that garnered attention in avant-garde circles. With the help of his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, he continued to exhibit, and critics began to take note of his work. In July 1890, after three months of immense creativity in Auvers-sur-Oise outside Paris, Van Gogh committed suicide. Soon after his death his fame began to rise swiftly to a star status that had a far-reaching impact on the imagination of both artists and the general public. As a result, the Van Gogh literature is vast. Many early publications, while often insightful and informative, promoted the image of Van Gogh as a mad genius, and his personality and suicide heavily influenced the analysis of his oeuvre. In the second half of the 20th century, a new generation of researchers began to concentrate more on the painter’s work and its social and cultural context, distancing the oeuvre from the persona. Studies of the artist’s relationships with his contemporaries, his models, and his ambitions as a modern painter have further corrected the popular image of the isolated artist. Important work focuses on the investigation of the artist’s ideas and concept of his work. Often growing out of dissertation research, much of this newer material has been published in exhibition catalogs, next to articles and books. The recent collection catalogs of the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) and the Kroeller Mueller Museum (Otterlo) provide a wealth of fresh information. Among the most useful publications is the new edition of Van Gogh’s letters both in print and online.

Catalogues Raisonnes and Collection Catalogs

The two catalogues raisonnes, De la Faille 1970 and Hulsker 1996, remain relevant, also because their basic information has been reproduced online. However, it must be noted that much new information has come to light since their last publication. The more recent collection catalogs of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the Kroeller Mueller Museum, Otterlo, are more up to date and thorough in their analysis and contextualizing of individual works of art. Here it is helpful to keep in mind that even if these two museums together own the vast majority of works by Van Gogh, the research is focused on these collections and by necessity does not always take into account other works. Those can be difficult to reach or study while they often play a critical role in the artist’s oeuvre. Also, other publications such as of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Annenberg collection are worth noting here.

  • De la Faille, Jacob-Baart. The Works of Vincent van Gogh: His Paintings and Drawings. Edited by Abraham M. Hammacher, Jan G. van Gelder, and W. Jos de Gruyter. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff International, 1970.

    De la Faille was the first to establish a catalog of Van Gogh’s work in the 1920s. It went through numerous revisions, the latest posthumously in 1970. Unfortunately, the committee of the 1970 edition chose a rather cumbersome format that remains difficult to use. Nevertheless, despite the need for updated information, the volume contains a vast amount of information and background material.

  • Hulsker, Jan. The New Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches: Revised and Enlarged Edition of the Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Vincent van Gogh. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1075/z.77

    Originally published in Dutch as Van Gogh en zijn weg in 1977 and translated into English as The Complete Van Gogh in 1980. This diligent researcher and admirer of the artist decided that an alternative to the de la Faille edition was needed and produced his own oeuvre catalog. It is easier to use and combines paintings and drawings in chronological order. However, it also contains at times confusing speculation about the authenticity of works and, like De la Faille 1970, it is no longer up to date.

  • Vincent van Gogh Gallery. Edited by David Brooks.

    David Brooks had the good idea to create a catalogue raisonne online and based his information primarily on De la Faille 1970 and Hulsker 1996. It is possible to search under F and JH numbers and to find a host of other information. The author is not, nor claims to be, an art historian, and his material follows sources published by others. Most of the content of his website appeared again on another, more commercial site edited by Templeton Reid, the Van Gogh Gallery.

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