The real man was much more complex, the son of a respectable pastor, well-read, fluent in three languages, who began his artistic career as an art dealer. His personality shines through in his letters, portions of which were being published within a couple years of his death in July 1890, widely believed to have been a suicide.
Compelling though he may have been, van Gogh was a difficult character to live with, and his appearance mirrored the turmoil within. “He had a facial tic, and his hands seemed to be in constant motion,” the editors write. “People were often afraid of him, because of his wild and unkempt appearance and his intense manner of speaking.” Some of that wild and unkempt appearance may simply have been a result of poverty, but there is no doubt that van Gogh’s conviction that he was always right could make him as tiresome as a half-inebriated and wholly opinionated cousin at a Thanksgiving table. His younger brother Theo performed miracles to support him and undoubtedly, upon dying, ascended to a well-deserved place at the right hand of God for resisting the temptation to strangle the painter on numerous occasions.