Was Vincent van Gogh successful?

Was Vincent van Gogh successful?

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most famous painters (ever) died poor and sold only one painting during his lifetime. Isn’t this fact sad and ironic?

Although Vincent died penniless, the paintings that he left behind are worth millions today. That said, was Vincent van Gogh successful? Or was he just another poor artist who failed to live off his passions? Before jumping to today’s discussion, there is actually a very interesting film called Loving Vincent.

First of all, how did Vincent van Gogh die? There are different theories circulating around this topic but suicide is the official cause of death. Now, Loving Vincent is not your typical biopic. The film puts it own twist on what really happened to Vincent van Gogh. Everything that the audience sees in Loving Vincent takes place one year after the painter’s alleged suicide and uses a young man by the name of Armand Roulin to retell the events.

In the film, Armand Roulin, son of postman Joseph Roulin is in charge of delivering Vincent van Gogh’s last letter to his brother Theo van Gogh. During this journey, Armand starts to question the people around the painter’s life. Did Vincent try to kill himself or was it a murder?

Throughout the film, Armand gathers small leads that point to a possible murder, which contradicts the main theory that Vincent van Gogh attempted to end his own life.

In the end, Loving Vincent never gives a firm answer about what really happened to Vincent van Gogh. Instead, it chooses to focus on how pitiful Vincent’s life was and how hard he had to struggle in order to pursue his passion: painting.


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Loving Vincent (2017) [Blu-ray]


Now, let’s suppose that the suicide theory is true. What led Vincent van Gogh to commit such an extreme act against his own life? As mentioned before, Vincent was a struggling artist. Despite of having many paintings, he never managed to make a living out of them. The painter’s saving grace was definitely his young brother Theo, who supported Vincent financially, so he could be a full-time artist.

Although Vincent van Gogh accepted his brother’s money for many years, he didn’t want to become a financial burden to Theo, who had his own family to take care of. At the time, Theo’s health wasn’t the best and Vincent had a lot feelings of shame and guilt. The painter felt bad for receiving money from his sick brother.

During his final days, Vincent van Gogh’s mental state wasn’t the best. In addition, the painter’s body was also under a lot of stress due to malnutrition, exhaustion, insomnia and prolonged alcohol abuse. Although Vincent shot himself in the chest, the gunshot did not kill him instantly. The painter’s death was rather slow.

After pulling the trigger, a wounded Vincent van Vogh managed to walk back to his lodge (Auberge Ravoux). Although there were two doctors who assisted him, they couldn’t do much for the painter. The bullet remained inside Vincent’s body, as there were no surgeons in the area who could operate him immediately.

Without the proper medical assistance, Vincent van Gogh’s untreated wounds developed into a serious infection. Two days after, the painter passes away. The shock of Vincent’s sudden death worsens Theo’s health, who ends up dying six months after his brother’s passing.

Was Vincent van Gogh successful?

Back to the original question of this post: was Vincent van Gogh successful? In my opinion, the answer is not that linear. If being successful means that he got to make a living out of his craft, then “no”. However, if success means living life in pursuit of your passions, then “yes”.

One thing is for sure, Vincent van Gogh did not die happy. The man died poor and his mind was clouded by a myriad of inner demons. After facing many hardships, the painter succumbed to his unfortunate circumstances and decided to put an end to his life. A gunshot to his chest brought him a rather painful and slow death.

As one can see, there is nothing about Vincent van Gogh’s story that screams success. As of now, I don’t think the painter was successful, which is a shame. The man was incredibly talented with a very peculiar sensibility which made him unique. Personally, I believe Vincent deserved better and that realization makes me somewhat sad.

People only started to celebrate Vincent van Gogh and his work after his death. Isn’t that a disheartening thing to hear? The painter’s story shows that talent alone is not enough for one to succeed. When it comes to posthumous success, there are many others like him, unfortunately.

So, what is success based on? Luck or hard work? I guess a bit of both. Vincent van Gogh was definitely someone who worked really hard towards his craft. However, art needs promotion too. Since Vincent had no luck in his life, in order to for him to be successful, he needed to get more people to see his art even if no one showed interest.

Now, saying that Vincent van Gogh needed to promote his work better, it’s easier said than done. The truth is, success also depends heavily on execution, it’s not only about what you do but also how you do it.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that Vincent van Gogh had a rough life as an artist. As mentioned before, the painter only sold one painting during his entire life.

Theo von Gogh was probably his brother’s biggest and only supporter. Vincent dropped everything to start a new life as an artist but he never considered whether it was financially viable to live off his art. At the end of the day, it was Theo who was paying for Vincent’s bills.

Now, Theo van Gogh had a comfortable life but he wasn’t financially well-off. The man had a wife and a son to take care of and on top of that he still had to send money to his brother, the struggling artist. All of Vincent’s working tools and materials were bought with his brother’s money.

Although I admire Vincent’s determination to pursue his passions, I can’t help to feel that he was a bit entitled. Everyone has the right to follow their passions. However, is it okay to do it at the expense of others? Again, if you live for your passions but you are not able to financially support yourself, then, what does that make you?

Despite of my previous harsh words, I can totally empathise with Vincent, it’s not easy to pursue what you enjoy and make a living out of it. As a matter of fact, the painter wasn’t an oblivious individual who was happily spending his brother’s money. Vincent van Gogh also struggled with the idea of having his younger brother paying for his “lifestyle”.

To be honest, I knew very little about Vincent van Gogh before Loving Vincent. There is something about his story that moved me: no one gave the painter any credit while he was alive. Despite of being incredibly talented, Vincent van Gogh’s work was only widely acknowledged after his death. That really makes one reflect the meaning of success.

Vincent van Gogh died poor because he chose to pursue his passion. Ironic, isn’t it? Had the man stayed in his previous stable job, his life would’ve been different. Maybe Vincent would’ve been able to live a more comfortable life with less misery associated with the act of living itself.