Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter

Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter

Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter

Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter


On March 30, 1852, a son was born in the rectory at Zundert; he lived only a few weeks. A year later, on the same date, a healthy son was born who received the names of his two grandfathers, Vincent Willem. Two years later a daughter was born, and on May 7, 1859, another son, Theodorus, named after his father; he was to play a great role in Vincent's life. These children were followed by two more daughters and another son. In later years the youngest sister was the only one with whom Vincent corresponded.

The grave of the little brother who was born a year before Vincent is situated near the chapel where his father preached. Even in his earliest childhood Vincent had seen it often, and this may have caused an unconscious inner guilt. This may have been partly relieved by the coming of another brother (Theo), who was there as long as Vincent could consciously remember. Most likely this constitutes a basic factor in the two brothers' lifelong friendship and their mutual support.

Zundert was a village in the middle of a poor country worked by small farmers who were predominantly Roman Catholic. For a short while Vincent was enrolled in the public school, but as his parents thought he had become too rough through his contact with the boys, they took him home and engaged a governess to teach the children.

According to two of his sisters, the children loved the country life, in which they were isolated among their own little group. Contrary to older opinions, recent investigations have brought out the fact that Vincent started drawing early. Four sketches of 1862 (when he was nine years old) have been preserved; two of them are from nature, the others, copies. Some known landscapes date from 1863to 1873; in them his great power of observation is already apparent.

When he was twelve years old, he was sent to a small private boarding school at Zevenbergen, a town some fifteen miles away from Zundert. According to the principal, who was interviewed around 1930, there was nothing special about the boy, as he did not remember him. Vincent himself wrote later on in a letter to Theo that he learned very little there. After that he seems to have been at another boarding school at Tilburg (a larger town), but nothing is known of that period.

At Goupil's

Vincent's paternal grandfather (also named Vincent) was a clergyman in the town of Breda, where he was also attached to the Military Academy. He had eleven children, the oldest of whom was Theodorus, Vincent and Theo's father. One son entered the navy and eventually became a rear admiral, then the highest rank . . .

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