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Thursday, March 30, 2017

As the branches die, let us not forget their worth!

What you don't know about the descendants of Vincent van Gogh is amazing and relevant!

This day marks the birth of my favorite painter, Vincent Willem van Gogh(1).  Happy 164th birthday, Vincent!  I own prints of many of his paintings that hang on walls in my home.  Many years have been spent in admiration and trying to understand a deeply moving man.  When I was younger, one of my favorite songs was Vincent by Don McLean (famous for his song American Pie).  Rhapsodizing about his life and struggles can be left to reading Van Gogh:  The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (highly recommended to really let you know how much you don’t know about van Gogh).  I will only say this and move on to the few descendants through his brother Theo's descendants and their admirable, tragic lives.  Vincent meandered from a young age trying to discover what his passion and service would be.  It wasn’t until he turned 27 that he began to become an artist, and by the age of 47 he was dead.  He was self-taught for the most part and put out 20 years’ worth of amazing work that never sold during his lifetime.  I could go on…..instead, I’ll leave you with a story on the man who sees into my soul.  Bear with me through the fact, it's another tear jerker.
picture from my wall

You can find basic details of Vincent’s life on-line easily.  Vincent(1) was born 30 Mar 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, and died 29 July 1890 at the Ravoux’s Inn in Auvers, France with no issue (for non-genealogist this means no children).  What isn’t as easy to find are the details of his ancestry, much of which is covered in The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, 3 volumes first published in 1958 (I own the third edition collection, 2000).  His sister-in-law provided a memoir of Vincent outlining the family lineage, referencing Annales Genealogiques by Arnold Buchelius which states “Jacob van Gogh (16th c. family already established in Holland) lived at the time in Utrecht…. Jan, Jacob’s son, sold wine and books….”.  The family lineage had generations of connections to art and literature.  The name van Gogh is believe to be derived from the small town Gogh on the German frontier.1  I will discuss some of his descendants (through his brother Theo). 

His brother, Theo(1), had 3 children (two sons, one daughter)….  Theo’s son, Vincent Willem van Gogh(2) (named after his love of his brother) was born in Paris, 31 Jan 1890, the same year as Vincent’s(1) death.  This gives you an idea of Theo’s(1) devotion to Vincent(1), leaving his wife and 6-month-old to rush to Vincent’s side as he died in Auvers.  Vincent(2) (Theo’s son, called the engineer) died 28 Jan 1978, Laren, North Holland, Netherlands.  This Vincent(2) continued his mother’s devotion to the legacy of van Gogh by establishing the Van Gogh Foundation in the 1960’s where van Gogh’s collection was transferred.  In 1973 the State of the Netherlands designed the Van Gogh Museum where the collection now resides.  This family's devotion is why we have the amazing amount of his work.

This Vincent(2) , son of Theo(1)who died at the age of 33, named a son....yes, you guessed it, Theo(2).  This Theo(2) was born 5 Nov 1920 in Amsterdam.  My heart skipped a beat when I learned of his execution by the Nazis at the age of 24, 8 Mar 1945.  He was a member of the resistance movement.  Your great uncle would have been so proud of you, Theo!  His nephew, yes...another Theo(3) was a film director, producer, and actor who was brutally murdered in 2004 by a Dutch Moroccan who was not happy about his outspoken views on Islamic woman's rights.  Yes, there is a book about this murder and it's meaning,  Murder in Amsterdam:  The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Burma.  Theo's(3) last film was "06" about the murder (ironically) of an outspoken gay libertarian, Pim Fortuyn.  Theo(3) was murdered 911 days after Fortuyn, at the age of 47!  The same age as Vincent van Gogh(1)!  Serendipity!  My grandfather who died when I was 2 was 47!

Can I say, "What the...?"  Is there a curse on this family?

Theo's(3) son, Lieuwe van Gogh is an ARTIST!  Born in 1992 in the Netherlands and is on Facebook!  He was 12 years old when his father was murdered.  I can't imagine....

To learn more, please click on the highlighted references, visit the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, MA, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, or any other place that has a van Gogh painting on exhibit.  A picture never does his work justice.  My most moving moment was at the Boston MFA getting very close and seeing the thick strokes of paint then walking slowly further away to see the paintings evolve.  He was a very deep soul.

1The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Bulfinch Press:  Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York, London, third edition, 2000, xv.
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