35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh

Trista - July 22, 2019

Vincent van Gogh is known for being the artist who cut off his left ear. However, do you really know the true story behind why? While Vincent van Gogh is a popular name today, this was not always the case. In fact, when he was alive, his neighbors started a petition because they believed him to be dangerous to society. This article is going to give you some of the most fascinating facts about the troubled life of one of history’s most beloved painters.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
A young Vincent van Gogh in 1873. Jacobus Marinus Wilhelmus de Louw (1823-1907) – Memory of the Netherlands, From Vincent van Gogh: letters, art, and context of the Van Gogh Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

35. He Wasn’t The Only Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh’s parents named him after his grandfather. However, he wasn’t the first child of his parents to have this name. In fact, Van Gogh had an older brother with the same name. Unfortunately, Van Gogh’s brother died right after birth. Therefore, Van Gogh’s decided to name their next son after the grandfather and their baby. Later, Vincent’s brother, Theo, had a son whom he named after his brother. Altogether, there were at least four Vincent van Gogh’s, but there could have been more people don’t know about yet and maybe never will.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh created a picture of his doctor titled Portrait of Félix Rey in January 1889, which is in the Pushkin Museum. There is a note written by Dr Rey for novelist Irving Stone with sketches of the damage to van Gogh’s ear. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

34. Van Gogh Actually Cut Off Only Part Of His Ear

Today, most people hear about the painter Vincent van Gogh because of the legend that he cut off his own left ear. However, this is only partially true. While he did cut off his own ear, he only cut off the lobe of his left ear. This event occurred on December 23, 1888, because of an argument that was taking place between Van Gogh and his roommate, artist Paul Gauguin. The reason why Van Gogh cut off his own ear is up for debate. No one really knows the real story. However, there are several theories.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Paul Gauguin in 1891. Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel – Museum page / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

33. Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear Lobe During A Fight With Gauguin

Gauguin moved in with Van Gogh because in the fall of 1888. At first, the two got along very well. Gauguin was known to be a street-smart person who could often be condescending and tough. Van Gogh was known to be mentally unstable and very sensitive. Because the two had different personalities, they started to argue. During one of these arguments, Van Gogh threated Gauguin with a knife. Somehow, Van Gogh cut off his left ear lobe with this knife, walked down the street to a brothel and showed Rachel, a woman the men had been fighting over.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Paul Gauguin created The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh during their visit in 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

32. No One Is Really Sure What Happen To Van Gogh’s Ear Lobe

There are several details that are missing to how Van Gogh cut off his own ear along with different versions of the story. Therefore, no one really knows exactly what happened the night he cut off his ear lobe. However, one thing we do know is that the police eventually made it to Van Gogh’s home and found him lying in his bed surrounded by a pool of his own blood. The police then took him to the hospital for treatment. The next day, Gauguin left Van Gogh’s home and informed Theo van Gogh about his brother’s condition.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh’s brother, Theo van Gogh, in the late 1880s. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

31. Van Gogh’s Brother Begged Gauguin To Move In

During the 1880s, Van Gogh’s mental health started to decline, and one of his brothers, Theo, started to become very worried. When he heard Van Gogh talk about suicide, Theo begged his good friend, Pay Gauguin, to move to Arles and live with the painter. At first, Gauguin didn’t want to because he said they two would not get along. However, after a few months, Theo had persuaded Gaugin to move from Paris to Van Gogh’s yellow house.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh proposed to his cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker, but she said no. Here she is with her son Jan around 1879 or 1880 when he asked her. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

30. Art Ran In The Van Gogh Family

Van Gogh’s father was a minister, and his mother was an artist. Like Van Gogh himself, she was known to complete different forms of art such as painting and drawing. Like his brother, Theo grew up; he started to get involved in the art business. While he wasn’t known to create art, he did a lot of art shows for other artists and helped run an art business. In fact, it was Theo who would be Vincent’s leading supporter and source of inspiration during his lifetime.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
The painting Irises by Vincent van Gogh. The J. Paul Getty Museum / Getty.edu.

