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Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art

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Although he was close to his brothers and sisters at various times of his life, only one, Theo, gained special significance in Vincent’s life, providing the monetary support he needed to pursue his artistic career. Despite the fact that his family was heavily involved in art from the time he was very young, Vincent had three uncles who were successful art dealers, it wasn’t until he was in his twenties before he turned to art as a career. Although he was a great reader and loved looking at art, his early choice of authors and artists left much to be desired. “A common denominator … in most of the writers and artists Vincent admired: they dealt with the destitute and downtrodden … what moved him was the subject” (Wallace, 1969: 10). After leaving school at age 16, Vincent went to work as a clerk for one of these uncles at the prestigious firm of Goupil and Cie at The Hague. By the time he was 20, he had been transferred to London, but to get him away from a disastrous love affair with the daughter of his landlady, he was again transferred to Paris in 1875. He worked there for a short time until he was fired for convincing customers not to purchase the art he didn’t like.In the years between his firing from the art dealership and his career in art, Van Gogh searched for his life’s calling. He spent two years teaching in small, ill-funded schools for nearly no money as well as in a bookstore, but lost these positions to a frightening religious zeal. This zeal led him to undertake religious studies, from which he quickly quit, and missionary work, from which he was again let go after his strict interpretation of scripture again led him to an overly ascetic lifestyle. When he was let go from his missionary position, he disappeared from family and friends for nine months, re-emerging at age 27 with a sharp distaste for organized religion and a new dedication to art.Once dedicated, he was prolific. During the span of his short career, he produced at least 1700 works, 900 drawings and 800 paintings still survive. Among these are 40 self-portraits, made both before and after his ‘ear incident’. However, he was only able to find a buyer for one painting during his lifetime, proving to be highly discouraging to the artist, whose last recorded words were “But what’s the use?” (Wallace, 1969: 7). He studied art in his homeland for some
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