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Patterns in the life of Vincent van Gogh

A data story by STEFAN PULLEN


Van Gogh lived a short, turbulent, and prolific life. During his decade-long career as an artist, he produced almost 900 oil paintings and left us a comprehensive correspondence of letters.

I wanted to explore his work from a new angle by looking for patterns that emerge if we take a step back and look at the data behind the art. For this purpose, I created a simple data-set from his entire repertoire that would serve as the foundation of this data driven story. While uncovering patterns in the data-set, I started to see his paintings from a new perspective. I wanted to incorporate this into the story, and therefore you can explore the individual paintings by simply hovering your mouse over the paintings.

I'm excited to share this story with you, and I hope you will enjoy the patterns in the life of Vincent van Gogh

Important Notice

For the best experience, please take the following into concideration:

Take your time
Wait until the animations are finished before you continue to the next paragraph.

The only way is down
The story is not backwards compatible. If you want to re-read the story, make use of the return to top button at the bottom right.

The story

This is a data story about the work and life of Vincent van Gogh.

We will visualize and structure the data behind his work to pick out fascinating patterns, alluding to a deeper understanding of the famous artist.

868 oil paintings

Despite creating many gorgeous studies in watercolour, graphite, and charcoal - for the purposes of this story, we'll be measuring his output of fully realised oil paintings.

Tip: Throughout this story you can hover over the paintings to explore his work in more detail.

A search for meaning

On 30 March 1853, Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in the Dutch village of Zundert. Aged 15, he would leave school for unknown reasons. The next 12 years of his life would be marked by many different unsuccessful career attempts.

From a young age, Vincent always enjoyed drawing. His brother and live long best friend and art dealer, Theo, would eventually encourage van Gogh to become an artist.

The artist career

He would start his career as a peasant painter. His work would focus on the daily hardship of the rural life in the Netherlands, often depicted in dark and brown tones.

Throughout the years, van Gogh's work gradually became brighter and bolder, transitioning into the post-impressionistic style he is famed for today.

On the road

Although his career was brief, he travelled extensively between the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

On his travels he would meet many influential people, suffer untold hardships, battle poverty and obscurity, all the while channeling this adversity into the pursuit of artistic perfection.


The art school in The Hague, the rough country life in Drenthe, the buzzing streets of Paris or the sunny meadows in the south of France, each place would have a lasting impact on his work.

This is not only apparent when we look at the paintings themselves, but also when we take a step back and look at his work as a whole.

Number of paintings

A good start would be to simply look at how many paintings he made at each of these locations.

On the right we can see a graph ilustrating this. The locations are listed in chronological order, therefore we can see that he made most of his work later in his career.
Furthermore it becomes apparent that, despite his status as one of the great Dutch painters, only a fraction of his work was actually made in the Netherlands.


Of all places where he lived, he made the most paintings in Paris.

Vincent moved to the capital of France in 1886. His brother Theo, a successful art dealer, introduced him to a new generation of artist. It is here where van Gogh was inspired by the colourful work Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin.
This would be the start of his transition towards the signature vivid colors for which he is so well known today.


We get a very different insight if we take time into consideration.

Throughout his life, Vincent struggled with his mental health. After the infamous ear incident, he admitted himself to a mental institution in Saint-Rémy.
When he left the hospital, he took up residence in the quiet town of Auvers. Here he befriended his doctor Paul Gachet who encouraged him to soley focus on his craft.
As a result, the last three months of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise turned out to be his most prolific period, finishing almost one painting a day.

Brief visits

Some locations Vincent just visited briefly. For instance a three day museum trip to Amsterdam so he could study the work of Rembrandt.
Arriving too early at the train station, he had just enough time to finish a painting in the waiting room.

Due to a lack of information, we exclude these paintings for the remainder of the story.


'Through working hard I hope to make something good one day. I haven't got it yet, but I'm hunting it and fighting for it.' - Van Gogh.

Take a moment to look at his work and see for yourself how the locations effected his paintings style.

Month by month

Vincent would often write to his brother about his ongoing work.

Because these letters survived, we have an extraordinary oportunity to compare his output on a month to month basis.


By making a distinction between seasons, it becomes clear that overall he was the least productive during the dark winter months.


So what patterns can we see when we look at each location individually?

If we look at Arles, a productive autumn pops out. This period coincides with the period when Gogh briefly lived with his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin.

Furthermore, it reveals a year round consistency in Nuenen where he depcited the harsh reality of country life through the year.

In Paris, Vincent lived with his brother Theo. As a result, we do not have a written correspondence of this period. Making it impossible to accurately date those paintings.


'Last year I've painted almost nothing but flowers to accustom myself to a colour other then grey. And when I painted the landscapes in Asnières this summer, I saw more colours in it then I did before.' - Van Gogh.

Take a moment to look at his work and see for yourself how the seasons effected his paintings style.

Canvas size

If we take a closer look, we can see that Vincent's work takes on many different shapes and sizes.

Basic dimensions

We can start exploring this further by first looking at the extremes.

He made his largest painting early in his career in Neuen and his smallest work when he was frantically experimenting new techniques in Paris. But if we look at the average of all paintings, it's hard to make a clear distinction.

Size distribution

A distribution tells us a lot more. Here we can see the paintings vertically positioned according to their size in square centimeters.

It becomes apparent that most of his early work in the cities of Nuenen and Paris were relatively small. In Arles and Saint-Rémy van Gogh frequently painted on the canvas 30, a French standard canvas size of 92 cm x 73 cm. These works includes some of his most famous such as: The Stary Night, Almond Blossom and Irises.

The tragic end

Throughout his life and travels van Gogh struggeld with his mental health. Ultimately his conditition proved to be fatal On 27 July 1890, he walked into a wheat field near Auvers and shot himself in the chest with a pistol. Two days later, he succumbed to his injuries and passed away in the presence of his brother.
He would die at age 37 in relative anonymity, unknown that his work would soon inspire millions all around the world.

His legacy

After his death, van Gogh quickly gained international recognition and the appreciation of his work skyrocketed. His paintings became well sought after by museums and private collectors alike. To this day, his paintings can be found on every continent.

In this final image, we can see the locations of museums which currently have a painting from van Gogh on display.

Vincent van Gogh

'... we're working on art and at matters that won't be of our times only, but which may also be continued by others after us.' - Van Gogh.


Many thanks to Lélia, Stephen, Chris, Carmen, Alice & Axel for the feedback and encouragement in the early stages of the project.
Special thanks to Emmet, Denis and Mac who helped me out with the technique.