Between 1885 and his death in 1890, Van Gogh appears to have been building an oeuvre, a collection that reflected his personal vision, and could be commercially successful. He was influenced by Blanc's definition of style, that a true painting required optimal use of colour, perspective and brushstrokes. Van Gogh applied the word "purposeful" to paintings he thought he had mastered, as opposed to those he thought of as studies. He painted many series of studies; most of which were still lifes, many executed as colour experiments or as gifts to friends. The work in Arles contributed considerably to his oeuvre: those he thought the most important from that time were The Sower, Night Cafe, Memory of the Garden in Etten and Starry Night. With their broad brushstrokes, inventive perspectives, colours, contours and designs, these paintings represent the style he sought.
Van Dyke was born on December 13, 1925, in West Plains, Missouri, to Hazel Victoria (née McCord; 1896 – 1992), a stenographer, and Loren Wayne "Cookie" Van Dyke (1898–1976), a salesman. He grew up in Danville, Illinois. He is the older brother of actor Jerry Van Dyke (1931–2018), who is best known for a role on the TV series Coach. Van Dyke has Dutch, English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry, with a family line that traces back to Mayflower passenger John Alden.
Between February and April 1890 Van Gogh suffered a severe relapse. Depressed and unable to bring himself to write, he was still able to paint and draw a little during this time, and he later wrote to Theo that he had made a few small canvases "from memory ... reminisces of the North". Among these was Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset. Hulsker believes that this small group of paintings formed the nucleus of many drawings and study sheets depicting landscapes and figures that Van Gogh worked on during this time. He comments that this short period was the only time that Van Gogh's illness had a significant effect on his work. Van Gogh asked his mother and his brother to send him drawings and rough work he had done in the early 1880s so he could work on new paintings from his old sketches. Belonging to this period is Sorrowing Old Man ("At Eternity's Gate"), a colour study Hulsker describes as "another unmistakable remembrance of times long past". His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, according to the art critic Robert Hughes, "longing for concision and grace".
The self-portraits reflect an unusually high degree of self-scrutiny. Often they were intended to mark important periods in his life, for example the mid-1887 Paris series were painted at the point where he became aware of Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Signac. In Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, heavy strains of paint spread outwards across the canvas. It is one of his most renowned self-portraits of that period, "with its highly organized rhythmic brushstrokes, and the novel halo derived from the Neo-impressionist repertoire was what Van Gogh himself called a 'purposeful' canvas".
I've found a home here because actors have always said, 'He's really a dancer', and dancers said, 'No, no he's a singer', and singers said, 'No I think he's an actor.' I don't know, I was never that good at anything but I did a little bit of it all. I've never studied dancing but I've always loved to dance. I never sang anywhere except the shower and it took me forever to get into the high school choir. When I auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie (1963) I did a song and a little soft-shoe and for some reason they saw I could move. And I've never studied acting - which is maybe lucky otherwise I'd just be a copy of everybody else.