Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Van Gogh Village in Nuenen, Brabant, the Netherlands

If there is a body of artwork that I readily connect with, it is that of Vincent van Gogh. My preference is in his later works that seem to bring sunshine and life anywhere I find them in exhibitions or museums. His influence among painters continues, as he is copied from time to time, both in style and theme. His works are notable for the beauty they capture even in the most ordinary things and scenes, emotionally charged at times, and bold in his use of bright and deep colors. He is very much 'alive' in the world today, through the masterpieces he left behind. 

Vincent Willem van Gogh (March 30, 1853-June 29, 1890) was a post-impressionist Dutch painter. Vincent van Gogh, as he has come to be known, was born in the town of Groot-Zundert in north Brabant, the Netherlands. Born after a year his mother had a still-born delivery, he was given the same name picked for the still-born baby, Vincent Willem  He became the eldest of six children, followed by Theo, Cor, and three sisters - Elizabeth, Anna, and Willemina.

During his early childhood, his sister Elizabeth described him as being serious and uncommunicative, preferring to be alone, and seeming to be in a daze most of the time. It appeared  to his siblings that he did not know them, except for Theo, and they thought that he did not know himself, either. As he grew older, his family began to worry about him. He was aloof and odd in his ways, and lacking in social and interpersonal skills. 

There are five towns in Brabant that honor his memory - Etten-Leur, Zundert, Nuenen, Tilbug, and 'S-Hertogenbosch. I and my friends got to visit one - the Van Gogh Village in the town of Nuenen - at Vincentre. A visit to the Nuenen Vincentre museum gave us an overview of van Gogh's life.
The Vincentre Museum in Neunen
This image welcomes visitors at the museum, ground level -
with our rented electronic tour guides, we started our tour here.
In the courtyard - portraits of Vincent van Gogh 
painted by other artists.
An introduction to Van Gogh's family and other people 
who were important in his life.
 Mother - Anna Cornelia van Gogh-Carbentus (1819-1907)

She was a good mother who had a talent for drawing. The artistic gene came from her side. 

Vincent started drawing at an early age and he continued on through his teens and early twenties. This led him, later on, after failed attempts at business and pastoring, to make the decision to become an artist. He became a painter in is late twenties, and it was during the last two years of his life that he completed his best-known works. He was prolific - in just over a decade he produced more than 2,100 works of art. As his works were catalogued, he had made 860 oil paintings, and over 1,300 watercolors, drawings, and art prints.

Anna, Vincent's mother,  was always supportive of her son's work, from an early age. She, sadly, mourned the death of her three sons.

The picture of his mother, above, annoyed Vincent, and so he wrote his brother that he was doing a portrait of his mother.
Father - Theodorus Van Gogh ( February 2, 1822 - March 26, 1885)

He was the pastor of the reformed church in Nuenen, and this is how they became residents of Nuenen. Vincent and his father did not have a good relationship. He was disappointed in Vincent's failed attempts, first, to become an art dealer, and secondly, when Vincent had failed in his attempts to follow in his footsteps to be a church pastor. And when Vincent decided to become an artist, he was not supportive of his son's artistic inclinations. At one point, he wanted to commit Vincent into an asylum in 1880.
Brother - Theo van Gogh (May 1, 1857 - January 25, 1891)

Theo was the younger brother of Vincent. He worked for the Parisian art dealer, Goupil & Cie, first at the Hague, then in Brussels in 1873, and transferred to the London office from where he was transferred back to the Hague. He developed a reputation and became a very successful art dealer. In 1884, he was transferred to the office in Paris.

Although, Theo had a difficult time dealing with his brother, he continued to keep in touch with Vincent. they had a close relationship. They communicated mostly through letters. Theo was, perhaps, the one person who understood the most about the troubled life of his brother -  his feelings, his predicaments,  his thinking, and his mental condition. In a letter to Theo, Vincent had written that his childhood was "gloomy and cold and sterile.

Starting in 1880, Theo provided for the financial and emotional support, by sending Vincent art materials and a monthly allowance, while still in the Netherlands. Through his continued support, Vincent was able to develop his painting style. 

It was not until 1880 when Vincent, finally, studied the art of painting, upon the prodding of Theo and the Dutch artist he wanted to take lessons from, Willem Roelofs. This was after he was dismissed by the church authorities in the Borinage, in Belgium. He enrolled at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, learning about anatomy, the rules of modeling, and perspective point and drawing. After, he also studied the works of old Dutch painters, learning from them while critiquing their works. He admired the paintings of Rembrandt and Frans Hals. He also looked closely at the French painters' works.

