Youth and Family
Theodorus van Gogh, a preacher in the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus, daughter of a bookseller, marry in 1851. Their son Vincent Willem van Gogh, the second of six children, is born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, a village in Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands. Four years later, in 1857, Vincent's favorite brother, Theodorus (Theo), is born. Vincent begins his education at the village school in 1861, and subsequently attends two boarding schools. He excels in languages, studying French, English, and German. In March 1868, in the middle of the academic year, he abruptly leaves school and returns to Zundert. He does not resume his formal education.
Young Art Dealer
In July 1869, Vincent starts an apprenticeship at Goupil & Cie, international art dealers with headquarters in Paris. He works in the Hague at a branch gallery established by his uncle Vincent. From the Hague, in August 1872, Vincent begins writing regular letters to Theo. Their correspondence continues for almost 18 years. Theo accepts a position at Goupil's in January 1873, working in Brussels before transferring to the Hague in November of that year.
Life in England
Vincent moves to the London Goupil branch in June 1873. Daily contact with works of art kindles his appreciation of paintings and drawings. In the city's museums and galleries, he admires the realistic paintings of peasant life by Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. Gradually Vincent loses interest in his work and turns to the Bible. He is transferred in 1874 to Goupil's Paris branch, where he remains for three months before returning to London. Vincent's performance at Goupil's continues to deteriorate. In May 1875 he is sent again to Paris. He attends art exhibitions at the Salon and the Louvre, and decorates his room with art prints by Hague School and Barbizon artists. In late March 1876 Vincent is dismissed from Goupil's. Driven by a growing desire to help his fellow man, he decides to become a clergyman.
Vincent returns to England in 1876 to teach at a boarding school. In July he is offered a position as a teacher and assistant preacher at Isleworth, near London. On October 29, Van Gogh delivers his first sermon. His interest in evangelical Christianity and ministering to the poor becomes obsessional. On a visit to his parents, Vincent is persuaded not to return to England. Determined to become a minister nonetheless, he moves to Amsterdam in 1877 and attempts to enroll in theology school. When he gives up his preparatory studies, Vincent briefly enters a missionary school in Brussels and in December 1878 leaves for the Borinage, a coal-mining district in southern Belgium, to work as a lay preacher. Vincent lives like a pauper among the miners, sleeping on the floor and giving away his belongings. His extreme commitment draws disfavor from the church and he is dismissed, although he continues to evangelize.