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The Netherlands 1940. Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait.
(1853-1890)
The Netherlands 1954. Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait.

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Vincent Willem Van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch painter, who exemplified the idea of the artist as a  tortured genius.  He was born in Zundert, the Netherlands, on March 30, 1853, son of the Protestant minister Theodorus van Gogh.   

About 1881, when he was still living in poverty in the Borinage, van Gogh’s interests moved towards art rather than the Church, more so after he visited the painter Jules Breton, who depicted peasants and whom, with Jean-François Millet, van Gogh took as a model.  

In 1881, he returned to live with his parents, now residing in Etten, in Brabant, and began to concentrate on his career as a professional artist. He was mostly self-taught, using prints, especially those of Millet, to copy from. His early work developed very slowly, however, showing little of the originality and skilful technique so evident in his later, famous works. 

  • Aden-Kathiri 1968. Lieutenant Millet.  

Aden-Kathiri 1968. Vincent van Gogh. Lieutenant Millet.

Aden-Kathiri 1968. Vincent van Gogh. The Postman Roulin from Arles.

From this time, van Gogh was supported financially by his brother Theo, and with whom van Gogh maintained a close correspondence, in which he described in detail his daily life and the ideas for his works. 

To realize his long-held ideal of becoming a painter of the working people, van Gogh moved in 1888 to Arles, in Provence, where some of his most famous works, rendered in intensely bright colours and an expressionistic style, were painted. These include portraits of local people, such as the Postman Roulin (1888, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) shown to the left.

  • Aden-Kathiri 1968.  The Postman Roulin from Arles. 
Aden-Kathiri 1968. Vincent van Goth. La Mousmée.

Viet Nam 1990. Vincent van Gogh. Madame Ginoux.

Aden-Kathiri 1968. Vincent van Gogh. A Schoolboy.

The artist's love of nature and peasant life had its roots in his early childhood, and became one of the central themes of his life. His father, Theodorus van Gogh, had been a minister in the Groningen sect of the Dutch Reformed Church, whose members celebrated God's divine presence in the natural world. 

This belief system made him value the importance of manual labor and the divinity of nature, and he incorporated these themes into his work, which resulted in his creation of a body of work dedicated, in part, to the art of landscape painting, where he associates the landscape with the presence of God. 

Evidence of this is found in Van Gogh's own writings, in which he reminisced about his childhood love of nature: “Has everybody been thoughtful as a child, has everyone who has seen them really loved the heath, fields, meadow, woods.” 

  • Czech Republic 1993. "Lavenders". Image by courtesy of Gerhard Batz (Germany). 

Czech Republic 1993. Vincent van Gogh. Lavenders.

Romania 1991. Vincent van Gogh. Iris. Romania 1991. Vincent van Gogh. Orchard.

After several failed attempts at various careers, in 1883 Van Gogh returned home to the Netherlands  where he decided to become an artist. Here he depicted the Dutch countryside of Drenthe. He felt that the land had a timeless quality, which harkened back to a purer, simpler time before the rise of modern industrialization. 

He wrote, “If you come to the remote back county of Drenthe…you will feel as if you lived in the time of Van Goyen, Ruisdael…such natural surroundings…roused in the heart…something of that free, cheerful spirit of former times.” He felt that his depictions of the countryside linked him to the great Dutch masters of the past. 

An interesting painting from this period, not known to many, is "The Weaver", painted in Nuenen, the Netherlands, in May 1884, depicting a worker at his loom. There exist several paintings by van Gogh named "The Weaver", but this one is the only one I have been able to find reproduced on a stamp.  

Togo 1968. Vincent van Gogh. The Weaver.

In 1888, growing weary of the hectic city life in Paris, he moved to Arles, a small town in the South of France. It reminded him of his home in Holland. Van Gogh wrote that the landscape was “exactly like Holland in character.” In Arles, he returned to two of his major subjects: the peasant and the landscape. While in Arles, Van Gogh was joined by his friend Paul Gauguin. They worked together for two months, but tensions soon arose, resulting in Van Gogh's mental breakdown. 

In May 1889, Van Gogh, realizing that he could no longer live on his own, voluntarily checked himself into the asylum of St. Paul-de-Mausole in St. Rémy de Provence. While at the hospital, Van Gogh continued to paint, at times in the surrounding countryside, but he was particularly fascinated by the stars of the early morning sky, resulting in the "Night Café". He also painted his room in the asylum. 

Romania 1991. Vincent van Gogh. The Night Café.

Romania 1991. Vincent van Gogh. The Artist's Room.

Van Gogh's trend toward stylization in his work is based on his continued dialogue with Gauguin. He expressed his desire “to seek a style”. 

 

Kingdom of Yemen 1967. Vincent van Gogh. The Zouave.

He wished to make it “more viral by deliberately drawing”. He felt that this put him in a similar category with Gauguin because his linearity is reminiscent of his Synthetist technique. 

"The Zouave" is a result of this attempt. The sitter for this oil painting created in 1888 is Lieutenant Millet, shown elsewhere on this page.

Van Gogh wrote that, through these new techniques, they wished to create a modern art that would give spiritual “consolation” without overly religious symbolism, thus creating an image, which captured the “purer nature of the countryside.” 

