Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, close to Breda, in the predominantly Catholic province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands.He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Vincent was given the name of his grandfather, and of a brother stillborn exactly a year before his birth.[note 2] Vincent was a common name in the family: his grandfather, Vincent (1789–1874), received a degree in theology at the University of Leiden in 1811, and had six sons, three of whom became art dealers. His grandfather may have been named after his own father's uncle, a sculptor (1729–1802).
The painter's brother Theo was born on 1 May 1857. He had another brother, Cor, and three sisters: Elisabeth, Anna, and Willemina "Wil".Vincent was a serious and thoughtful child. He attended the village school at Zundert from 1860, where a single Catholic teacher taught around 200 pupils. From 1861, he and his sister Anna were taught at home by a governess, until 1 October 1864, when he was placed in Jan Provily's boarding school at Zevenbergen about 24 kilometres (15 mi) away. He was distressed to leave his family home. From September 1866, he attended the new Willem II College middle school in Tilburg. Constantijn C. Huysmans, a successful artist in Paris, taught him to draw at the school and advocated a systematic approach to the subject. Vincent's interest in art began at an early age. His early drawings are well-done and expressive,but do not approach the intensity he developed in his later work. In March 1868, Van Gogh abruptly returned home. In a 1883 letter to Theo he wrote, "My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile."
Van Gogh's drawing of 87 Hackford Road
In July 1869, his uncle Cent helped him obtain a position with the art dealer Goupil & Cie in The Hague. After his training, in June 1873, Goupil transferred him to London, where he lodged at 87 Hackford Road, Stockwell, and worked at Messrs. Goupil & Co., 17 Southampton Street.This was a happy time for Vincent; he was successful at work and at 20 he earned more than his father. Theo's wife later remarked that this was the best year of his life. He fell in love with his landlady's daughter, Eugénie Loyer, but was rejected when he confessed his feelings; she said she was secretly engaged to a former lodger. Vincent grew more isolated and fervent about favorite. His father and uncle arranged for his transfer to Paris where he grew resentful at how art was treated as a commodity. On 1 April 1876, Goupil terminated his employment.
"Holme Court" in Isleworth, where Van Gogh stayed in 1876
Van Gogh returned toEngland, taking unpaid work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate. When the proprietor relocated to Isleworth, Middlesex, Van Gogh moved with him.The arrangement did not work out and he left to become a Methodist minister's assistant, following his wish to proselytise. At Christmas, he returned home and for six months took work at a bookshop in Dordrecht. He was unhappy in the position and spent his time either doodling or translating passages from the Bible into English, French and German.According to his room-mate of the time, a young teacher named Görlitz, Van Gogh ate frugally and preferred not to eat meat.[note 3] To support his new-found religious conviction and efforts to become a pastor, his family sent him to Amsterdam to study theology in May 1877. There he stayed with his uncle Jan van Gogh, a naval Vice Admiral.Vincent prepared for the entrance examination with his uncle Johannes Stricker, a respected theologian. He failed the exam and left his uncle Jan's house in July 1878. He undertook but failed a three-month course at the Vlaamsche Opleidingsschool, a Protestant missionary school in Laeken, near Brussels.
photo of a two-storey brick house on the left partially obscured by trees with a front lawn and with a row of trees on the right
Van Gogh's home in Cuesmes in 1880; while there he decided to become an artist
In January 1879, he took a post as a missionary at Petit Wasmes in the coal-mining district of Borinage inBelgium. As a show of support for his impoverished congregation, he gave up his comfortable lodgings at a bakery to a homeless person, moving to a small hut where he slept on straw.The baker's wife telled hearing him sobbing at night in the hut. His squalid living conditions did not endear him to church authorities who dismissed him for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood". He then walked the 75 kilometres (47 mi) to Brussels, returned briefly to Cuesmes in the Borinage, but gave in to pressure from his parents to return home to Etten. He stayed there until around March 1880, which caused concern and frustration for his parents. There was particular conflict between Vincent and his father, who inquired about having him committed to the lunatic asylum at Geel.
He returned to Cuesmes, where he lodged with a miner, Charles Decrucq, until October.He was interested in the people and scenes around him and recorded his time there in his drawings, following Theo's suggestion that he take up art in earnest. He travelled to Brussels later in the year, to follow Theo's recommendation to study with the prominent Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded him—in spite of his aversion to formal schools of art—to attend the Académie Importrant des Beaux-Arts. He registered at the Académie on 15 November 1880; he studied anatomy and the standard rules of modelling and perspective.
Van Gogh's parents moved to the Etten countryside in April 1881. He continued to draw, often using his neighbours as subjects. He went on long walks with his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker, daughter of his mother's older sister and Johannes Stricker. Kee was seven years older and had an eight-year-old son. He proposed marriage but was refused with the words "No, nay, never" ("nooit, neen, nimmer"). Late that November, Van Gogh wrote a strongly worded letter to Johannes,and left for Amsterdam but through letters maintained close contact. Kee would not meet him, her parents wrote that his "persistence is disgusting." In desperation, he held his left hand in the flame of a lamp, with the words: "Let me see her for as long as I can keep my hand in the flame."He did not recall the event well, but later assumed that his uncle blew out the flame. Kee's father made it clear to him that Kee's refusal should be heeded and that the two would not be married because of Van Gogh's inability to support himself.Van Gogh's perception of his uncle and former tutor's hypocrisy affected him deeply and put an end to his religious faith forever.That Christmas he refused to attend church, quarrelling violently with his father as a result, and left home the same day for The Hague.
He settled in The Hague in January 1882, where he visited his cousin, Anton Mauve. Mauve introduced him to painting in oil and watercolour and lent money to set up a studio,but they fell out, possibly over the viability of drawing from plaster casts. Van Gogh's uncle Cornelis, an art dealer, commissioned 12 ink drawings of views of the city which Van Gogh completed soon after arriving there, along with seven other drawings that May.In June he suffered a bout of gonorrhoea and spent three weeks in hospital. Soon after, he first began to paint in oil.
A view from a window of pale red rooftops. A bird flying in the blue sky and in the near distance fields and to the right, the town and other buildings can be seen. In the distant horizon are chimneys.
Rooftops, View from the Atelier The Hague, 1882, watercolour, private collection.