As compelling as van Gogh’s story has been for critics and public alike, it is his paintings, and to a lesser extent his drawings, that are the cornerstone of his lasting significance. From the early drawings made during his ministry in the Borinage to the final paintings made in the weeks preceding his death in Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh’s works are characterized by passionate sincerity. Yet as important as their psychological authenticity is their adventurous form. Starting in the early 1880’s from a vigorous but rather insular style, he assimilated the heritage of Dutch painting, then went on to adapt the lessons of Impressionism to new and visionary purposes. Van Gogh’s singular artistic triumph, differentiating him from his Postimpressionist colleagues such as Gauguin and Georges Seurat, was his ability to communicate both his visual experience of nature and his insight into man’s social and spiritual condition.
Van Gogh, whose personal relationships were often catastrophic, saw his art as an act of love for humanity, and one avenue of psychological analysis views the fervor of his career as compensation for the emotional failures of his life. While there is doubtless some truth to this view, if taken too literally it can reduce the immense complexity of his life to a formula. Van Gogh was both highly intelligent and acutely self-aware, and it seems likely that even as he descended toward a tragic suicide, he was aware of the great, though painfully forged, achievement of his life as a painter. --
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