10 Quotes on Art and Life From Vincent van Gogh on His Birthday

“One must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with,” he wrote.

Vincent van Gogh, Autoportrait (1888).Photo: Courtesy of artnet News.
Vincent van Gogh, Autoportrait (1888).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet News.

Like most legends, the name Vincent van Gogh calls to mind tales of strife and triumph. But perhaps the greatest of them all–or the one that we are most familiar with—is the story of his posthumous fame and fortune.

Commercial wealth, of course, doesn’t always amount to success. For the beloved painter, greatness was achieved in steps. In a letter to his younger brother Theo, he confided that “the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.”

Had he known, however, that his oeuvre would comprise a constellation of prized works in the art world to come, he might find that the labor of his love would be even sweeter than he’d imagined.

As a testament to van Gogh’s artistic legacy, artnet News compiled some of our favorite quotes from the legendary Dutch artist below.

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Portrait du Gachet</em> (1890).<br>Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Portrait du Gachet (1890).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

1. To his brother, Theo van Gogh: “I’ve just kept on ceaselessly painting in order to learn painting.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Autoportrait</em> (1889).<br>Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Autoportrait (1889).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

2. To Theo: “It is difficult to know oneself, but it isn’t easy to paint oneself either.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>L'Allee des Alyscamps</em> (1888).<br>Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, L’Allee des Alyscamps (1888).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

3. To his sister, Willemina Jacoba van Gogh: “One can speak poetry just by arranging colors well, just as one can say comforting things in music.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Nature Morte</em> (1890).<br>Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Nature Morte (1890).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

4. To Theo: “I say it less in words and more silently in work.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente</em> (1890).<br />Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente (1890).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

5. To Theo: “Sometimes I long so much to do landscape, just as one would go for a long walk to refresh oneself, and in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Irises</em> (1889).<br />Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Irises (1889).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

6. To Paul Gauguin: “I’d like to see you taking a very large share in this belief that we’ll be relatively successful in founding something lasting.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>L'Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux</em> (1890).<br />Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, L’Arlésienne, Madame Ginoux (1890).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

7. To Theo: “I assure you that there’s a lot involved in compositions with figures… It’s like weaving… you must control and keep an eye on several things at once.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Sunflowers</em> (1889).<br />Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers (1889).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

8. To Wilhemein: “The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant color, well arranged, resplendent.”

 

Vincent van Gogh, <em>L'homme est en mer</em> (1889).<br />Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, L’homme est en mer (1889).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

9. To Emile Bernard: “I sometimes make changes to the subject, but still I don’t invent the whole of the painting; on the contrary, I find it ready-made—but to be untangled— in the real world.”

Vincent van Gogh, <em>Sous-bois</em> (1890).<br />Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Vincent van Gogh, Sous-bois (1890).
Photo: Courtesy of artnet Price Database.

10. To Theo: “One must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with.”


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