Vincent Van Gogh - Mal de Vivre of a Genious - Part 1

“Vindt maar mooi zooveel je kunt, de meesten vinden niet genoeg mooi”
 Find things beautiful as much as you can, most people can't find beauty enough.
 Letter to Theo van Gogh, January 1874 

Young Vincent Van Gogh

In the morning of 30th March 1853, the cry of new-born Vincent van Gogh greeted the streets of Groot-Zundert, Netherlands. After his parents had the terrible disgrace of losing their first born, exactly one year before this date, they decided to call their second little one after their lost son: a decision which would have deeply influenced young Vincent’s state of mind. On the way home he used to pop by the cemetery, where his name and birth-date were engraved over his dead brother's  tombstones: understandably this view filled his eyes with melancholy and questions from a very young age.

Baby Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh as a Child

When he turned 15, van Gogh's family couldn’t face the uprising expenses and Vincent was forced to leave school and go to work at his uncle’s firm - Goupil & Cie. – one of the most renown art-dealing enterprise in The Hague. The boy was extremely intelligent and couldn’t but be noticed for his great mastery of languages, indeed, in addition to his native Dutch, he had gained fluency in French, German and English.

Vincent Van Gogh in 1873

In June 1873, van Gogh was relocated to the Groupil Gallery in London, where he developed a great passion for British culture, enjoying art galleries and the writings of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Seemingly, things were falling in place and he even thought to have found the love of his life, until she rejected his marriage proposal, casting van Gogh in a heavy breakdown. Impulsively, he tore up all his books, except for the Bible, and decided to devote his life to God. At work, he changed his attitude, becoming always angrier, spurring customers not to buy “that worthless art", thus eventually he was dismissed and fired.

Groupil Art Gallery, London in 1875
Even though Vincent was raised in a religious family, he never was until this moment, when he really started considering joining a religious order to offer his life to God, cherishing the idea of becoming a minister, as his father was. Thus, Van Gogh started preparing himself to enter the School of Theology in Amsterdam, while working as a teacher in a Methodist boys' school. After diligently studying for a year, he rejected to take the Latin exams, asserting Latin wasn’t but a "dead language" for poor people, and was consequently denied the possibility of joining the school. 

In winter 1878, he volunteered at the Church of Belgium, to help an impoverished coal miner’s community in the south of the state. There, while preaching and taking care of the sick, he drew pictures of the miners and their families, who used to call him "Christ of the Coal Mines"- appellative which didn’t please as much the evangelical committees which, disagreeing with Vincent’s martyrdoms lifestyle, refused to renew his contract, forcing him to move and find another job.

Theo Van Gogh

In fall 1880, van Gogh decided to become an artist in Brussels, where his younger brother Theo, now an art dealer, offered to financially support Vincent, who started his art self-training, taking references from books as  “Travaux des champs” by Jean-Fran├žois Millet and “Cours de dessin” by Charles Bargue.

When his Cousin Kate’s husband died, he grew always closer to her, so much that he fell in love and proposed: unfortunately the girl was so repulsed that she decided to flee back home in Amsterdam.
Van Gogh had the habit of falling in love with women in distress, selflessly thinking he could bring help to their lives- although he was never corresponded. After this umpteenth reject, he moved to The Hague, where he met Clasina Maria Hoornik, an alcoholic prostitute, whom he fell in love with. The woman thought of having found a patron, so she accepted his advances: she became his companion, mistress and model, but when she realized Vincent’s money wasn’t enough for her, Hoornik went back to prostitution, casting van Gogh in an utterly awful state of depression. 

Clasina Maria Hoornik From one of Vincent's Sketches

In 1882, Van Gogh’s family threatened him to stop financing, unless he put an end to the absurd affair with Clasina and he  left The Hague. Not having any choice, Vincent left in mid-September and moved to Drenthe, an isolated Dutch district, where he started wandering as a homeless through the region, drawing landscapes and  local people.


Written by Federico Bertorello a.k.a. Freddy Kingley 

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  1. Looking forward to subsequent posts about Vincent van Gogh. Thank you!


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