Vincent van Gogh is one of the world's most iconic artists, and his commanding and sometimes disturbing works speak of a troubled, yet immense genius. At the time he completed this striking landscape, entitled Town View of the Hague with the Nieuwe Kerk, van Gogh had just experienced his first taste of commercial success, thanks in part to his uncle, art dealer Cornelius Marinus van Gogh. Between March and April of 1882, van Gogh had been commissioned by his uncle to draw a 12-part series of compositions with city views of the Hague as the focus.
Around the same period, van Gogh began to learn the art of watercolor from his cousin, Anton Mauve, a highly accomplished watercolorist. His new-found interest in the medium is seen in this particular landscape of the Hague. The overcast sky and ominous rooftops, with chimneys bellowing black smoke in the distance, seem to mirror the state of the downtrodden man in the center of the composition, a common figure present in many of van Gogh's works during this time. Through his use of arrangement, color and perspective, this landscape emanates deep emotion, reflecting the genius that is van Gogh.
Born the son of a pastor in Groot-Zundert, Holland, van Gogh was unsuccessful in several ventures in his early life. Besides clerking in a bookstore and working as a pastor, van Gogh obtained a position as an art salesman in 1869 with Goupil & Cie, an art gallery owned by an uncle. He was transferred to the London branch of the gallery and was happy for a time, before suffering a failed romance and in 1876, being terminated from the position. Around 1880, van Gogh decided to study art. In 1886, he traveled to Paris to join his brother Théo, who was managing Goupil's gallery. There, van Gogh studied with Fernand Cormon, and met such Impressionists as Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Paul Gauguin, who would become a close friend. Under their influence, he began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint using the tell-tale short brushstrokes of an Impressionist painter.
It is impossible to separate van Gogh's mental afflictions from his development as an artist. His nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. In 1888 he moved to Arles where the Provençal landscape provided his best-known subject matter. Here, he hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art. Gauguin did join him, but with disastrous results. It was during an argument with his friend, some say during a fit of epilepsy, that van Gogh sliced off a portion of his ear lobe. Van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment in 1889. He continued to paint, but committed suicide in 1890. During his brief career, he had sold one painting. It was through the assiduous efforts of his sister-in-law, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, that his work achieved the recognition he did not have the opportunity to experience during his lifetime.