29. Van Gogh Became An Artist Later In His Life

Vincent van Gogh came into this world in 1853, and while he didn’t start painting until over two decades later, art was always a part of his life. Not only was his mother an artist, but Van Gogh began working in his uncle’s art dealing company. After a few years, Van Gogh decided to go to London where he started working at the Goupil Gallery. The only reason Van Gogh began painting is that his brother told him it would help his depression.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Theodorus van Gogh, Vincent’s father. Pinterest.

28. Before He Became An Artist, Van Gogh Thought Of Following In His Father’s Footsteps

Vincent van Gogh’s father was a famous minister of the area. Van Gogh believed his calling was to follow in the footsteps of his father by becoming a minister. Therefore, he took a year and practiced for the entrance exam for enrollment at the School of Theology in Amsterdam. While he succeeded in other areas of the exam, he refused to study Latin because it was a dead language. Because of this, Van Gogh didn’t receive acceptance at the school.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Wheat Field with Cypresses. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

27. His Brother Theo Was His Biggest Supporter

Theo van Gogh did more than just support his parents, brothers, and sisters while he was growing up. He continued to be one of Van Gogh’s biggest supporters when it came to his paintings. In fact, if it wasn’t for Theo, we might not have known about the artist Vincent van Gogh. Not only did Theo financially support his brother until Van Gogh’s untimely death, but he also supported him by persuading him to start painting in order to help Van Gogh through his depression and other mental illnesses.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Beethoven. Stephen Hicks.

26. Theo Compared Vincent To Beethoven

From 1886 until early 1888, Vincent and Theo lived together at Theo’s house in Paris. During this time, Theo worked in art dealing business. After seeing some of his brothers’ art, Theo started to tell Vincent he should become a regular painter. Theo also connected his brother to several other artists, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, and Seurat. When writing about his brother to another artist, he stated, “I should not be surprised if my brother were one of the great geniuses and will one day be compared to someone like Beethoven.”

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
The Red Vineyards at Arles from 1888 by Vincent van Gogh. Heritage Images / Hulton Fine Art / Getty Images.

25. Van Gogh Sold His First Painting A Few Months Before He Died

He has not always been the famous painter we know of today. In fact, most people wanted little to do with him while he was alive. While he started painting in his 20s, he only sold one painting throughout his lifetime. This happened about seven months before he died when he was at an annual art show in Brussels. He submitted three landscapes, two sunflower studies, and The Red Vineyard painting. Anna and Eugene Boch paid 400 francs for the picture.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Olive Trees by Vincent van Gogh. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

24. Van Gogh’s Completed His Paintings Quickly

There are many types of artists in this world. There are some who take their time on their artwork and others who look like they are rushing through their projects. Van Gogh was one who didn’t take time on his art. In fact, he was known to be able to complete a painting in a relatively short timeframe. Many people suspect one reason for this is because his paintings were incredibly abstract. Furthermore, he painted spontaneously and never seemed to give much thought to his work.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh’s Eugene Boch portrait also known as The Poet. Flickr.

23. The Boch’s Bought The Painting As A Form Of Encouragement

Anna and Eugene were family friends to the Van Gogh family. They had heard a lot about Vincent’s paintings and felt that he had never seen the recognition they thought he should have. They knew that part of the reason for this was because Van Gogh didn’t do well in social settings. Therefore, the pair felt that one way to help Van Gogh gain confidence in his talent was to purchase The Red Vineyard painting at the art show. Today, you can see the picture at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
A pencil on watercolor image by Van Gogh known as Worn Out from 1882. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

22. Mental Illness Ran In The Van Gogh Family

It is pretty common knowledge to people who have read about Vincent van Gogh to notice he struggled with various mental illnesses. Upon further research, historians have found that mental illness was a big piece of the Van Gogh family, and Vincent was far from the only family member to suffer through mental illness. In fact, several of his siblings and both of his parents were known to struggle with their own mental illness. Unfortunately, because Van Gogh was so sensitive, he had more trouble handling his mental illness than other members of his family.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Saint Paul Asylum, Saint Rémy. ASA Tours.

