Did you know that Vincent van Gogh didn't decide to pursue an art career until he was 28 years old? Given the fact that he passed away a mere nine years later, it's hard to believe that he ultimately created nearly 900 paintings. With so many works to see, you may be wondering where to begin. Fortunately, we've put together a selection of his most famous paintings—and, most importantly, where in there world you can find them.
Here's where to see 10 of the most famous Van Gogh paintings.
Sunflowers – The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City and The National Gallery of Art, London
Van Gogh favored an eclectic array of subject matter. In addition to revealing self-portraits and enchanting night scenes, he loved painting still-life depictions of sunflowers, which gave him great “comfort in contemplating.”
Van Gogh completed two series starring sunflowers: Paris Sunflowers (a collection of four paintings featuring close-up studies of cut sunflowers resting on a flat surface) and Arles Sunflowers (a five-piece series showcasing the flowers propped up in vases). While these paintings exist in institutions all over the world, you can find two of the most well-known works at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and London's National Gallery of Art.
The Yellow House – The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Van Gogh lived in Arles, a commune in the South of France, for fourteen months. During this time, he had hoped to establish a shared studio where he and his contemporaries could paint. In an attempt to realize this dream, he rented four rooms in the “Yellow House,” a two-story home located at 2 Place Lamartine.
Unfortunately, the Yellow House was destroyed during World War II. However, in September of 1888, Van Gogh immortalized the charming abode in a painting, which is now on display at the Van Gogh Museum.
Bedroom in Arles – The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
While living in the “Yellow House,” Van Gogh found ample artistic inspiration in an unlikely source: his bedroom. Van Gogh painted this subject three times, paying particular attention to color in each instance. Upon completing the first rendition—which the Van Gogh Foundation has permanently loaned to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam—he described the palette to his brother, Theo, in a letter:
“I have painted the walls pale violet. The ground with checked material. The wooden bed and the chairs, yellow like fresh butter; the sheet and the pillows, lemon light green. The bedspread, scarlet coloured. The window, green. The washbasin, orangey; the tank, blue. The doors, lilac. And, that is all. . . I have depicted no type of shade or shadow; I have only applied simple plain colors, like those in crêpes.”
Café Terrace at Night – Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Van Gogh completed many of his most celebrated paintings while living in the Yellow House, including two beloved nightscapes: Café Terrace at Night and Starry Night Over the Rhône.
Café Terrace at Night captures a late summer evening in the Place du Forum, a vibrant public square in Arles. To capture the colors of the scene, Van Gogh set up an easel in the plaza and painted en plein air. In a letter to his brother, he explains why he preferred this approach: “I enormously enjoy painting on the spot at night. In the past they used to draw, and paint the picture from the drawing in the daytime. But I find that it suits me to paint the thing straightaway . . . it’s the only way of getting away from the conventional black night with a poor, pallid and whitish light.”
This painting is housed by the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands.
Starry Night Over the Rhône – The Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Van Gogh painted Starry Night Over the Rhône less than one month after completing Café Terrace at Night. Again, he opted to paint outdoors; this time, however, he left the bustling city center behind and settled along the banks of the Rhône River. From here, he could see gas lamps across the water, which echoed the twinkling sight of the stars overheard.
Much like his other nocturnes, Starry Night Over the Rhône illustrates Van Gogh's inherent interest in color, from the aquamarine sky to the mauve ground. Though luminous tones and energetic brushstrokes fill the scene with energy, the scene is exceptionally calm—a far cry from the swirling Starry Night he'd paint the following year.
Today, Starry Night Over the Rhône is part of the Musée d'Orsay‘s permanent collection.
The Starry Night – The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Van Gogh suffered from mental health issues throughout much of his life. After a string of unfortunate incidents (including an episode that resulted in the artist severing his own ear) in the late 1880s, he checked himself into a mental health facility in the South of France. During his time in the asylum, he completed 150 paintings, including The Starry Night, a nocturnal landscape painted through his “iron-barred window.”
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City acquired this world-famous painting in 1941.
Irises – J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Van Gogh did not let his institutionalization interfere with his love of painting en plein air. Often, he would paint in the asylum's garden, where he found an abundance of plants and flowers, including irises.
In 1889, he painted his most well-known painting of these flowers. Titled Irises, this painting was most likely intended as a simple study. However, in 1987, this unassuming work became the most expensive painting ever when it was sold to a private collector for $53.9 million. Two years later, it was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum, where it remains today.
Self-Portrait – The Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Prior to his time in the mental hospital, Van Gogh began exploring the self-portrait genre. From 1886 until 1889, he completed 30 paintings of himself, including one particularly well-known work at the Musée d'Orsay.
Completed during his time in the asylum, this poignant painting hints toward Van Gogh's deteriorating mental state. In addition to outfitting himself with “green-rimmed eyes,” this approach is evident in the artist's treatment of color: a “mix of absinth green and pale turquoise [that] finds a counterpoint in its complementary color, the fiery orange of the beard and hair.”
Van Gogh passed away a year after completing this portrait.
Wheatfield with Crows – The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Two months before his untimely death, Van Gogh left the hospital and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, a suburb of Paris. Though his work began to receive recognition during this time, he suffered some financial setbacks that undoubtedly contributed to his poor mental health.
On July 27, 1890, he shot himself in a wheat field—the setting of his painting, Wheatfield with Crows, a piece held by the Van Gogh Museum. Fittingly, this would be the last painting completed by Van Gogh, who died two days after his suicide attempt.
Of course, with over 850 paintings in his oeuvre, this selection simply scratches the surface of Van Gogh's must-see paintings. However, these 10 pieces are particularly important, as studying them allows us to both appreciate his artistic skills and trace the story of his tragic life.