Vincent van Gogh’s life was awash with misfortune, from mental illness to inability to hold a job to the fact that during his lifetime he sold but one of the more than 900 paintings he created. Even today, this artistic giant is known by many for but a single work – Starry Night – despite having produced a wide array of images during his relatively brief career.
While van Gogh’s difficulty with mental illness is relatively well documented, as is its impact on his work, his struggle to find a job and the bearing it had on his art career is perhaps less well known, according to Alastair Sooke, art critic of The Daily Telegraph.
By age 25, van Gogh had failed in stints at art dealerships in The Hague, London and Paris; teaching jobs in England; and a spell in bookshop in The Netherlands. He then attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ministry, but this too proved a flop, and his family began to wonder if there was hope for the 25-year old, according to Sooke, writing for the BBC.
In was then that an event critical to van Gogh’s career as an artist occurred. In 1878, still bent on becoming an evangelist, he left for the depressed Belgian coal mining district of the Borinage, to the west of the city of Mons. His goal was to establish himself as a lay preacher to the working class.
Van Gogh efforts as an evangelist in Borinage were hampered by a number of factors. Not being gifted with a golden tongue, his talks were sparsely attended, at best. His ability to connect with locals was hindered by the fact that the latter spoke “Walloon French,” which van Gogh struggled to understand, while his own French sounded overly stilted to the blue-collar coal miners and their families.