Michael Prodger

Hiroshige on His Mind

Japanese Prints: The Collection of Vincent van Gogh

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Long before Vincent van Gogh was an artist, he was an art dealer. In 1869, young Vincent, aged sixteen and unsure of what he wanted to do in life, obtained an apprenticeship with the art dealer Goupil & Cie through his uncle, a major shareholder. In 1873, he was sent to work at the firm’s branch in London, where he was briefly happy until an unrequited love for his landlady’s daughter triggered a serious depressive episode that saw him transferred to Goupil in Paris. This change of scene also failed: Van Gogh was keener on admiring artworks than selling them and made no effort to hide his disdain for the customers. In 1876, he resigned, probably to forestall being fired.

There followed unsuccessful spells as a teacher, bookseller, university student and lay preacher. In 1880, he started to practise drawing from a book loaned by Goupil. As an artist too, he failed. He sold just one painting in his lifetime and relied for financial aid on his younger brother, Theo. ‘It is better that [the paint] should be on my canvas than in the tubes,’ Van Gogh said plaintively, but even his mother disagreed; she found his paintings ‘ridiculous’.

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