Van Gogh had an almost endearing habit of signing all his paintings with nothing but ‘Vincent’. No corporate ‘van Gogh’ or written out in full ‘Vincent van Gogh’, just ‘Vincent’.
But why did he do that? Unfortunately we can't ask him anymore, but there are some interesting theories.
Van Gogh was not the first well-known Dutch painter to come up with the idea of leaving only his first name on the canvas. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was him before – I think I would have kept it with my first name if that was my name.
Vincent came into contact with Rembrandt's work at an early age. In the mid-1870s he worked as an art dealer for a gallery in Paris, where Van Rijn made a deep impression on a young Van Gogh in the Louvre.
It can hardly be found in his work, but the letters Vincent wrote to his brother Theo show that Van Gogh was a great lover of Rembrandt throughout his life. For example, after his visit to the Rijksmuseum in 1885, he claimed that he would gladly sacrifice ten years of his life to watch The Jewish Bride for 14 days “with barely a crust of dry bread to eat” .
That Vincent was a big fan of his old colleague is an understatement. Would using only his first name be a nod to his idol?
Van Gogh admired Van Rijn
The other theory is perhaps less inspiring. In his book Van Gogh: His Life and Works in 500 Images, Michael Howard states that Vincent would rather not have ‘van Gogh’ be more wild. The Van Gogh House was not exactly a warm nest. His mother came from a religious, prosperous family, his father was a minister for the Reformed Church. At first glance nothing wrong with that, but behind the front door there was a lot of fighting.
Vincent was constantly at odds with his father, but also often clashed with other family members. Meanwhile, his mother tried to uphold the family name and keep the family together. By way of ‘solution’ became jammer Vincent to Belgiumë sent for a trial period to work as a missionary. There he lived for eight months in appalling conditions and became depressed. Only to be rejected by the Protestant community because he was too difficult to get along with. His family was deeply disappointed in him. No wonder Vincent doesn't consider himself a ‘real’ Van Gogh felt more.
Ironically enough, Van Gogh became one of the most famous surnames in the world thanks to him.