21. Several Members Of The Van Gogh Family Spent Time In A Mental Institution

After Vincent cut off his own ear lobe, he went into a mental asylum for a while. Many historians feel that this was only one of his many stays in a mental institution. However, Vincent was not the only Van Gogh to spend time in a mental institution. His sister, Wilhemina van Gogh, spent about 40 years in a mental asylum. Some historians believe that Theo Van Gogh also spent time in a mental asylum after Vincent’s death.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Sien Nursing Baby from the Sien series created about Noornik. vangoghgallery.com / Wikimedia Commons.

20. He Had Only One Romantic Relationship Throughout His Life

No one is sure if Vincent van Gogh had a social anxiety disorder or if he was just naturally shy. However, what people do know is that he was rarely seen out of his house and didn’t have very many friends. In fact, many people believe that while Van Gogh had a few romantic interests, he only had one real romantic relationship throughout his whole life. This relationship started in 1882 to Clasina Maria Hoornik, who was not only pregnant but also had a five-year-old daughter. At the time, Hoornik struggled after her unborn child’s father abandoned the family.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Sien Peeling Potatoes by Vincent van Gogh in 1883. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

19. Vincent’s Father and Brother Helped Him End His Relationship With Hoornik

Hoornik, who was a prostitute and a seamstress, moved in with Van Gogh not long after they met. The couple seemed to get along pretty well, and Vincent became convinced he was going to marry her. Unfortunately, his brother Theo and his father did not approve of Vincent’s relationship. Vincent’s father was a minister who did not accept Hoornik for many reasons. After speaking to his brother, Vincent found out that Theo agreed with their father. While Vincent continued to live with Hoornik for a little while longer, the two split up for unknown reasons.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Olanders. Metropolitan Museum Art.

18. Hoornik Committed Suicide After The Relationship Ended

While no one is sure why Van Gogh and Hoornik ended their relationship, people do know that Hoornik gave Vincent gonorrhea. Historians also know that after ending the relationship, she dropped his two children off with family members as she could not provide for them. In 1904, Hoornik headed to the Rotterdam canal, where she committed suicide. Historians have tried to connect her death to Vincent’s death, which occurred in 1890; however, no one can prove this. Other people have been attempting to connect Hoornik’s second child to Vincent. However, this has also not confirmed.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Hilter and Nazis. History Extra.

17. The Nazis Declared Him A Degenerate

While Vincent Van Gogh was not living close to anywhere near World War Two, his artwork was highly popular during this time. Like many other artists during the 1930s and into 1940s, they were all considered by the Nazis to degenerate. But, when it came to Van Gogh, the Nazis took their hate a bit farther. They not only took his artwork out of museums, but they also held a massive sale so they could gain money by getting rid of Van Gogh’s artwork. One of the paintings they sold was Van Gogh’s portrait.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait with Cut Ear by Eric Wayne. artofericwayne.com.

16. He Was A Selfie King Before People Knew What Selfies Were

One of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous works is his own portrait, which was bought by Maurice Wertheim for 12,000 pounds. This portrait has become famous not only for Van Gogh’s oblong skull but also for the jade background, which is very unusual for his time frame. This portrait is known as the Self Portrait Dedicated To Paul Gauguin and was complete in 1888. While the two men had a falling out, they did remain in touch. In fact, after Van Gogh died, Gauguin kept the portrait until 1897 when he needed the money.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh’s room in Saint Paul de Mausole. Marianne Casamance / Wikimedia Commons.

