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The sunflowers were painted to decorate the walls in anticipation of Gauguin's visit, and Van Gogh placed individual works around the Yellow House's guest room in Arles. Gauguin was deeply impressed and later acquired two of the Paris versions. After Gauguin's departure, Van Gogh imagined the two major versions of the sunflowers as wings of the Berceuse Triptych, and included them in his Les XX in Brussels exhibit. Today the major pieces of the series are among his best known, celebrated for the sickly connotations of the colour yellow and its tie-in with the Yellow House, the expressionism of the brush strokes, and their contrast against often dark backgrounds.
The pictures he created over the following 12 months—depicting blossoming fruit trees, views of the town and surroundings, self-portraits, portraits of Roulin the postman and other friends, interiors and exteriors of the house, sunflowers, and landscapes—marked his first great period. In these works he strove to respect the external, visual aspect of a figure or landscape but found himself unable to suppress his own feelings about the subject, which found expression in emphatic contours and heightened effects of colour. Once hesitant to diverge from the traditional techniques of painting he worked so hard to master, he now gave free rein to his individuality and began squeezing his tubes of oil paint directly on the canvas. Van Gogh’s style was spontaneous and instinctive, for he worked with great speed and intensity, determined to capture an effect or a mood while it possessed him. “When anyone says that such and such [painting] is done too quickly,” he told his brother, “you can reply that they have looked at it too fast.”
^ Theo and his wife, Gachet and his son, and Signac, who all saw Van Gogh after the bandages were removed, maintained that only the earlobe had been removed. According to Doiteau and Leroy, the diagonal cut removed the lobe and probably a little more. The policeman and Rey both claimed Van Gogh severed the entire outer ear; Rey repeated his account in 1930, writing a note for novelist Irving Stone and including a sketch of the line of the incision.
I was an alcoholic for about twenty-five years. In the Fifties and Sixties, everybody had their martini, everybody smoked incessantly. The funny thing is that all through my twenties and early thirties I didn't drink at all. Then we moved to a neighborhood full of young families with the same age kids and everyone drank heavily, there were big parties every night. I would go to work with terrible hangovers which if you're dancing is really hard. I was in deep trouble, you get suicidal and think you just can't go on. I had suicidal feelings, it was just terrible. But then suddenly, like a blessing, the drink started not to taste good. I would feel a little dizzy and a little nauseous and I wasn't getting the click. Today I wouldn't want a drink for anything. But I do occasionally think of taking a nice drag. I've been on this gum for ten years and it's just as addictive but at least it's not hurting my lungs. (2013)
The police found van Gogh in his room the next morning, and admitted him to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Theo arrived on Christmas Day to see van Gogh, who was weak from blood loss and having violent seizures. The doctors assured Theo that his brother would live and would be taken good care of, and on January 7, 1889, van Gogh was released from the hospital.
To support his religious conviction and his desire to become a pastor, in 1877 the family sent him to live with his uncle Johannes Stricker, a respected theologian, in Amsterdam. Van Gogh prepared for the University of Amsterdam theology entrance examination; he failed the exam, and left his uncle's house in July 1878. He undertook, but also failed, a three-month course at a Protestant missionary school in Laken, near Brussels.
In August 1882 Theo gave Vincent money to buy materials for working en plein air. Vincent wrote that he could now "go on painting with new vigour". From early 1883 he worked on multi-figure compositions. He had some of them photographed, but when his brother remarked that they lacked liveliness and freshness, he destroyed them and turned to oil painting. Van Gogh turned to well-known Hague School artists like Weissenbruch and Blommers, and received technical advice from them, as well as from painters like De Bock and Van der Weele, both of the Hague School's second generation. When he moved to Nuenen after the period in Drenthe he began several large paintings but destroyed most of them. The Potato Eaters and its companion pieces are the only ones to have survived. Following a visit to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh wrote of his admiration for the quick, economical brushwork of the Dutch Masters, especially Rembrandt and Frans Hals.[note 12] He was aware that many of his faults were due to lack of experience and technical expertise, so in November 1885 he travelled to Antwerp and later Paris to learn and develop his skills.
In 1892 Émile Bernard organised a small solo show of Van Gogh's paintings in Paris, and Julien Tanguy exhibited his Van Gogh paintings with several consigned from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. In April 1894 the Durand-Rue Gallery in Paris agreed to take 10 paintings on consignment from Van Gogh's estate. In 1896, the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited John Peter Russell on Belle Île off Brittany. Russell had been a close friend of Van Gogh; he introduced Matisse to the Dutchman's work, and gave him a Van Gogh drawing. Influenced by Van Gogh, Matisse abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright colours.