Jo van Gogh-Bonger (1862–1925) was Theo van Gogh’s wife and mother of Vincent Willem, who later founded the Van Gogh Museum. Years of research have resulted in a biography focusing on her as an individual and on her role in publicizing the importance of her brother-in-law Vincent’s life and work.
Jo was born on 4 October 1862. She studied English and worked as a teacher at a girls’ boarding school in Elburg and at a secondary school in Utrecht, also for girls. After marrying Theo, Jo went to live with him in Paris, where their son Vincent Willem was born in 1890. Theo died less than a year later and Jo returned to the Netherlands, where she married her second husband, Johan Cohen Gosschalk. Jo was co-founder in 1905 of the Amsterdam Social-Democratic Women’s Propaganda Club, which set out to improve working-class education and women’s working conditions. She died on 2 September 1925.
Caring for the collection
Following Theo’s death, Jo came into possession of Van Gogh’s drawings, paintings and letters, along with Vincent and Theo’s collection of work by contemporaries. She set about bringing her brother-in-law’s oeuvre to the attention of the public via exhibitions and sales. She also prepared Vincent’s letters to Theo for publication in 1914, under the title Brieven aan zijn broeder (‘Letters to His Brother’).
Jo and Vincent Willem
According to Jo’s obituary in De Proletarische Vrouw on 10 September 1925: ‘She always apologized for not being more active in the [Socialist] movement. She would say that bringing her son up properly was also a good thing to do for society. “So that has been my main work.”’ Vincent Willem eventually took over the task his mother had fulfilled for thirty-five years, promoting the recognition and understanding of Vincent and Theo’s work.
Research for the biography has drawn on numerous letters, diaries, account books and other documents, with a particular focus on the social, cultural and economic context. The biography focuses on Jo as an individual and on her role in publicizing her brother-in-law Vincent’s life and work.
The biography was published by Uitgeverij Prometheus in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum on 18 September 2019. An English translation is in preparation. Jo's diaries are available as digital publication via bongerdiaries.org.
Hans Luijten (Senior Researcher): firstname.lastname@example.org