15. He Completed His Most Famous Painting In A Mental Institution

Vincent van Gogh became a patient at Saint-Paul Asylum in St. Remy-de-Provence in May of 1889. While he could not paint in his bedroom, they gave him another recreational room where he could be left alone to paint in. It was here that Van Gogh painted The Starry Night while looking at the night sky. He then finished the painting the following day. Today, many people imagine how Van Gogh came to create this painting. Some people feel it was through his hallucinations while others think he saw it was what he saw as he looked out the window.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
The Starry Night, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

14. Van Gogh Didn’t Like The Starry Night

Even though The Starry Night became the painting that Van Gogh is most known for, he felt that the art was horrible. His reasons for this are unknown. However, people do know that he did not keep the paintings with the ones he often shared with other people or took to art shows. In fact, in writing about this painting, Van Gogh stated it was a failure: “I have been slaving away on nature the whole year… And yet, once again, I let myself go reaching for stars that are too big – a new failure …”

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
The Church at Auvers, 1890. Musée d’Orsay, Paris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

13. He Ended His Life In 1890 By Committing Suicide

Starting in the 1880s, Vincent van Gogh’s mental health began to decline. He not only spent a lot of time in the mental hospital, but he also suffered from depression, social anxiety, and possibly other mental illnesses. By the time July 1890 rolled around, Van Gogh couldn’t handle his life anymore. On July 27, 1890, Van Gogh walked to the wheat fields north of his residence at an inn in Auvers-Sur-Oise. He then shot himself in the chest. The bullet did not officially take Vincent’s life until 30 hours later.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent van Gogh from 1890. Wikipedia Commons / Public Domain.

12. One Of His Paintings Showed The Field Where He Committed Suicide

One of the most shocking paintings from Vincent Van Gogh is the one called Wheatfield With Crows. This is a painting of a wheat field which has crows flying above the field. Many people who know of Van Gogh’s death, feel it is the same field that he went to on July 27, 1890, with the plan to end his life. While no one is sure if this is the last work Van Gogh painted, we do know that it was one of his last and shares a haunting image to the same field.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Almond Blossom. Vincent van Gogh Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in February 1890. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam / Vincent van Gogh Foundation / Creative Boom.

11. Citizens Believed He Was A Danger To The Community

Vincent van Gogh was never known to be one of the friendliest people in Arles. In fact, he didn’t have very many friends, and most people who knew him stayed away from him. They felt that not only was he mentally unstable, but he could also be incredibly mean. As his mental health continued to decline, many residents became overly concerned. They decided to send a petition to town officials, which stated they believed Van Gogh was a danger to the community. Some historians believe it was this petition that led Van Gogh to commit himself to the mental asylum.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
A portrait of Dr. Gachet. Wikipedia Commons / Public Domain.

10. Van Gogh Painted One Of The Most Expensive Paintings In History

Even though Van Gogh only painted for half of his life, he kept himself very busy as an artist. People believe he painted and drew over 2,000 pieces of art. He not only made some of the most famous paintings in history, but he also created one of the most expensive. In 1990, Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million. This painting is known to be one of the last Van Gogh completed before he committed suicide.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Bedroom in Arles from 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

9. Most of Van Gogh’s Work Was Thrown Out

During his lifetime, very few people thought that of Van Gogh as a great artist. In fact, most people threw away the majority of his drawings, paintings, and any other artwork. Van Gogh would sometimes give away his artwork, which would be thrown away by the receivers. Even Van Gogh’s mother threw most of the drawings she received from her son. The painter himself is known to have thrown a lot of his work away. No one thought his work would ever amount to anything, even after his death.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh’s letters. Clark Cart.

8. We Know About Van Gogh’s Life Because Of His Letters

Vincent van Gogh was a reclusive person who didn’t share a lot of information about himself, except with letters. In fact, it is because of these letters that we know the most about Vincent van Gogh. He wrote over 800 letters to his friends, mainly Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. While most of these letters do not have a date, historians have put the notes in chronological order in order to fill in the pieces of Van Gogh’s life. On top of this, Van Gogh wrote over 600 letters to his brother, Theo. Thankfully, people kept these letters.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
White House at Night by Vincent van Gogh in 1890, painted six weeks before the artist’s death. Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

7. Van Gogh’s Therapist Took Millions Of Dollars’ Worth Of His Art

It seemed that after Vincent van Gogh’s death, people started to realize what an incredible talent he had when it came to his art. One of these people was Van Gogh’s own therapist, Dr. Paul Gachet. After Van Gogh committed suicide, his brother Theo invited several of Vincent’s friends and others to pick pieces that they could remember him by. When it came time for Dr. Gachet and his son to take items, they left with several of Van Gogh’s paintings. While the son kept them for decades, he eventually donated them to a museum.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Self-Portrait Without Beard, from September 1889; it may have been Van Gogh’s last self-portrait, which he gave to his mother for her birthday gift. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

