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Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853 - July 29, 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on twentieth-century art. Though van Gogh began to draw as a child, he did not begin to paint until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works (including The Starry Night) during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. His oeuvre comprises portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, and still lives. In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris and underwent a significant transformation when confronted with the works of Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists. Famously, van Gogh lived out the remainder of his life in the south of France, where he eventually succumbed to mental illness and committed suicide. His paintings of his final years are perhaps his most seminal and renown, and their influence on modern art cannot be overstated.
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Irises, one of Vincent van Gogh’s most successful paintings, is not only one of the most expensive paintings ever sold (adjusting for inflation, it places tenth on the list), it is also one of the most revealing in terms of the artist’s time spent in the asylum at Saint-Remy during the last year of his life. Begun in the spring of 1889, within a week of his hospitalization, Irises was painted before his first major breakdown in the hospital. The canvas, while striking and undoubtedly masterful with its intricate details and vivid colors, lacks the dramatic tension that was so characteristic to his paintings during the asylum years. Instead, Irises exudes a certain joyfulness and levity, which is perhaps why van Gogh referred to the painting as “the lightning conductor for my illness,” as he believed that as long as he could paint, he could keep his mental breakdowns at bay. Submitted by van Gogh’s brother Theo to the Salon des Indépendents in September 1889, it received immediate, positive attention, and was purchased by one of the artist’s earliest supporters, the art critic Octave Mirbeau. Currently, it is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, attracting visitors since 1990.
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