van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Benno J. Stokvis to n/a
Amsterdam, 1926

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[Reprinted from Benno J. Stokvis, LL. D., Nasporingen omtrent (Investigations concerning) Vincent van Gogh in Brabant (Amsterdam, S. L. van Looy, 1926.)]


Etten-Leur, a small village between Breda and Roozendaal, makes a far less prosperous impression than Zundert. However, it appears that there are no fewer Protestants here than in the latter village.

After having been stationed at Helvoirt for some years, the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh came to Etten in 1875 as successor to the Rev. Mr. Peaux (father of the poetess Augusta Peaux). He remained there until 1882. Here his intercourse seems to have been limited to the members of his own parish more than it was in Zundert. However, here too non-Catholics and Catholics remember him with equal sympathy.

If anyone failed to appear in church on a Sunday, he could be sure that the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh would look him up that very week to lecture him, however far in the “interior,” however remote from the village, his farm might be situated. He even visited the people living on the most distant farms regularly.

The Rev. Mr. Van Gogh was charitable: at times he distributed more among the poor than the consistory could approve of. But at the same time he was described as a severe and forceful personality. This observation may help to dispel the notion advanced in some writings on Vincent that the father behaved in a spineless, powerless fashion toward his son (in support of which, I refer to letters 158 and 159).

Although the people of Zundert were in general fully aware of Vincent's fame as a painter, in Etten I was struck by an almost complete ignorance on the subject. Neither old villagers who had known him personally, nor even his one-time models whom I met, knew that he had made a name for himself; and when I told them so, they looked amazed - they would never have expected such a thing of “that Vincent”!

I asked an old Protestant woman whether she had known the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh's son, “who had drawn.” “Drawn?” was the counter-question. “You mean to say he was drawn into the East Indian army?” Though such intellectual agility on the old lady's part may provoke laughter, from a psychological point of view such an answer proves, after all, how little Vincent's activities were actually taken seriously.

The painter returned repeatedly to Etten; the last time he stayed there for about one year. So he was present at the wedding of his sister Anna at Etten, at which the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh himself officiated.

The following persons were interviewed by me:

J. A. Oosteryck's father was an elder of the church under the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh. Vincent often used to drop in upon the Oosterycks and would then make drawings indoors and in the granary. Once he made a portrait of my informant's mother which was a very good likeness. His father was also immortalized by Vincent in a large picture of him ploughing his field.

According to the son the picture of his father's figure did not look like him, but for the rest, “a photograph could not have been more perfect.” When the painting was finished, old Mr. Oosteryck happened to remark that Vincent had forgotten to put in the dog. Vincent obligingly took up his brushes and added the dog. Those for whom Vincent had a liking [literally, “who had a good odour in his nostrils”] were given a drawing by him more than once. Vincent worked a great deal in the vicinity of the village; he was highly respected by the farmers. When he set off for work, he generally wore a sort of raincoat and a sou'wester. In general his attire was rough [“raw”]. Every day he might be seen walking with a small campstool under one arm and a square frame (??) under the other, always staring straight in front of him, and he took little notice of people. Without doing strikingly eccentric things, he yet seemed a queer sort of man.

When Vincent was busy painting, he did not like to be watched; if anyone stood watching him longer than he liked, he unreservedly begged the importunate person to clear off. At times he was anything but meek.

Toward the poor he always showed himself exceedingly open-handed; he once gave a beggar his own velvet suit, which was as good as new. Now and then he would hand over a number of drawings to his father for distribution among the members of the consistory. If a drawing did not come off “choicely” enough to his taste, he immediately tore it up.

Opinion on the work of the painter was briefly formulated in the words, “All that he made was as accurate as a photograph.”

C.Kerstens has for many years been the occupant of an outlying farm. He used to know Vincent well, though the latter did not come his way very often. It was intimated with emphasis that Vincent made his drawings and paintings almost exclusively among the Protestants. The artist had “peculiar” ways. As a rule he walked all alone. He was of “sturdy build.”

