We’ve come to the end of a very busy 2019 here at the Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience. As we look ahead to a new year and a new decade, it’s an important time to reflect on the man behind the Experience – Vincent. We’re lucky that the Van Gogh Museum’s collection of Vincent’s letters opens a door into Vincent’s life as a man and a painter. They also give us some insight into what Vincent thought and felt about Christmas and this time of year.
The Van Gogh Family
Vincent came from an incredibly close-knit family of six siblings. Born in the town of Zundert in the Dutch province of Brabant in 1853, Vincent went on to pursue a wide range of careers in his early 20’s that saw him travel from the Netherlands to Belgium, France and England. His tenacious letter writing - Vincent wrote over 650 letters to his brother Theo in just 10 years – tells the story of a family drawn together by happy memories of childhood. The holiday period in particular often brought the Van Gogh siblings back to their parents’ home. In a letter to Theo in 1873, Vincent writes: “How pleasant those days at Christmas were, I think of them so often; they’ll also long be remembered by you, as they were also your last days at home.”
As the trees lose their leaves and the temperature drops here in Amsterdam, Vincent’s words from November 1876 ring true: “And now we’re slowly heading towards winter, and many dread it, but Christmas is wonderful, it’s like the moss on the roofs and like the pine and the holly and the ivy in the snow.”
We are in the business of sharing Vincent’s inspiring life story with the world. Vincent’s story is complex, with many different elements: pursuing one’s passion, the nature of friendship and creativity, mental health and identity. Of all its different elements, family is the most essential aspect of Vincent’s story. Without family – specifically, Vincent’s brother Theo – we wouldn’t know who he was! Theo kept every single one of Vincent’s letters, cataloguing his brother’s 10 years as an artist through all of his highs and lows. It’s because of Theo that Vincent’s words from December 1875 now resonate with every traveller far from home eagerly awaiting the chance to return to their family once more.
“I’m already looking forward to Christmas. Two years ago we took that walk in the snow in the evening, do you remember it, when we saw the moon rise above Marienhof? I still remember very well that evening at Christmas-time when I rode from Den Bosh to Helvoirt in an open cart, it was awfully cold and the road was slippery. How beautiful Den Bosch looked, the marketplace and the streets with snow and the houses dark, with snow on the roofs; Brabant is indeed Brabant, and the Mother country is indeed the Mother country, and the lands where one is a stranger are the lands where one is a stranger.”
Reading Vincent’s words, it’s an important time to remember the strength, vibrance and eloquence of the man that Meet Vincent celebrates. We are look forward to continuing to share Vincent’s inspiring life story with you all in the new year in London and Lisbon! From everyone at the Meet Vincent van Gogh team, we wish you all a very happy holiday period and start to the new year!