Vincent Van Gogh`s Letters. Press Release

At the end of 2009 in Amsterdam famous correspondence between the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo was published for the first time. These six books contain hundreds of letters along with illustrations to them. The brothers’ correspondence translated into English is available on the site. Authors of this resource have created a specialized dictionary of the “van Gogh time” explaining names of geographical places and famous people of the time mentioned in the letters, art terms and Dutch words used in the correspondence.

The van Gogh brothers started their correspondence after the younger Theo had visited Vincent in the Hague. At the time Vincent was 19 and Theodorus was 15. The brothers kept writing letters to each other for 18 years (1872 – 1890), 697 of which have survived to our days. Of these, only 36 letters were written by Theo, who treated his brother’s letters with more respect: thanks to that now we can read 661 letter of the genius artist.

First letters were short and plain. For instance, in one of them Vincent asked his brother to give up smoking pipe and to study works of great artists and writers. But by and by the elder brother started sending Theo his pencil sketches from the peasants’ life and in general letters gradually became more thorough. Vincent having found a grateful listener in his brother related to him his views on life and art. In these letters – written both in Dutch and French – the artist mentioned more than 300 paintings he was working on at the moment. Moreover, many specialists believe that this correspondence is not merely of a literary interest – a large number of his letters the painter accompanied with sketches to the paintings he was working at the moment.

Throughout his whole life Theodorus was financially helping his elder brother allowing him to concentrate solely on his art. Theo being aware of Vincent’s sensitivity towards this tried different tricks. At first Theo had been assuring his brother that it was their father who had been sending him money. But eventually the artist found out who was in fact helping him. All his life he was uneasy because of the fact that he depended on his younger brother. He wasn’t either much consoled by the excuse that that was Theo’s way of contributing to the creation of his paintings and that they would divide money from paintings’ sale in future. Notwithstanding the fact that Theo was an art dealer he didn’t manage to sell any of his brother’s works.

In 1884 the brothers made a deal. In exchange for Vincent’s paintings Theo committed to provide his brother with 200 francs a month along with brushes and canvases of the highest quality. The younger brother was providing the artist with clothes and was paying for his medical treatment. According to one version Vincent committed suicide because of guilt that he was feeling before Theo who had to support not only Vincent, but also his wife and child and an old mother. On June 27, 1890 Vincent van Gogh shot himself. He had positively refused medical treatment and died two days later in the hands of his beloved brother. Vincent’s last – unfinished – letter to Theo was found in his pocket after his suicide.

Church in Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent had shot himself didn’t let bury him in its cemetery. But the burial was allowed in the village of Mery not far from town and on July 30, 1890 Vincent van Gogh was buried. Theo was desperate after his brother’s death and outlived him only by 6 months. He was originally buried in Utrecht, but in 1914 Theo’s widow – Jonanna Bonger-van Gogh, ardent admirer of van Gogh’s work – re-buried him in the cemetery of Auvers, near Vincent. Their graves are still there.


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