“Starry, starry night”… The opening line from a song referencing one of the most famous and influential artworks in the world, painted by one of the most famous and influential artists: Vincent van Gogh. Sadly, all the fame and influence only became attached to van Gogh’s incredible pieces after his unfortunate suicide at only 37 years old. – Van Gogh and Gauguin
In the 19th century, Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh was a well-known post-impressionist painter. Vincent van Gogh’s artworks weren’t always distinguished, but they developed these unique characteristics later in his career.
Paul Gauguin was also a post-impressionist painter known for his experimental use of color and Synthetist style that differed from impressionism. His art was influential on the French avant-garde, and he is often known as the father of modern art.
Gauguin was a close friend to Vincent and his brother, Theo van Gogh. However, shortly before Vincent committed suicide, Paul and Vincent had a dispute which ended their friendship. Therefore, before we uncover what happened between these two talented and troubled artists, let’s know them as individuals.
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in 1848 in Paris. At age 23, he got a job as a stockbroker; within a decade, Paul had a successful career as a stockbroker and art dealer until the stock market plummeted. After that, Gauguin decided to pursue painting full-time; this decision took a toll on his marriage and eventually caused his wife and children to leave him.
Early in his art career, Gauguin mostly painted landscapes in the impressionist style; however, this did not satisfy him. So, in 1888, Paul personalized his art by adopting a simplified painting style influenced by Japanese prints.
If we consider the painting “Vision after the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel),” we can identify that it lacks realism and is primarily composed of bright solid colors. During this time of experimental painting, Paul Gauguin met Vincent van Gogh, who noticed his art style.
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh, born in 1853, was a quiet child who liked to draw. As a young man, he started his career as an art dealer; however, after suffering depression, he pursued a course to become a Protestant missionary but failed. In 1881, Vincent fell ill and moved back to his parents, where he began his journey as a painter. Vincent had fallouts with many of his family members due to mental instability.
From 1883, Vincent van Gogh artwork improved as he developed his brush techniques and post-impressionist style. He completed over 800 oil paintings in a single decade; most were painted within the two years before his death. Despite his protest toward academic teaching, Vincent took an examination at the Academy of Fine Arts and graduated in painting and drawing. However, during his time at the Academy, van Gogh had fallouts with most of his instructors because he would not conform to their drawing and painting style. You can check Vincent van Gogh paintings throughout his career to the end of his life and see the difference between them.
Vincent moved to Paris, where he completed most of his famous paintings and drawings. He began to use bright colors and intense brush strokes. Some say that it was during this time that he had his artistic breakthrough. In 1888, Café Terrace at Night, one of van Gogh’s best paintings, was completed. This painting was unique because van Gogh did not use black to paint the night sky; instead, he used blue, violet, and green to achieve the beautiful backdrop.
Van Gogh and Gauguin’s Friendship
Vincent and Paul’s relationship has been described as “explosive” by historians and artists alike. As mentioned before, Vincent van Gogh experienced difficulties maintaining any relationship he had; he was responsible for causing the conflict; therefore, his friendship with Gauguin was likely to encounter the same issues. However, this particular conflict was more severe than others before it.
At the beginning of their relationship, the two artists shared many similar ideas about art and resistance to impressionism. Paul Gauguin even painted a picture of Vincent painting sunflowers called The Painter of Sunflowers. At first, van Gogh was offended at how Gauguin had portrayed him but eventually got over it. In 1888, Gauguin joined Van Gogh in Arles in the house he was renting and was his roommate for over two months.
The two friends shared costs, drank absinthe together, and painted the same subjects. However, van Gogh began to take advantage of Gauguin by neglecting his financial responsibility and household chores. Yet, these issues were not at the heart of the conflict. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a dispute over art.
Gauguin believed that art should arise from your imagination, whereas van Gogh thought it should be based on the natural world. Gauguin claims that van Gogh threatened him with a razor; this was the last time the artists saw one another. However, they did correspond via letter sometime later. Gauguin’s traumatic relationship with Vincent is portrayed in the sculptural self-portrait Jug in the Form of a Head (1889). Gauguin later claimed to have been a strong influence in Vincent van Gogh’s development as a painter.
After this heated argument, Vincent cut off his ear, claiming that the voices in his head asked him to do what he did. He was admitted to an insane asylum after displaying this sort of behavior. During the initial days of his treatment, Van Gogh repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked for Gauguin. Van Gogh’s picture, Starry Night, depicts the view from his window in his asylum room just before sunrise. In this painting, we can see the patterns from the brushstrokes and unblended colors to create a sense of rhythm.
Starry Night – Vincent Van Gogh
The Bottom Line
Vincent van Gogh shared a unique friendship with Paul Gauguin. They had many of the same artistic ideas, but the foundations and methods that they differed on were too great to overcome. The pair of passionate artists could not simply agree to disagree. This fact proves how art was their primary concern; Vincent and Paul weren’t prepared to set their differences aside for their friendship. Despite his tragic ending, Vincent van Gogh’s drawings and paintings are still among the finest artworks ever.