When Theo was residing in Paris, in 1888, he invited Vincent to live with him in Montmartre. There, Vincent met Paul Gaugin, Paul Cezanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Rousseau, Camille Pissaro and George Seurat. This is when he discovered French impressionism. These impressionist painters influenced Vincent in his changing style - from chiaroscuro - which he used in his landscapes and the portrayal of the drudgeries of domestic life, to paintings bursting with bright colors, with rhythmic strokes that created movement. It was Emile Bernard who had inspired him to adopt pointillism, a style where small strokes - dots - were applied to the canvas, to create blended hues. A knowledge of complimentary colors was necessary to effectively come up with vibrant contrasts as the strokes were applied next to each other. Impressionism greatly influenced him after spending time in the Parisian art scene.

 Clasina Maria (Sien) Hoornik (1850-1904)

Vincent had suffered rejections from women he fell in love with. First was the daughter of the landlord while he was working in London in 1873, at Goupil & Cie, and in 1881, by his recently widowed cousin who he wanted to marry - Kee Vos Stricker. It was not until he met Clasina Maria Hoonik, also called Sien Hoonik, that he found love in the Hague, 1881-1883.

Sien was a pregnant prostitute who Vincent used as his model in a series of paintings. One of his widely acclaimed works - as draftsmanship at its best, is his drawing entitled Sorrow. In his other works, the mother, her daughter and the baby were also the characters in his paintings of domestic life - reflecting the hardships of the poor.

His relationship with Sien was not welcomed by his family and supporters, one of whom was his cousin Anton Mauve (a cousin-in-law) - a noted painter and a product of the Hague School. Upon the prodding of Theo, Vincent left Sien and moved to Drenthe to continue his painting. 

Sien, who was left alone with her kids to support, moved on and became a seamstress, a cleaning lady, and most likely went back to prostitution before she got married in 1901. In November 12, 1904, she met her death  when she jumped into the Schelde River and drowned. She had said to Vincent, before they parted ways, something which other's considered as her prophecy about her end "Yes, I'm a whore...it's bound to end up with me jumping into the water."

Van Gogh's time line 
He had traveled to different countries and cities in Europe to work, study and live. His last years were spent in France.

On the second floor of the museum are some of Van Gogh's earlier works - reproductions of his paintings - on glass panels, produced while he lived in Nuenen... 
 The Willow (November 1885)
The Willow Wheels of the Mill at Gennep (November 1884)
Poplars at Sunset (October 1884)
Part of a painting Autumn with Four Trees (November 1885)

The Hut (May 1885)
Old Church Tower at Nuenen (The Peasant's Churchyard, 1884)

Images of Self-Portraits by van Gogh (by the stair well)

His sketches of the loom...

with this as his model.

The sketch studies of the people he saw daily, 
while working in the fields...

Paintings of the faces he studied

While at Neunen, Vincent van Gogh moved away from painting landscapes to painting people, based on his character studies. 

Potato Eaters (1885) considered to be his first major work.
His painting supplies while in Neunen

Vincent was a mentor to a young artist, Anton Kessemakers (1846-1924), from Eindhoven. He was teaching Anton about chiaroscuro - the use of background colors, where the artistic value would be created in the "deep tone in the shadow...in the treatment of shaded passages..." 

In one of his his letters to Anton, when he was reviewing Anton's works, van Gogh went on to say " in order to get the chiaroscuro right, one must not only paint a lot but also really see a great deal [of what] is being painted, and know some things about theory, about light, and color. I'm sure that once we've painted together again, you'll see for yourself that at the moment you're still looking at things which, once you learn to see them, will mean that painting will interest you much more even. In short - there will be even more soul in it."
~ ~ ~

At times, art classes are held on the top floor. Here are some of the works by the students, young and old.
The painting styles developed by the students are closer to the later works of Van Gogh, especially in the use of bright colors in depicting everyday life in the country and the landscape.

To summarize the visit, tablets are set up for the visitors to watch and hear a quick narrative about Vincent van Gogh. From here, I learned that the letters he sent, mainly, to Theo, have been organized... 
and archived in this building. There is even a book edition now, put together after the fifteen-year research project was undertaken. For the web exhibits of the letters, click here
Johanna, Theo's wife, was the first to publish the letters.

 Time for a break, after the museum tour which lasted over an hour came to an end - here at the nook in the museum's ground floor, serving coffee and pastries.
Museum gift shop - Van Gogh inspired designs on things that could serve as souvenirs or gift items.
Blank cards, designed using Van Gogh's paintings

The Outdoor Walking Tour

After our museum visit, we went around Neunen which is like an outdoor museum. Going by foot and by car, there were only 21 buildings and sites (some, painted by him) to see.
Sixteen boards comprise this tour - in the footsteps of Van Gogh. The information assembled about these places all came from the letters between him and Theo. The tour began here. 
Specie: Tilia Platyphyllos - 
a flowering plant commonly known as large-leaved linden
This tree is found in the center of the roundabout. 
It was planted in the 17th century. 

