For years, Van Dyke struggled financially and professionally. He and his first wife, Margie, married on a radio show called Bride and Groom in 1948, in part because the program paid for the ceremony and gave them a free honeymoon. In the late 1940s and early '50s, Van Dyke worked in radio and television in Atlanta and New Orleans. He landed a seven-year contract with CBS in the early 1950s, but was let go after three years.
His understanding of the possibilities of painting was evolving rapidly; from studying Hals he learned to portray the freshness of a visual impression, while the works of Paolo Veronese and Eugène Delacroix taught him that colour can express something by itself. This led to his enthusiasm for Peter Paul Rubens and inspired his sudden departure for Antwerp, Belgium, where the greatest number of Rubens’s works could be seen. The revelation of Rubens’s mode of direct notation and of his ability to express a mood by a combination of colours proved decisive in the development of van Gogh’s style. Simultaneously, van Gogh discovered Japanese prints and Impressionist painting. All these sources influenced him more than the academic principles taught at the Antwerp Academy, where he was enrolled. His refusal to follow the academy’s dictates led to disputes, and after three months he left precipitately in 1886 to join Theo in Paris. There, still concerned with improving his drawing, van Gogh met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and others who were to play historic roles in modern art. They opened his eyes to the latest developments in French painting. At the same time, Theo introduced him to Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and other artists of the Impressionist group.
In despair of ever being able to overcome his loneliness or be cured, van Gogh shot himself. He did not die immediately. When found wounded in his bed, he allegedly said, “I shot myself.…I only hope I haven’t botched it.” That evening, when interrogated by the police, van Gogh refused to answer questions, saying, “What I have done is nobody else’s business. I am free to do what I like with my own body.”
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Van Gogh's stylistic developments are usually linked to the periods he spent living in different places across Europe. He was inclined to immerse himself in local cultures and lighting conditions, although he maintained a highly individual visual outlook throughout. His evolution as an artist was slow, and he was aware of his painterly limitations. He moved home often, perhaps to expose himself to new visual stimuli, and through exposure develop his technical skill. Art historian Melissa McQuillan believes the moves also reflect later stylistic changes, and that Van Gogh used the moves to avoid conflict, and as a coping mechanism for when the idealistic artist was faced with the realities of his then current situation.
On January 27, 2013, at the age of 87, Van Dyke received the 2013 Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. During his acceptance speech, Van Dyke reminisced about his work over the years as an entertainer and stated that his career has "been full of surprises and a lot of fun." He also praised actors working in the industry today, calling them "the greatest generation of actors" and telling them, "You've all lifted the art to another place now." He continued with a rhetorical question for his Hollywood colleagues: "Aren't we lucky to have found a line of work that doesn't require growing up? I love that." Van Dyke is the 49th recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, following 2012 honoree Mary Tyler Moore.