Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh (1887)
Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh (1887) Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva

Culture Re-View: Van Gogh's 170th birthday, how his reputation grew

By Jonny Walfisz
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The popular tale goes that Van Gogh died in obscurity. It's not completely accurate.


30 March 1853: Happy Birthday Van Gogh

Were he still alive today, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh would be celebrating his 170th birthday. Born in Groot-Zundert, a town in the south of the Netherlands, Van Gogh’s life would take him from his home through Western Europe, first as an art dealer, then a painter among early Post-Impressionists. He moved to the south of France in the late 1880s where he was in and out of psychiatric care. Finally, he died in 1890 from a gunshot wound, believed to be self-inflicted.

Throughout his life, and particularly in his final years, Van Gogh painted prolifically, using a signature vivid colour palette. While alive, he was never a famous man, often subsisting on the financial support of his brother Theo. After his death though, Van Gogh’s reputation grew. 

Today, he’s considered one of the finest painters to have ever lived.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (1889)Canva

In fact, Van Gogh’s reputation had been on the up in his final years. In 1890, his work was exhibited by the Brussels avant-garde group Les XX and praised in a literary magazine. Thanks to these in-roads, Van Gogh’s work was exhibited in memorial exhibitions across Brussels, Paris, the Hague and Antwerp in 1891.

Vase with 12 Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh (1888-1889)Canva

Over the following years, more exhibitions would follow and Van Gogh’s influence would spread. When the then-unknown Henri Matisse was gifted a Van Gogh drawing in 1896, it convinced Matisse to adopt a brighter colour palette.

Matisse founded Fauvism, the 20th century artistic movement with fellow artists André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, who both attended a Paris retrospective of Van Gogh’s work in 1901.

Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent van Gogh (1890)Canva

Today, Van Gogh’s work is celebrated around the world. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh room in Paris’s Musée d'Orsay and the National Gallery in London are must-visits to see his work. 

Beyond art museums, his life and work is regularly turned into interactive art installations, and was the subject of the astounding 2017 film Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully painted animated feature film. For sci-fi fans, the episode of Doctor Who where they meet him is also the biggest tearjerker of the entire show.

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