A Biography and Life Work of Vincent van Gogh, a Netherlands-Born Painter

Vincent van Gogh was born in Groot Zundert, The Netherlands on 30 March 1853. Van Gogh’s birth came one year to the day after his mother gave birth to a first, stillborn child, also named Vincent. There has been a lot of controversy about Vincent van Gogh suffering later psychological trauma as a result of being a “replacement child” and having a deceased brother with the same name and same birth date. This theory remains unresolved, however, and there is no actual historical evidence to support it. Van Gogh was the son of Theodorus van Gogh, a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. And very little available about the five years following that. Van Gogh attended a boarding school in Zevenbergen for two years and then went on to attend the King Willem II secondary school in Tilburg for two more. Van Gogh left his studies at the age of 15 and never returned. In 1869 Vincent van Gogh joined the firm Goupil & Cie., a firm of art dealers in The Hague. The Van Gogh family had long been associated with the art world Vincent’s uncles, Cornelius and Vincent, were art dealers. His younger brother, Theo, spent his adult life working as an art dealer and, hada tremendous influence on Vincent’s later career as an artist. Vincent was relatively successful as an art dealer and stayed with Goupil & Cie. for seven more years. In 1873 he was transferred to the London branch of the company and quickly fell in love with the cultural climate of England. In late August, Vincent moved to 87 Hackford Road and boarded with Ursula Loyer and her daughter Eugenie. Vincent is said to have been sexually interested in Eugenie, but many early biographers mistakenly misname Eugenie for her mother, Ursula.

To add to the decades-long confusion over the names, recent evidence suggests that Vincent wasn’t in love with Eugenie at all, but rather a Dutch woman named Caroline Haanebeek. To this day nobody knows the truth Vincent van Gogh would remain in London for two more years. During that time he visited the many art galleries and museums and became a great admirer of British writers such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens. Van Gogh was also a great admirer of the British engravers whose works illustrated such magazines as The Graphic. These illustrations inspired and influenced Van Gogh in his later life as an artist. The relationship between Vincent and Goupil’s became more strained as the years passed and in May of 1875 he was transferred to the Paris branch of the firm. It became clear as the year wore on that Vincent was no longer happy dealing in paintings that had little appeal for him in terms of his own personal tastes. Vincent left Goupil’s in late March, 1876 and decided to return to England where his two years there had been, for the most part, very happy and rewarding. In April Vincent van Gogh began teaching at Rev. William P. Stokes’ school in Ramsgate. He was responsible for 24 boys between the ages of 10 and 14. His letters suggest that Vincent enjoyed teaching. After that he began teaching at another school for boys, this one lead by Rev. T. Slade Jones in Isleworth. In his spare time Van Gogh continued to visit galleries and admire the many great works of art he found there. He also devoted himself to his Bible study spending many hours reading and the Gospel. The summer of 1876 was truly a time of religious transformation for Vincent van Gogh.

Although raised in a religious family, it wasn’t until this time that he seriously began to consider devoting his life to the Church. Vincent van Gogh chose to remain in The Netherlands after visiting his family over Christmas. After working briefly in a bookshop in Dordrecht in early 1877, Van Gogh pursued his desire to serve the Church and decided to begin formal theological studies in Amsterdam. In the beginning Vincent was really excited about his studies, but found them increasingly difficult and began to feel that many of the lessons lacked relevance with regard to his most passionate desire: preaching to his own congregation. Vincent struggled with his studies throughout much of 1878. He found Latin to be one of his most difficult courses–ironic given that he spoke four languages quite fluently: Dutch, English, French and German. In November Vincent failed to qualify for the mission school in Laeken after a three-month trial period. Never one to be deterred by adversity, Vincent van Gogh eventually made arrangements with the Church to begin a trial period preaching in one of the most inhospitable and impoverished regions in western Europe: the coal mining district of The Borinage, Belgium.

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