On the Trail of Vincent Van Gogh in Paris

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On the Trail of Vincent Van Gogh in Paris
“Paris is Paris. There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here … the French air clears up the brain and does one good.”  -Vincent Van Gogh, autumn 1886  The celebrated painter Vincent Van Gogh lived in Paris on two separate occasions. Vincent first arrived in the city on October 26, 1874 when he was appointed to work at Galerie Goupil at 2, place de l’Opera. His uncle Cent Van Gogh was a very successful art dealer and nepotism played a part in the placement of his 21-year-old nephew.    In a city reborn post-Commune and post-Haussmann, Vincent made the most the the Paris art scene, walking the new streets to visit the Louvre, the Musée du Luxembourg and the Salon de Paris. At the Drouot auction house at 9 rue Drouot, Vincent felt he was standing on holy ground.  Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, oil on board, 1887. Public domain Vincent rented a small room in Montmartre overlooking a pleasant garden filled with ivy and Virginia creeper. At this unknown address, he coverd the walls with engravings of his new favorites and listed them in a letter to his brother: Rembrandt, Corot, Millet.   A young Englishman shared this room with Vincent. Harry Gladwell was also a trainee at Goupil. Close in age, the two read bible chapters aloud in the evenings. Vincent encouraged Gladwell to abandon his career as an art dealer and turn to the Church. Vincent endeavored this for himself a few months later. Gladwell, however, became a successful art dealer in England at the family gallery that still bears his name.  At first Vincent was very proud of his work at Goupil et Cie. But his worrying personality traits became apparent. Vincent grew increasingly resentful about the commodification of art. AWOL over Christmas time, he was asked to work out his notice and he left Paris for the Netherlands on April 1, 1876.   Goupil & Cie, rue Chaptal (c.1860). Public domain During the next decade, the itinerant Vincent tried his hand at many things. From preaching to teaching, nothing took hold. His  theological studies were incomplete and while working as a missionary in the poverty-stricken area of the Borinage, he became as one with his parishioners. However, church authorities dismissed him for undermining the dignity of the priesthood.   Despite his dislike of formality, Vincent enrolled in Brussel’s Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts where he studied anatomy and perspective. Around this time Vincent’s younger brother Theo began to send him painting supplies and an allowance.   Vincent wrote over 650 letters to Theo over a period of 15 years. However, Vincent’s letter writing trailed off in 1886. Why? Because Vincent, now a self-proclaimed artist, returned to Paris, Theo’s new home base. The brothers were despondent over the sudden death of their father in 1885, and when Theo invited Vincent to join him in Paris, Vincent jumped at the chance. Vincent’s arrival however was expected a few months later. Theo was surprised to receive a note Vincent had dashed off from the train station, advising, “…don’t be cross with me that I’ve come all of a sudden.”  

Lead photo credit : Galerie Goupil, place de l'Opéra Paris. Public domain

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Robert Shirrell
    2023-10-22 07:14:24
    Robert Shirrell
    Van Gogh's time in Paris was treated in great depth in a wonderful exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago from May to September this year, and the show will move to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from October 13 through January 14 of next year. The title in Amsterdam is Van Gogh Along the Seine. The show documents the dramatic change in Van Gogh's painting during this stay in Paris as well as the evolving works of the other avant garde painters he was coming in contact with.