Later Years

The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890

The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise, 1890

Van Gogh’s final years, during which time his mental health deteriorated markedly, were spent in France. In 1888 he moved to a small town of Arles situated on the river Rhône in southern France, partly out of a desire to realize his earlier goal of being a peasant painter. He returned to many of the motifs of peasant life that he had worked on when he was living in the Netherlands: thatched roof cottages, fishing boats, a sower in a field. Many of his compositions from this period also reflect his fascination with the area’s landscape and light, and feature some of his most intense colors.

Van Gogh hoped to found an artists’ community in Arles, “A Studio of the South”, and eventually he succeeded in convincing Gauguin to live and work with him in the Yellow House, where he rented four rooms. Gauguin arrived in late October 1888. Working together, they produced some outstanding paintings. However, the two artists had frequent arguments, their arrangement was contentious and ultimately culminated in Gauguin leaving after only a couple of months, by Christmas of 1888. The events precipitating Gauguin’s departure included the famous incident of van Gogh cutting off his left ear and giving it to a prostitute, after which he spent several days in the hospital. He returned to the Yellow House following his hospital stay but was readmitted in February 1889 for several bouts of hallucinations and delusions.

In May of 1889 the artist committed himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum in Saint-Rémy, due to his worsening mental health.

Theo managed to arrange for two cells in the hospital, so that van Gogh would be able to use one as his studio. During his stay, van Gogh continued to paint and draw when he felt well enough to do so. The hospital and gardens often provided subject matter, as did his own recollections. One of his most famous paintings—Starry Night—dates from this period.

Van Gogh left the Saint-Rémy clinic in May of 1890, having spent a year there. He moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in order to be closer to his brother Theo and the physician Dr Paul Gachet, who was treating van Gogh. This period saw the beginnings of critical success for van Gogh. Six of his painting were displayed in Brussells as part of the Belgian artists' association (“Les Vingt”) exhibition. Vincent’s work received positive feedback from art critic Albert Aurier, and most noteworthy was the sale of the painting Red Vineyard to the painter and collector Anna Boch.

Soon after, during a visit to Theo, he discovered that his brother was planning to quit his job and set up his own business, which could potentially lead to financial difficulties. Unfortunately, van Gogh’s mental health continued to worsen due to these new financial worries and uncertainty about the future.

On July 27, he walked into a wheatfield and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. The wound was not immediately fatal, and van Gogh was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he had been staying. When Theo heard of the shooting, he rushed to be at his brother’s side. In the early morning hours of July 29, van Gogh died from his wound. According to Theo, his final words were: “The sadness will last forever”.

Van Gogh was buried at Auvers, having left over 850 paintings and nearly 1300 works on paper.

Bedroom in Arles, 1889

Bedroom in Arles, 1889

Starry Night, 1889

Starry Night, 1889