Early Life of Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands. His father, Theodorus van Gogh, was an austere country minister, and his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was a moody artist whose love of nature, drawing and watercolors was transferred to her son. He was born exactly one year after his parents’ first son, also named Vincent, was stillborn. From childhood Van Gogh was melancholy, his name and birthdate already etched on his dead brother’s headstone.

At age 15, Van Gogh’s family was struggling financially, and he was forced to leave school and go to work. He got a job at his Uncle Cornelis’ art dealership, Goupil & Cie., a firm of art dealers in The Hague. By this time, Van Gogh was fluent in French, German and English, as well as his native Dutch.

In June of 1873, he was transferred to the Groupil Gallery in London. Here, Van Gogh fell in love with English culture. He visited art galleries in his spare time, and also became a fan of the writings of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Van Gogh also fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer. When she rejected his marriage proposal, Van Gogh suffered a breakdown. He threw away all his books except for the Bible, and devoted his life to God. He became angry with people at work, telling customers not to buy the “worthless art,” and was eventually fired.

Van Gogh then taught in a Methodist boys’ school, and also preached to the congregation. Although raised in a religious family, it wasn't until this time that he seriously began to consider devoting his life to the church. Hoping to become a minister, he prepared to take the entrance exam to the School of Theology in Amsterdam. After a year of studying diligently, he refused to take the Latin exams, calling Latin a “dead language” of poor people, so he was denied entrance. The same thing happened at the Church of Belgium.

In the winter of 1878, Van Gogh volunteered to move to an impoverished coal mine in the south of Belgium, a place where preachers were usually sent as punishment. He preached and ministered to the sick, and also drew pictures of the miners and their families, who called him “The Christ of the Coal Mines.” The evangelical committees were not as pleased. They disagreed with Van Gogh’s lifestyle, which had begun to take on a tone of martyrdom. They refused to renew Van Gogh’s contract, and he was forced to find another occupation.