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Vincent van Gogh was born near Brabant, The Netherlands, the son of a minister. In 1869, he worked for an art dealer in The Hague, then traveled to England before training for the ministry at Amsterdam University.

Largely self-taught as an artist, Van Gogh's early works were heavily painted, dark, intense and powerful representations of the rural poor. He moved to Paris in 1886 to live with his brother, Theo, an art dealer who introduced him to artists such as Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. While there, his palette lightened as he discovered the bright color and loose paint strokes of the neo-Impressionists, and he was especially drawn to the pointillist work of Seurat. With blazing color and varied paint texture, Van Gogh started to record the sensuous beauty he had recently discovered in the visible world.

Van Gogh moved to Arles, in the south of France, in 1888, hoping to establish an artists' colony there, and was joined briefly by Gauguin in October 1888. It was during this visit that an argument ensued, leading to the infamous episode in which Van Gogh mutilated his ear. More importantly, he sought to record the movement and turbulence he saw in the Mediterranean landscape using color as experience and the brush stroke as dynamic gesture. In the south, Van Gogh went full circle, for he wanted to represent his mystical faith in the creative force that he felt informed all forms of life.

In 1889, he became a voluntary patient at the St. Remy asylum, where he continued to paint, often making renderings of works by artists he admired. His palette softened to mauves and pinks, but his brushwork was increasingly agitated, sometimes mistakenly interpreted as symbolic of his mental state. Van Gogh then moved to Auvers to be closer to Theo, where he spent the last 70 days of his life in a hectic program of painting. He died in 1890 having sold only one work, but convinced that future generations would enjoy and admire his work.