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Van Gogh, the eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor, was born and reared in a small village in the Brabant region of the southern Netherlands. He was a quiet, self-contained youth, spending his free time wandering the countryside to observe nature. At 16 he was apprenticed to The Hague branch of the art dealers Goupil and Co., of which his uncle was a partner.
Van Gogh had no recollection of the event, suggesting that he may have suffered an acute mental breakdown. The hospital diagnosis was "acute mania with generalised delirium", and within a few days the local police ordered that he be placed in hospital care. Gauguin immediately notified Theo, who on 24 December had proposed marriage to his old friend Andries Bonger's sister Johanna. That evening Theo rushed to the station to board a night train to Arles. He arrived on Christmas Day and comforted Vincent, who seemed to be semi-lucid. That evening he left Arles for the return trip to Paris.
It took Walt twenty years to talk Travers [P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins novels] into giving him the rights for the picture and then she fought him tooth and nail all the way through it. She hated me, she hated Julie Andrews, she didn't think either one of us were right. After the premiere she met Walt in the lobby and said, 'All the animation has to go.' Walt said, 'Pamela, the boat has sailed.'
Van Gogh moved to Paris in March 1886 where he shared Theo's rue Laval apartment in Montmartre, and studied at Fernand Cormon's studio. In June the brothers took a larger flat at 54 rue Lepic. In Paris, Vincent painted portraits of friends and acquaintances, still life paintings, views of Le Moulin de la Galette, scenes in Montmartre, Asnières and along the Seine. In 1885 in Antwerp he had become interested in Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and had used them to decorate the walls of his studio; while in Paris he collected hundreds of them. He tried his hand at Japonaiserie, tracing a figure from a reproduction on the cover of the magazine Paris Illustre, The Courtesan or Oiran (1887), after Keisai Eisen, which he then graphically enlarged in a painting.
In April 1876 he returned to England to take unpaid work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate. When the proprietor moved to Isleworth in Middlesex, Van Gogh went with him. The arrangement did not work out and he left to become a Methodist minister's assistant. His parents had meanwhile moved to Etten; in 1876 he returned home at Christmas for six months and took work at a bookshop in Dordrecht. He was unhappy in the position and spent his time doodling or translating passages from the Bible into English, French and German. He immersed himself in religion, and became increasingly pious and monastic. According to his flatmate of the time, Paulus van Görlitz, Van Gogh ate frugally, avoiding meat.
Van Gogh strove to be a painter of rural life and nature, and during his first summer in Arles he used his new palette to paint landscapes and traditional rural life. His belief that a power existed behind the natural led him to try to capture a sense of that power, or the essence of nature in his art, sometimes through the use of symbols. His renditions of the sower, at first copied from Jean-François Millet, reflect Van Gogh's religious beliefs: the sower as Christ sowing life beneath the hot sun. These were themes and motifs he returned to often to rework and develop. His paintings of flowers are filled with symbolism, but rather than use traditional Christian iconography he made up his own, where life is lived under the sun and work is an allegory of life. In Arles, having gained confidence after painting spring blossoms and learning to capture bright sunlight, he was ready to paint The Sower.
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After his recovery, and despite his antipathy towards academic teaching, he took the higher-level admission exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and in January 1886 matriculated in painting and drawing. He became ill and run down by overwork, poor diet and excessive smoking. He started to attend drawing classes after plaster models at the Antwerp Academy on 18 January 1886. He quickly got into trouble with Charles Verlat, the director of the Academy and teacher of a painting class, because of his unconventional painting style. Van Gogh had also clashed with the instructor of the drawing class Franz Vinck. Van Gogh finally started to attend the drawing classes after antique plaster models given by Eugène Siberdt. Soon Siberdt and Van Gogh came into conflict when the latter did not comply with Siberdt's requirement that drawings express the contour and concentrate on the line. When Van Gogh was required to draw the Venus of Milo during a drawing class, he produced the limbless, naked torso of a Flemish peasant woman. Siberdt regarded this as defiance against his artistic guidance and made corrections to Van Gogh's drawing with his crayon so vigorously that he tore the paper. Van Gogh then flew into a violent rage and shouted at Siberdt: 'You clearly do not know what a young woman is like, God damn it! A woman must have hips, buttocks, a pelvis in which she can carry a baby!' According to some accounts this was the last time Van Gogh attended classes at the Academy and he left later for Paris. On 31 March 1886, which was about a month after the confrontation with Siberdt, the teachers of the Academy decided that 17 students, including Van Gogh, had to repeat a year. The story that Van Gogh was expelled from the Academy by Siberdt is therefore unfounded.
Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and a failure. He became famous after his suicide, and exists in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius, the artist "where discourses on madness and creativity converge". His reputation began to grow in the early 20th century as elements of his painting style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. He attained widespread critical, commercial and popular success over the ensuing decades, and is remembered as an important but tragic painter, whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist. Today, Van Gogh's works are among the world's most expensive paintings to have ever sold at auction, and his legacy is honoured by a museum in his name, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds the world's largest collection of his paintings and drawings.