Continuing the Dream
Read more about Jo and how she developed a strategy to promote Vincent's art.
‘Behind every great man is a great woman’, this well-known proverb certainly also applies to Vincent van Gogh. Although he only rose to real fame after his death, these three women undoubtedly contributed to this success and his artistic development.
Vincent’s global success is largely thanks to his sister-in-law Jo. She had been together with Theo van Gogh for less than two years when her husband passed away, shortly after the death of his brother Vincent. Jo was left with a young son and an apartment full of Vincent’s artworks. Aged 28, she suddenly had to provide for herself and her son.
Theo had always wanted to raise awareness of his brother’s work. Jo was keen to fulfil this wish, in memory of her husband. By strategically selling Vincent’s art to museums and collectors, she ensured that it reached people all around the world.
In 1914, she published an anthology of Vincent’s letters to Theo. Everyone could now read about Van Gogh’s ideas, thoughts and dreams. As a result, even more people started to appreciate his work.
By the time Jo died in 1925, Vincent’s work had become world-famous. Mission accomplished!
In Paris, Vincent finally found a place to exhibit his work to a larger audience: café Le Tambourin. He was a regular at the café, and had a brief relationship with the owner, Agostina Segatori. The former artist’s model used her savings to open the café. It soon became popular with artists, writers and critics, and the walls were decorated with work by the artists who frequented Le Tambourin.
According to his friend Paul Gauguin, Vincent was very much in love with Agostina. In the portrait that Vincent painted of her, she is sitting on a stool at a table shaped like a tambourine. There’s a glass of beer on the table, and Agostina holds a smouldering cigarette. The saucers underneath her glass betray the fact that she’s on her second beer. Drinking and smoking wasn’t deemed appropriate for respectable ladies at the time, it was something associated with arty types and prostitutes.
Agostina was a progressive, modern women for her time. She was independent, as she earned her own money with the café, and offered the most significant artists of the time a place to exhibit their work. In the background of the painting, we can see the Japanese prints that Vincent had put on display at the café.
Agostina and Vincent unfortunately fell out. Vincent wanted all of his paintings back, but Le Tambourin went bankrupt and the café was sold, including Vincent’s paintings that were still there.
Vincent had his first drawing lessons at home, from his mother. She also encouraged her children to sing and do craftwork, and to read a lot.
Van Gogh’s parents certainly had their hands full with a son who often embarrassed them. Various jobs and studies came to nothing, and Vincent also fell for the wrong women: his landlady’s daughter, his very own niece and a former prostitute. But Van Gogh’s parents kept supporting their son. They helped him to find work and always offered him a roof over his head when he needed it.
Vincent could be somewhat difficult, but he never had ill intentions. In 1884, when his mother was housebound after breaking her leg, he painted the church in their village to cheer her up. It was a well-considered choice of subject: his father was the minister at the church. Following his father’s death, he adjusted the work. Van Gogh painted autumn leaves on the bare winter trees. And he also added groups of churchgoers, some of them wearing mourning clothes.
After Vincent moved to France, he exchanged letters with his mother. This kept him up to date on how she was doing, and meant he heard the latest family news. In 1889, Vincent sent her a few artworks by post. Unfortunately, Vincent and his mother never saw each other again. Vincent died before he or his mother had the chance to visit.