However, Van Gogh's work is more expressive and filled with a dynamic energy than that of Gauguin. This affinity for quick, expressive brushwork also had its roots in his Dutch past.  He had admired the spontaneous brushwork of Frans Hals, and he wrote of his admiration for Hals, “I saw Frans Hals you know how enthusiastic I was about it…about painting in one stroke.”

  • Kingdom of Yemen 1967. "The Zouave". (1888). Private collection. The stamp is an imperf variety. 

Van Gogh’s mental health deteriorated from 1888 and onwards, and in May 1889 he admitted himself to an asylum at Saint-Rémy, near Arles. Between periods of illness, he produced a huge number of paintings and drawings expressing his torment in writing, expressionistic forms. 
 
During his hospitalization in St. Rémy, Van Gogh had time to reflect on his childhood in Holland and the values he held dear. This resulted in the creation of one of his most celebrated works, Starry Night, which embodied these principle beliefs. In this image, created partially from memory, we see a Dutch village under a star-filled sky, a veritable tapestry of stars, and a symbol of spiritual consolation. 

This tapestry of stars, created by this weaver of images, has inspired a similar sense of wonder in viewers for much of the twentieth century, and will continue to fascinate well into the new millennium. 

  • Rwanda 1980. Starry Night, painted 1889. 

Rwanda 1980. Vincent van Gogh. Starry Night.

"La Méridienne" was painted after Van Gogh's stay in Saint-Remy in Provence, where he was interned in an asylum. The composition is taken from a design by Millet for "The Four Hours of the Day". Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo about this painting:  "It is rather about translating into another language, the language of colours, the dark and light, the blacks and whites". Over time Van Gogh copied several of Millet's works, whom he considered a painter more modern than Manet. 

France 2004. Vincent van Gogh. La méridienne.

Truthful to the original composition even in the smallest details, this painting is nonetheless a true Van Gogh, showing a scenario of relaxation which to Millet symbolized Rural France around the 1860s. Van Gogh's composition is clearly shown in a chromatic construction based on the contrasts between the complementary colours blue-violet and yellow-orange. 

In spite of the peaceful character of the subject matter, one senses clearly Van Gogh's intensity which is unique to his art. Source: Musée d'Orsay, Paris. 

  • France 2004. "La Méridienne". c. 1889-1890. Orsay Museum, Paris. 

Kathiri State in Hadhramaut 1968. Vincent van Gogh. Paul Gachet.

In the last two and a half months of his life, van Gogh lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, where he was looked after by Dr. Paul Gachet (left), a homoeopath with an interest in art and his wife,  Madame Gachet (right). 
  • Kathiri State in Hadhramaut 1968.  "Paul Gachet" (1890). 

  • Yemen Arab Republic 1968.  "Marguerite Gachet" (1890).  The stamp is slightly bigger than the one showing Paul Gachet.

Yemen Arab Republic 1968. Vincent van Goth. Marguerite Gachet.

One of Van Gogh's last paintings was "The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise", painted 1890. This painting is an exquisite example of how the artist developed his technique to the nearly expressionistic, and yet unmistakably his very own style. Again God is somehow present in this landscape painting. 

The church stands out on a hill top against the dark night sky, and is moonlit from the front of the painting, so that all details of the building are visible, maybe for giving spiritual consolation. 

A lone night wanderer, distorted by tormenting thoughts and self-reproaches, is approaching the church from the left, probably for saying his prayers in the church in the midnight hour, and perhaps give himself a moment's relief from the burdens of a harsh life. 

  • France 1979. The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise. (1890). The Orsay Museum, Paris. 

France 1979. Vincent van Gogh. The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Throughout his life Van Gogh painted thousands of canvasses, but managed only to sell one painting, "The Vineyards", shown here. The Dutch text, which are quotes from Van Gogh, on the stamps reads: 

(on the self-portrait) 
Werkelijk, er is niets kunstzinniger dan liefde vor de mensen, meaning "Really, there is nothing more artistic than love for humans". 

(on the painting) 
Want man ziet de natuur door zijn eigen temperament, meaning  "... for one sees nature through one's own temperament". In this lies implicit that one has a restricted view of nature, the restriction being due to one's temperament, such that a good-tempered person would have a different view than the ill-tempered.    

 
The Netherlands 1990. Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait. The Netherlands 1990. Vincent van Gogh. Vineyards. The Netherlands 1990. Vincent van Gogh. First Day Cover.

One of Van Gogh's last works was "Mademoiselle Gachet in her Garden", created 1890, belongs to Musée d'Orsay, Paris. 

  • France 2006. Vincent Van Gogh. "Mademoiselle Gachet in her Garden", created 1890. Issued in a booklet of 10 self-adhesive stamps dedicated to the Impressionists. The stamp is a so-called NVI (No Value Indicated), and is permanently valid for domestic letters [within France] up to 20 grams. 

France 2006. Vincent Van Gogh. "Mademoiselle Gachet in her Garden", created 1890.

 

After another attack of depression, van Gogh shot himself on July 27, 1890, and died two days later. His brother Theo also succumbed to mental illness after Vincent’s death and died only six months later.

Van Gogh in General     Self-Portraits and Flowers     150th Anniversary

Sources and links: 

Many thanks to Klaus Rampelmann (the Netherlands), and Pierre Courtiade (France) for all help, research and encouragement. 

More Post-Impressionist painters on this site:

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