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Art and Music: Van Gogh & Bach

Vincent Willem van Gogh

(March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890)

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist artist. His paintings and drawings include some of the world's best known, most popular and most expensive pieces. Van Gogh spent his early adult life working for a firm of art dealers. After a brief time as a teacher, he became a missionary worker in a very poor mining region. He did not embark upon a career as an artist until 1880.

Initially, van Gogh worked only with somber colors, until he encountered Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism in Paris. He incorporated their brighter colors and style of painting into a uniquely recognizable style, which was fully developed during the time he spent at Arles, France. He produced more than 2,000 works, including around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches, during the last ten years of his life. Most of his best-known works were produced in the final two years of his life, during which time he cut off part of his left ear following a breakdown in his friendship with Paul Gauguin.

After this he suffered recurrent bouts of mental illness, which led to his suicide. The central figure in Van Gogh's life was his brother Theo, who continually and selflessly provided financial support. Their lifelong friendship is documented in numerous letters they exchanged from August,, 1872 onwards. Van Gogh is a pioneer of what came to be known as Expressionism. He had an enormous influence on 20th century art, especially on the Fauves and German Expressionists.

Van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, a village close to Breda in the Province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands. Van Gogh was the son of Anna Cornelia Carbentus and Theodorus van Gogh, who was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. He was given the same name as his grandfather—and a first brother stillborn exactly one year before. It has been suggested that being given the same name as his dead elder brother might have had a deep psychological impact on the young artist, and that elements of his art, such as the portrayal of pairs of male figures, can be traced back to this. The practice of reusing a name in this way was not uncommon. The name "Vincent" was often used in the Van Gogh family: the baby's grandfather was called Vincent van Gogh (1789-1874); he had received his degree of theology at the University of Leiden in 1811. Grandfather Vincent had six sons, three of whom became art dealers, including another Vincent, referred to in Van Gogh's letters as "Uncle Cent." Grandfather Vincent had perhaps been named after his own father's uncle, the successful sculptor Vincent van Gogh (1729-1802). Art and religion were the two occupations to which the Van Gogh family gravitated.

Johann Sebastian Bach

(March 21, 1685 – July 28, 1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and organist who composed and performed music for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments during the Baroque period. Bach's most famous works include the Brandenburg concertos; the Goldberg Variations; the English Suites, French Suites, Partitas, and Well-Tempered Clavier; the Mass in B Minor; the St. Matthew Passion; the St. John Passion; The Musical Offering; The Art of Fugue; the Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo; the Cello Suites; and the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Although Bach's fame as an organist was great during his lifetime, he was not well-known as a composer. His adherence to Baroque forms was considered old-fashioned by his contemporaries, especially late in his career when musical tastes were more in the Rococo and Classical styles. But Bach’s music endured, and he is now widely considered to be one of the greatest composers in the Western tradition.

Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach, Germany, into a very musical family. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach was a church organist who taught him to play violin and harpsichord. His uncles were all professional musicians and composers. One uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, was especially famous and introduced young Johann to organ playing.

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