van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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 Memoir of Johanna Gesina van Gogh - Bonger

In 1889 she married Theo van Gogh, a friend of her brother Andries, who was also living at Paris.

In 1891, after a year and a half of happiness, Johanna returned to Holland with her little son, some furniture, and a great number of pictures, which at the time were looked upon as having no value at all. An inventory of pictures in which are to be found names like Monticelli, Gauguin, Van Gogh, drawn up by a well-known personality of those days, mentions 200 paintings by Vincent van Gogh: 2000 guilders. From various quarters she received the advice to “clear off” the pictures, but she never thought of it.

My mother did not want to return to the house of her parents and sisters. In the spring of 1891 she went to live at Bussum, then still a small and quiet village, 15 miles from Amsterdam. There lived a friend from her schooldays, Mrs. Veth--Dirks, the wife of a painter.

Her diary, in which she had not written during her short, happy marriage, starts again in 1891 with the words “Tout n'est que rêve!” (Everything is but a dream!).

In order to give an impression of the life and thoughts of my mother in those years some fragments from this diary follow:

November 15, 1891

In order to give him (the child) healthy fresh air I went to live at Bussum - to earn a living for both of us I am taking boarders - now I must be careful that I shall not be degraded to a household drudge by all the housekeeping worries, but I must keep my spirit alive. Theo taught me much about art, no let me rather say - he has taught me much about life.

Besides the care for the child he left me yet another task, Vincent's work - to show it and to let it be appreciated as much as possible. All the treasures that Theo and Vincent collected - to preserve them inviolate for the child - that also is my task. I am not without an object in life, but I feel lonely and deserted.

November 18

Tonight for the first time I have been able to work again. The first half-year that I lived here, it cost me such an immense effort learning the most ordinary house-hold duties that I could not think of anything else.

Now and then I read something - but only an ordinary novel or a newspaper. The household machine is in working order, and though it keeps me busy the whole day, still it no longer takes all my thoughts and in the evenings I can work again....

February 24, 1892

This afternoon two painters - Verkade and Serrurier. It was a treat to speak French once more. They thought Vincent's work beautiful, it was such an unusual thing - to hear those exclamations of admiration. People in Holland are not generous with appreciation when it concerns Vincent's work. It reminded me of those good days in Paris.

Tomorrow night there is in “Arti” [the artist's association in Amsterdam with its own exhibition rooms] the exhibition of Vincent's drawings - I have great expectations of it - it is a feeling of indescribable triumph - when I think that it has come at last - the appreciation - the thinking it beautiful. I must go there to hear what people say, what attitude they will assume - those who used to laugh at Vincent and poke fun at him.

During January and February I have been busy all the time with the paintings. After an endless correspondence on the part of Isaäcson and a visit by Toorop (1858-1928, a Dutch painter) there are now finally ten paintings with Buffa in Amsterdam, twenty with Oldenzeel 1 in Rotterdam, in December an exhibition in Pulchri, 2 and now on Thursday, February 25th, the one in “Arti.”

It was a fine evening - everybody whom I wanted came to see them - Breitner, Israëls, Witsen, Jan Veth, Jan Stricker and Kee Vos, Martha van Leden. It was crowded. People liked them. Now I am going to start with the letters in earnest and with zeal.... I have now just about brought my diary up to date, and will faithfully continue with it. The child must later on be able to judge the life of his mother, what she has thought, felt, and willed. Her diary, and the letters of his father and his uncle, with these he can build up their lives out of the past.

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