Biography of Vincent Van Gogh – Part 1


In 1853, the 30th of March Vincent Van Gogh was born in the north of Bravant, a cold and humid part of the north of Holland. A year before the exact same date, the Van Gogh family lost a child they called Vincent Willem.

A year later in their home in Groot-Zunder another child was borned, who they also called Vincent Willem. (On the left we see the first photograph of Vincent Van Gogh when he was only 13 years old) .

The house Vincent was borned was situated in the belgium frontier, close to the city of Ambers.

When Vincent was 8 years old, he was send to a catholic school, something his father did not aprove, took him out of school and paying private tuition for two years. after that, Vincent was send to boarding school to the near town of Zevenbergen. His pain in life started there, in the premature separation from his family, this must have caused him psycological traumas, because in his adult life he would remember sadly the times in the protestant school in Zevenbergen.

His mother was Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was the daughter of an artisan in the dutch courts.

The grandfather was an elegant and intelectual man dedicated to create covers for the books of the royal library. The picture on the left is Anna Cornelia, mother of Vincent Van Gogh. It was taken in 1900, ten years after the premature death of her son Vincent.

The father of Vincent was called Theodorus Van Gogh, he was protestant priest, calvinist and defender of the Dutch Reformed Church. Theodorus Van Gogh was a very serious and strict man who was very proud of his ancestors, going back to the 16th Century.

(Theodorust Van Gogh portrait. Vincent painted his father in 1881 with pencils and chinesse ink. This artwork belongs to a private colection in La Haya)

Vincent Van Gogh remembered his childhood in the nature and the fields of the north of Bravant. As much as he liked the rural background of his childhood, this memories are mostly melancolic and sad.

His father died in Nuenen in 1885.

The figure of his father is very important to understand the frustration and anxiety of the painter, because Theodorus was always very strict and dissaproval with the life of Vincent.

The beginnings of Vincent Van Gogh

In 1866 Vicent Van Gogh started Secondary School of Hannik, a presbiterian religious school in the city of Tilburg. There Vincent learns different languages and also learns how to draw, probably with the help of Professor Huyssman, popular in the country. In 1868, the child goes back home for a year for unknown reasons. He really liked to go for walks in the fields, admiring the beauty of the countryside landscapes and the pretty flowers. His sister Elizabeth would describe him as an strange looking young man, with very small eyes and a groumpy expression. If we look at the picture above, we actually see a very sweet young man, what makes us think that his sister’s memories are twisted and manipulated to make look good the strict father and Vincent as a conflicted child.

In 1869 Vincent starts his formation as an art dealer in La Haya. Being an art dealer was a proffession that his father did not dissaproved off. SInce in the past ancestors there were some artists. This opportunity was perfect to leave home and the repression of the father. Vincent had to packed and unpacked paintings, canvas and photografic reproductions of famous paintings. This was his first real contact with the artistic world of painting.

In 1873 he is tralade to London, where he would share house with the Loyer family, in the Hadford road in Brixton, a neighbourhood of the south of London. Is perhaps here where starts his personal transformation, becomming a lonely man, with no many socila relations. After a while he falled in love with Ursula Loyer, daughter of the Loyer family. He proposed to her and she rejected him. This was a very bad impact in his young life, he was only 20. He started to fall into depression, so the company he worked for decided to send him to Paris, to the central of the Goupil company. But, after a while in Paris he decided to go back to London to try to conquire Ursula’s heart. After her final rejection, Vincent moves back to Paris with a broken heart.

When he came back to Paris, after his love affair failure, he started to suffer a big change of character. Being even unfriendly with everyone, including customers or fellow workers. The Goulpin Company felt that their only choice was to finish his contract, so they did.

The artistic awakening of Vincent Van Gogh

The Digger, Autumn 1881. 62 x 47 cms. Pencils, ink and watercolours. Rijkmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, Amsterdam

After his first big failure in life, emotionally and professionally, Vincent decided to change his life all around. He gets closer to his religion, reading the Bible constantly and working as a methodist priest. Around 1876 he got a job as a private language teacher of french and german in the english village of Ramgsgate, in a boarding school. Is in these period of his life that he started to draw portraits and landscapes with great ease. So we could consider that after he lost his jobas an art dealer, where he learned a lot about the art of painting, and decided to have a more secluded life is when waoke up inside of him the need to comunicate through his new language, the painting language.

Is in this time when Vincent starts to believe he could be a painter. He goes and visits every art exposition in the city and reads a lot of books, specially local Cahrles Dickens, one of his favourites. But reading the Bible was his main objective, starting to translate from dutch to other languages.

In 1878 Vincent goes to the mines region of Borinage in Belgium, to work as a lay missionary, but soon fails aswell. The poverty of the site hurts his sensitivity and in his try to help, the clerks though he was to passionate, helping far to much. In occassions, he would give the miners his own food and clothes.

Farm with musg in the roof. Drawing painted by Vincent Van Gogh in the spring 1881.

In 1881 Vincent had to come to the parental home in Holland. This was a very hard time for the artist, he felt like a loser and started to have serious problems with his father. A year later, he goes to life in La Haya, where he rented a small house. There he met a prostitute called Sien, who was pregnant at the time. But, even so Vincent took her home with him, along with her child. The fact he was living unmarried with a prostitute was the final end with most of his social relationships in La Haya.

On the left, we see a drawing of Sien with a cigar, sitting next to the chimney.

In this period in la Haya, Vincent developed his drawing a lot. He was constantly incourage to paint by a relative, the husband of a cousin, Anton Mauve, who kept pushing Van Gogh to use live models and paint. If until then, he tried to reflect the nature as realist and correct as possible, in La Haya he began to express his feelings for the models. Vicent often chose isolated figures. And they were transformed gradually into histories of great expressive load. After a year teaching himself the art of paint, his relationship with Sien was ended so he goes back to Drenthe. In his drawing he starts to study his favorite painters, like Millet. This is known as the period of realism of Van Gogh. A period when he wanted to reflect nature and people in their environment as fidel as possible. The country hard life of the farmers, the religious side of those human being where often his preferible motif.

Read Part 2

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