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The following article appeared in an unnamed newspaper dated
April 12, 1922:
In a miscellany signed Fr. G. from Brussels, we find in
Ons Tijdschrift [Our Magazine] the following particulars
about “Vincent van Gogh and Master Bokma”:
Not long ago a man known as “Master Bokma,”
highly respected in his circle, died in Brussels. One of the
curious circumstances of his life - which he himself little
realized, if at all - was that at one time he was the preceptor
of the great Vincent van Gogh.
The Training School for Evangelists, founded in 1876 by the
Reverend Mr. N. de Jong, was first establishing itself. Master
Bokma was the headmaster. Three pupils were in attendance, one
of whom furnished me with the following particulars.
One day the Reverend Mr. Van Gogh, from a small town in
Brabant, appeared at the school and introduced a sandy-haired,
somewhat round-shouldered young man who wanted to be a
pupil.... He was accepted.
Soon it appeared that - considering the nature of the school
- he knew quite a lot already. Also, he was much respected for
his warm-heartedness. Yet was he not a stranger in Jerusalem?
He was teased once in a while, for example, when once he
sketched on the blackboard cliffs and a sea-beach; on that
occasion he flew into a rage and hit out furiously.
He did not stay long. He did not know what submission was.
He could no more finish his training as a clergyman than he
could finish his training as Evangelist. When he was
confronted with the task of conjugating irregular Greek verbs,
he asked his teacher, Mendes da Costa, “Are these horrors
really necessary to bring rest and peace to men?” In the
same way, when Master Bokma asked him, “Van Gogh, is this
dative or accusative?" he answered, “I really don't care,
And Van Gogh would reply: “Oh, don't worry, sir; this
is good enough for me!”
When he spoke at a meeting, he would read a long discourse
he had already written down on paper - a thing little
appreciated in that Flemish land.
It is known that soon afterward he went to the Walloon
country as an evangelist, labouring among the miners; he gave
away all his clothes, so that he wore nothing more than a pair
of trousers and a jacket; he slept on a plank.
But he did not forget his fellow pupils. When he went to see
one of them - an army conscript in Mons - he carried under his
arm a large portfolio full of drawings of miners - all very
stiff and wooden, he told me.
Van Gogh neglected himself to such a degree that a short
time later, when he went to see a Brussels notable with whom he
was acquainted, the man's daughter, on opening the door,
shrieked, “Papa!” screamed in terror, and fled.
When he went to Paris, his circle of acquaintances in
Brussels lost track of him.
[A confirmation of the preceding account was published in
De Telegraaf (an Amsterdam newspaper), November 24,
On the occasion of the Van Gogh Exhibition the Reverend
Mr. J. Chrispeels wrote in his Christelijk
Volksblad [Christian Popular Paper] the recollections
char-acteristic of Vincent which follow. The Reverend Mr.
Chrispeels met him in Brussels, presumably in 1878, when the
future painter's father brought him to the Training School for
Evangelists, consisting (if a few rooms over the Church Hall in
Kathelijne Square. After recalling that previously Van Gogh had
not shown too great zeal as a theological student in Holland,
the Reverend Mr. Chrispeels, erstwhile parson at
This lack of inclination for study manifested itself in
Brussels too. Let me give an example.
When we had a Dutch grammar lesson and the master asked a
question such as, “Van Gogh, is this the nominative or
dative?” the answer was, “ Oh, sir, I really don't
Another gift lay smoldering within him the art of painting.
What he liked was ferreting out peculiarities in the Bible and
in other books. He asked to be allowed to join the other pupils
studying Greek, but he was refused as long as he declined to
take lessons in other subjects, too.
Once I saw him furiously indignant. The word falaise
[cliff] had occurred in a French exercise. The master explained
it to us, but Van Gogh asked, “Sir, will you allow me to
draw une falaise on the blackboard?” The master,
however, did not think it necessary.
As soon as the lesson was over and the master gone, Van Gogh
went to the blackboard and started drawing a cliff. A younger
pupil tugged at Van Gogh's jacket from behind to make fun of
him. Van Gogh sprang round with an expression on his face I
shall never forget, and dealt his teaser such a blow that he
did not come back for more.
Oh! that face blazing with indignation and wrath!
No, I shall never forget it. How deplorable that Van Gogh,
who took a life devoted to God so seriously, could for a moment
so forget himself! He did not stay long at the Training
The Synod appointed him Evangelist at Wasmes, in the
Borinage, in the Walloon Country, where he was to officiate in
a small parish - in reality not more than a missionary
In the meantime I had become a soldier.
Once when we were exercising on the parade ground the
sergeant called me, saying, “There is a man to see
you.” The man came to me...It was Van Gogh, with a big
portfolio under his arm. He showed me drawings intended to
represent miners. How queer those stiff little figures
After one of his wanderings he once more came back to
Brussels on a Sunday evening. When he rang the bell at the
house of a Protestant family here and the door was opened by
one of the daughters of the house, she did not recognize him,
but screamed with fright, so neglected and uncouth was his
appearance. But he was received with the most cordial
After this we lost sight of him. But it is known that he
took art lessons in Brussels and Antwerp.
At this time, Vincent was 69 year old
Unknown. Letter to Unnamed Newspaper. Written April 12 1922 in Brussels. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.
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