A. de Graaf. Informant is now seventy-six years old. In the time of the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh he was the verger at the Protestant church.

A carpenter by profession, in this capacity he made the above-mentioned folding stool for Vincent, who thenceforth took it with him when he went out painting. Vincent had drawn a rough model of the stool on a board, and De Graaf put it together accordingly.

Vincent was a “good boy,” who would go all over the place to make his little sketches. This occupied him continually and was all he spoke of. He wasn't the least bit proud, and was a regular visitor in the houses of poor people. He was a serious man, who never made jokes.

Now and then the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh would confide to De Graaf that “there was such an extraordinary spirit in Vincent,” and that he would have liked so much to make a preacher of him.

Piet Kauffmann, a still strong and active man of sixty. He often served as Vincent's model, and Vincent repeatedly mentioned him in his letters (e.g. in letter 148: “I think I shall find a good model here in Piet Kaufman, the gardener, but I think it will be better to let him pose with a spade or plough or something like that - not here at home, but either in the yard or in his own home or in the field.”

Note the wrong spelling: Piet Kaufman!)

Put on the trail by finding this reference, I set out to find him. According to some whom I questioned he had been dead a long time, and had not left any children; but I know that to err is human, and in some respects I had come to know something of the “southerly” imagination of the North-Brabant people, and consequently I decided not to take the man's death for granted before I had beheld his tombstone with my own eyes. So I refused to be discouraged, and in a pub at Leur, about an hour's walk from Etten, I had the satisfaction of meeting him, very much alive.

He could remember the painter quite clearly. At the time when Kauffmann posed for Vincent, he was the Rev. Mr. Van Gogh's gardener and seventeen years old. Vincent often made drawings of him at the parsonage, especially on Saturdays: as a rule Kauffmann posed standing, holding a rake or spade. Vincent also drew pictures of him a number of times as a sower, with a piece of cloth hanging from his shoulders.

At times Vincent would work on a drawing for hours: he worked on until he had caught the expression he was aiming at. The Rev. T. van Gogh's servant girl at that time used to tell how Vincent would occasionally continue to paint all through the night: many a time it happened that his mother found him still at work when she came down in the morning. Often Vincent would not take time for lunch: at such times his mother would call him repeatedly, and he would keep answering, “Yes, I'm coming,” but all the same he would either not make an appearance at all, or come more than an hour later.

Generally Vincent went about with a portfolio under one arm and a campstool under the other, and he used to hold his head a little to one side - “he always walked lost in thought”; he never recognized anybody in the street, “he was a queer little fellow.”

A few times Kauffmann received some drawings by way of a present, but they had been lost when he moved from one house to another. Informant estimates that he posed for Vincent some forty or fifty times.

The Rev. Mr. Dijkman showed me a map of the Holy Land which Vincent had drawn by hand; for years it hung on the vestry wall (until 1916).

At Etten Vincent was not registered as a member of the Reformed Church.

Data furnished by the registrar's office [often inaccurate - Ed.]:

October 22, 1875. Arrival of the Van Gogh family in the municipality from Helvoirt.

Departure of the family for Nuenen : August 4, 1882.

Arrival of Vincent Willem (i.e. the painter) at Etten from Brussels: August 18, 1881.

Departure of Vincent Willem for The Hague: July 20, 1882.

In the Register his profession is stated to be “painter.”

Some birth dates, accidentally found, may be mentioned here as a matter of curiosity:

The Rev. T. Van Gogh: February 8, 1822.

Mrs. Van Gogh-Carbentus : September 10, 1819.

Cornelis Vincent (the painter's younger brother Cor): May 17, 1867.

Elisabeth Huberta (the painter's well-known sister Lies): May 16, 1859.

At this time, Vincent was 73 year old
Benno J. Stokvis. Letter to n/a. Written 1926 in Amsterdam. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
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