On This Day In History~ March 30th

1853; The birth of Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a major Post-Impressionist painter. He was a Dutch artist whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His output includes portraits, self portraits, landscapes and still lifes of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. Van Gogh drew as a child but did not paint until his late twenties; he completed many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints.

Van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents and spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers. From 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community. In 1885 he painted The Potato Eaters, considered his first major work. His palette then consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later paintings. In March 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His paintings grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888.

After years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died aged 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been widely debated by art historians. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticize his ill health, modern critics see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence wrought through illness. His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, completely in control, and according to art critic Robert Hughes, “longing for concision and grace”.

December 19, 1972: The Apollo 17 Mission Ends

On this day in 1972, the Apollo 17 crew returned to earth after a 12-day mission, ending the last manned mission to the moon. It was the most ambitious moon mission, breaking records for the longest manned lunar landing and flight, the longest total lunar surface extravehicular activities, the largest lunar samples, and the longest time in lunar orbit. Apollo 17 also had the first night launch. 

Commander, Eugene A. Cernan and Lunar Module pilot, Harrison H. Schmitt are still the last people to walk on the moon.

Read NOVA’s interview with Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon.

Photo: Apollo 17 post-landing recovery operations (NASA). 


Led Zeppelin backstage at Pontiac Silverdome, USA, 1977.

“The attendance at Led Zeppelin’s Silverdome concert tonight triumphantly shattered the band’s own previous attendance record, a number unmatched by any other group in the last four years.

The audience of 77,229 at the Silverdome is the largest audience for a single-act concert. The previous record was 56,800 set in May 1973 at a Zeppelin show in Tampa Bay. On that historic day, the group surpassed the Beatles’ 1965 attendance record of 55,000. Making a sum of £467,000 tonight, Led Zeppelin has finished the first leg of its 11th tour of North America. Upon returning, the band will tour the southern United States, beginning May 18 in Birmingham, Ala.”

“You know how doctors who work with children get the children to tell stories? And they figure out from the stories what’s frightening the child, what’s worrying the child, what the child thinks? Well, a novel is just a story. You work things out in the stories you tell.”

Happy birthday, Joan Didion! Read her 1978 Art of Fiction interview and 2006 Art of Nonfiction interview.