Kosterhuisje (Sexton's House) 
This is located on the same side of the street as the museum, across from the big, old tree.

This was built as a weaver's cottage in 1739. Later on, it became known as the Sexton's House. A sexton is an officer of the church who is charged with maintaining the building and the church surroundings, including the graveyard if there is one. The sexton's daughter was the last one to live here, until 1967.
This was his model-cottage for the weaver's cottages when he  painted the weavers in some of his paintings, and the cottage like in The Hut.

 The residence in Neunen of Theodorus and Anna van Gogh
 (This property is now privately owned and not open to the public)

Vincent lived with his parents, in this house, for a part of the time he came to this town. He stayed in Neunen from December 1883 to November, 1885. In the two years he stayed there, his painting style started to develop, using somber colors. 
This street, which is a residential neighborhood,
 leads to the church, the city hall...
The Reformed Church where Theodorus van Gogh was the pastor
Van Gogh's painting
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884)

Hertog Jan II (Duke John II, 1275-1312)
Duke of Brabant and Limburg

The City Hall in the town of Nuenen
Map for the Van Gogh Village route to take, 
when visiting the town.
Windmolen De Roosdonck (Windmill of Roosdonck)
This is one of the windmills that was painted by Vincent van Gogh. Today it is surrounded by yellow flowers, purposely planted to make it a pretty sight. 
At the time he painted this, it was surrounded by varieties of grass in a muddy field, much like the grassy area behind the yellow flowers.
 Vincent van Gogh monument in the park, 
in another side of town.
The pond in the park, across from the church.
St. Clemens Church

In early 1885, Vincent moved away from his parents' house and rented a studio from the sexton of the church, Johannes Scharaft. Here, he continued painting.
Van Gogh makes for a good case-study in psychology. Though he had experienced the same hardships that many of us face, his coping mechanisms were dysfunctional, and this led him to exhibit behaviors that pushed people around him away. Being isolated and alone most of the time, he focused his energy in expressing himself through his art forms. His pathological symptoms came at very stressful times: first, when Theo got engaged and subsequently got married; secondly, when Theo's wife gave birth; thirdly, when Theo's health and financial assets began to diminish. All these events threatened his close relationship with and his dependence on Theo - his life line. 

There are two theories about the origins of Van Gogh's mental disease. He had noted in one of his notebooks, in 1885, that he was under treatment in Antwerp with a doctor who prescribed a treatment protocol, at that time, for syphilis. It was expected that syphilis would be progressive in the next 3 to 15 years.  At the tertiary stage, the patient's continuous brain deterioration, as indicated by the brain lesions, would bring about mental symptoms. If this were so, this would explain the progressive decline of Vincent's mental state in 1889, the year before he died.

The other theory is that Vincent was addicted to a psychoactive drug, absinthe, while he was in Antwerp.

It is from his emotional and mental states that he painted and communicated his feelings on the canvas. On his good days - when he was full of hope, excited, and content, he used bright colors; and the dark colors came when he was feeling low - depressed and even thinking that he was a failure. In some of his paintings, the use of dark and bold colors reflected his struggles - his ambivalent feelings. The lightness or heaviness of his strokes showed the intensity of his moods - the manic states he went through from time to time.

Towards the end of his life, he was institutionalized (after he cut his ear and wrapped it and gave it to a prostitute - this was after his bitter quarrel with Gaugin). But, perhaps the intervention came too late or more was needed to be done for him in the state of mind that he was in. Or maybe, nothing more could be done for him, then. With no one to monitor him, he was on his own. If he lived among us, today, a dietary approach could have helped him.

Not too long, after, he became suicidal and he shot himself. He was rushed to the hospital, but there was no doctor on duty and the bullet in his body was not removed. He lived for several days and Theo found him to be strong and recovering for a few hours, during his visit. But, it was the unattended infection that had set-in from the bullet wound he self-inflicted that took his life.

Van Gogh's mental states have been described to the world through his artworks and letters. Check out the gallery of paintings and understand this creative talent that spoke to us in his own language - the language of his soul. He gave birth to Expressionism, as he expressed his inner world to us.

July 29, 2015 will mark the 125th anniversary since Vincent van Gogh died. This commemorative year - a celebration of his life and his heritage - is being planned by The Van Gogh Europe Foundation, in collaboration with another 30 organizations, museums, and other heritage sites. They are putting together a program of events - "125 Years of Inspiration." The activities will be held in different towns in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and England - cultural events, exhibitions, digital applications are all in the making now. This is the first time that a celebration this big is being planned to promote Van Gogh's legacy, who continues to inspire others and remains 'alive' in our world, even after his death.


  1. Yogz, the technique you used with your flower paintings were very VanGogh-inspired. Very nice and thorough account.

  2. Thanks, Jojo. Now you have just inspired me with your comment to paint again.



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