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7 Weird But True Facts about Vincent Van Gogh

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7 Weird But True Facts about Vincent Van Gogh

Post-impressionist painter whose artistic output was limited to a single decade, Vincent Van Gogh’s work has left an indelible mark on the world of fine art and has profoundly influenced just about every artist since in one way or another. Despite the currently iconic status of his artwork and his instantaneously recognizable style, Van Gogh did not achieve fame during his lifetime and died believing that his artistic endeavors were nothing more than a failure.

Although it may be hard to believe, Van Gogh only sold a single work of art during his lifetime and was so poor that he used peasants in lieu of paying for models. It is for this same reason that so much of his work focuses on flowers, landscapes, and, of course, self-portraits, it is also the reason that Van Gogh reproductions have become so popular. Van Gogh’s life and career was so unique that more than a century after his death there are still facts that few are aware of. We have therefore selected seven of the weirdest -- but still true -- facts about the Dutch post-impressionist painter.

1. Van Gogh’s Epilepsy May Have Deeply Influenced His Work

Much of Van Gogh’s work prominently features the color yellow, with the most famous example being “Starry Night,” which includes depictions of yellow spots surrounded by coronas that are remarkably similar to a known side effect of digitalis, a medicine commonly used to treat epilepsy during Van Gogh’s time. The altered visual perception stemming from the medicine has therefore been theorized to have had a possible influence on the way Van Gogh perceived the world, as reflected in his art.

2. Van Gogh Believed His Most Famous Work Was a Failed Effort

Now one of the most prevalent and immediately recognizable images in the world of art, Van Gogh said this of a group of paintings that included “Starry Night”: “The rest says nothing to me, because it lacks personal will, feeling in the lines.”

3. Van Gogh Was a Prolific Artist and Writer

Van Gogh’s artistic output occurred over the course of a single decade, beginning at the age of 27 and ending at 37, the year he committed suicide. Despite the limited period of time, Van Gogh produced over 900 paintings and composed over 900 letters, many of which describe the nature of his work in remarkable detail and include detailed sketches and illustrations as well.

4. Paul Gauguin May Have Cut Off Part of Van Gogh’s Ear

One of the most well-known facts about Van Gogh may also be one of the least accurate. The most popular account features Van Gogh cutting off his ear and giving it to a prostitute as a gift. Others contend that, during a psychiatric fit, Van Gogh attacked Paul Gauguin with a razor, with the subsequent altercation resulting in the loss of Van Gogh’s ear. Yet another version proposes that the injury occurred while the two artists were fencing, with the story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear being designed to cover up the incident in order to avoid any potential issue with the authorities.

5. “Starry Night” Depicts Van Gogh’s View From an Asylum

Following a nervous breakdown, Van Gogh checked himself into an asylum in France to recover. It was during his stay at the asylum that he painted “Starry Night,” which captured the view from the window in his room at the asylum.

6. Van Gogh Passed His Own Tombstone Every Day

Well, not quite his own tombstone, since it was his older brother buried in the plot. Van Gogh was given the name Vincent in honor of the older brother who had died as an infant the year before. Because of the shared name, Van Gogh spent much of his youth passing by a tombstone bearing the name “Vincent Van Gogh.”

7. The Principle of Turbulence, As Visualized by Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s stylistic tendency has been often said to depict the mathematical principle of turbulence, one of the most complex -- and still not entirely understood -- principles in the mathematical field. Van Gogh was therefore well ahead of his time and utilized the visual representation of turbulence -- with remarkable mathematical precision, by the way -- to reflect the chaos he struggled to endure throughout his relatively brief life.