6. Theo Sent Vincent To Dr. Gachet For Help

Vincent van Gogh spent the last three months of his life in Auvers-Sur-Oise, which is about 20 miles from Paris. Theo sent his brother there after finding out about one of the best doctors he hoped could help his brother find mental stability. Like Van Gogh, Dr. Gachet was an artist and trader. Theo believed that they would be able to connect because they had the same type of career. Van Gogh stayed in Auvers getting intense therapy from Dr. Gachet. Unfortunately, the doctor would be unable to help Van Gogh, who committed Suicide in July of 1890.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Wheat Field at Auvers with White House, June 1890, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. / Wikimedia Commons.

5. Van Gogh’s Last Innkeeper Sold His Two Of Van Gogh’s Paintings

For the last three months of his life, Van Gogh stayed with innkeeper Arthur Ravoux. The Ravoux family got to know Van Gogh very well as he would have supper with them every evening. In fact, on the day that Van Gogh committed suicide and didn’t show up for the evening meal, the Ravoux family know that something was wrong. After Van Gogh’s death, Theo asked Ravoux if he wanted anything. Ravoux said no but kept Van Gogh’s paintings he had. He sold these paintings to two American artists for 40 francs a piece.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Vincent and Theo’s graves at Auvers-sur-Oise Cemetery. Héric Samson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

4. Theo van Gogh Couldn’t Handle His Brother’s Death

Theo spent his days caring for his brother Vincent, especially in the last few decades of his short life. He not only supported Vincent financially, but he also did whatever he could in order to try to make Vincent’s mind more stable. Unfortunately, Theo wouldn’t be able to save his brother, no matter how hard he tried. From the moment Theo heard about Vincent’s death, he started to decline health wise. By November 1890, Theo became a patient at a psychiatric hospital, where he died a few months later from illness and severe depression.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, 1889. Woodbury & Page – Geheugen van Nederland / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

3. Van Gogh’s Sister-In-Law Helped Make Him Famous

Johanna “Jo” van Gogh-Bonger was born in Amsterdam during the year 1862. She would marry Vincent’s brother Theo around 1889, and together they would have a son. After Vincent’s death, Theo died shortly after. This left Jo to find a way to make money off of Van Gogh’s paintings. To help her mission, she included all the letters that Vincent wrote to Theo. Unfortunately, she would never live to see Vincent become famous. However, her son would carry on her mission and help establish the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888. Musée d’Orsay, Paris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

2. He Mainly Painted Landscapes Because He Had Trouble Finding Models

While no one really knows why people didn’t like to model for Vincent van Gogh, many historians believe it was because he was a troubled man. While he was well-liked in his early years, the older Van Gogh got, the more reclusive and depressed he would get. For various reasons, this made people want to keep away from him. Therefore, they weren’t often comfortable modeling for Van Gogh’s paintings. Because of this,

35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent van Gogh
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Taxiarchos228 / Wikimedia Commons.

1. Today Vincent van Gogh Is A True Inspiration To Many Artists

During his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh didn’t paint like other artists. His style was different, and this would often cause problems between him and his teachers in school. However, today is a different story. Many artists cite Vincent Van Gogh as one of their main inspirations due to his unique style. On top of this, his paintings are being reproduced all over the world and hang in homes, offices, and many other buildings. His original paintings that survive are at a variety of museums around the globe.


Where did we get this information? Here are our sources:

“14 Facts About The Tortured, Miserable Life of Vincent van Gogh.” Phil Gibbons. Ranker.

“30 Impressive Facts About Vincent van Gogh.” Michelle Gabriel, The Facts Site.

“11 Interesting Facts About Vincent van Gogh.” Dan Scott, Draw Paint Academy. April 2018.