About van Gogh Experts

Early Years

van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in the village of Zundert in the southern Netherlands, to Reverend Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. His father was a preacher in the Dutch Reformed Church and his mother was the daughter of a bookseller. Four years later, in 1857, the couple had another child, Theo (Theodorus). The two brothers went on to form an extremely close lifelong relationship, much of which is documented in extensive written correspondence.

The young Vincent began his formal education in 1860, first at a village school and later at a boarding school. As a young boy he began making drawings, a practice that would continue throughout his life. Despite his good performance learning languages (French, English, and German), van Gogh left school during the middle of the 1868 academic year, in March. His formal education did not continue.

In July of 1869, van Gogh began an apprenticeship at The Hague branch of the international art dealership Goupil & Cie (headquartered in Paris). Following his training, he was transferred to the London office in 1873. During this period he began collecting illustrations from The Graphic and Illustrated London News by artists such as Frank Holl, Hubert von Herkomer, and Luke Fildes. The black-and-white illustrations of contemporary social problems in Britain had a profound effect on Vincent, and possibly contributed to both his religious fervor and his desire to later become a painter of peasants.

Although he had initial success working at Goupil & Cie, his performance began to deteriorate. In 1875 he was transferred to the company’s office in Paris. When things did not improve he was terminated from his position in late March of 1876. Following his termination he returned to live in England, where he found some work teaching in Ramsgate and Isleworth. This, however, was short lived, and in 1877 he returned to the Netherlands. His religious fervor, which had been steadily increasing, grew strong enough that he decided to become a minister, and that year he moved to Amsterdam to begin studies in theology. The following year he moved to the poor coal-mining district of Borinage in southern Belgium, where he began working as a lay preacher. His extreme religious fanaticism, which led him to give away his possessions, sleep on straw, and live like a pauper, displeased the church. Due to these problems, in 1879 Van Gogh was dismissed from his post. The failure to find success as a preacher was a devastating blow to Vincent, yet it proved fortuitous for his art.

van Gogh, c. 1866, around 13 years old

van Gogh, c. 1866, around 13 years old

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1888

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1888