6 Things You Didn't Know About Vincent van Gogh

On December 23, 1888, Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear.  Van Gogh's life had been marked by irrational and unexpected behavior, but these episodes did not stop him from creating some of the world's most famous paintings. Here are 5 lesser-known facts about Van Gogh...

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Van Gogh Was the 19th Century King of Selfies In a period of three years, van Gogh produced over 36 self-portraits. While tempting to consider this an exercise in vanity, it’s more likely that this was a result of poverty, in both an emotional and financial sense. The artist didn’t have the funds to pay for professional models, and given the overall lack of human interaction in his life, finding friends to pose for him would have been just as difficult.

He Only Signed His First Name On His Paintings Van Gogh was so confident in his style that he signed all his paintings simply “Vincent.” He might also have inspired by his hero, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, who similarly only signed with his first name. But another reason may have been because his Dutch last name was difficult to pronounce.

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Most Of His Paintings Were Made In A Single Decade Van Gogh must have worked feverishly between 1880 and 1890 because he created more than 2,000 paintings, drawings, sketches, and watercolors during this time period. Shortly before his death, when was living in Auvers-sur-Oise, he created about a new painting per day.

He Felt The Starry Night Was a Failure Van Gogh had a mental breakdown in the winter of 1888, and checked himself into an asylum in France.  While there, he painted his most famous piece, Starry Night. The painting depicted the view from his window there at night. It's believed van Gogh painted this view 21 times, and an interesting point is that none of them include the bars that covered his asylum window. While the painting is perhaps the one most commonly associated with his name, van Gogh was not pleased with it. In fact, he considered it to be a complete failure, saying that neither “Starry Night” nor the other paintings made inside the asylum meant anything to him. 

Van Gogh’s Sister-In-Law Made Him Famous Van Gogh’s name would have most likely faded into oblivion if it weren't for his brother Theo’s wife Johanna.  Following Vincent and Theo's death, Johanna inherited many of Vincent's paintings and made it her mission to promote them by loaning them for various exhibitions.  It was Johanna’s son, Vincent, who founded the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 1973.

No One Really Knows Exactly Why van Gogh Cut Off His Ear Some historians believe he sliced off his ear after a quarrel he had with his friend and fellow painter, Paul Gauguin. Others have theorized that the act was in reaction to news that his younger brother Theo was getting married. Other rumors say that he cut it off as a gift for a prostitute or that it was a present for a farmer’s daughter who worked in a brothel as a maid. Whatever the reason was, it was likely done in a moment when his mental illness overcame him.