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

Our big house at Bussum, “Villa Helma,” was often full of people. Many of my mother's lasting friendships date from that time. In the course of the years several people who played a certain part in the artistic or intellectual life stayed at our house for some time. Our living room was not large but very cosy (in a Dutch house living and dining room are one). On the mantelpiece hung “The Potato Eaters”; on the opposite side over the cupboard &ldThe Harvest” - over the door the “Boulevard de Clichy.” Over the piano there hung four pictures of Monticelli's ; next to the cupboard Guillaumin's and Bernard's self-portraits and next to the mantelpiece the “Vase with Flowers” by Vincent (the violet vase). From the rim of the white porcelain lampshade of the paraffin lamp over the table there hung a few Japanese prints. In another room there was the big picture by Gauguin (from Martinique) over Theo's sofa, which was covered with an oriental rug; at that time this was customary, now it would be called a sacrilege. In the corridor downstairs were Vincent's drawings of the courtyard of the hospital at Arles and the fountain at St. Rémy; in the bedroom the three “Orchards in Bloom,” the &ldAlmond Blossoms,” the “Pieta” after Delacroix, and “La Veillée” after Millet. There was a garden around the house with many trees.

Although my mother was kept busy with her housekeeping, she occupied herself with me quite a lot; she kept the afternoons free for this.

People came from time to time to see the pictures. The exhibitions, continually becoming more numerous, gave my mother a lot of work. Packing, often including the making of cases, was for many years done in the house, which caused a lot of dust, noise and cleaning up.

Fortunately there was a carpenter in the village (Verkouteren, afterward succeeded by “Janus”) who had been taught by a painter how to pack pictures.

I well remember expeditions with my mother to the goods shed of the railway station for sending off or receiving cases.

My mother formed her opinions independently, and therefore her ideas now and then deviated from those of her family. She became a member of the then young socialist party, which brought her into contact with other people. However, she did not take any part in public life, but she devoted herself to her child, her second husband and other things.

In 1901 she married Johan Cohen Gosschalk, a painter and writer on art, who was a good deal younger than she. We then moved to a house built by Willem Bauer, a brother of Marius Bauer (see above).

He had a fine, sensitive mind, but his health was poor. After his death (in 1912) my mother said that through him she had often learned to see things more clearly and purely.

In 1903 we went to live in Amsterdam. The same arrangement of the pictures was repeated. For twenty-three years my mother lived in the same flat, Bracht-huijzer Street 2, at the corner of Koninginneweg.

During the summer of 1905 there was a great exhibition of Vincent's work in the Stedelijk (Municipal) Museum at Amsterdam; my mother was able to hire its galleries for this purpose. In two months there were two thousand visitors.

At the time the Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam declined a loan of any picture by Vincent; it only would expose two drawings if they were offered as a gift. In other countries more exhibitions were held, among others several at Cassirer's in Berlin. The Folkwang Museum at Hagen in Westphalia was the first to have pictures by Vincent in its collection; around 1936 these were sold in Amsterdam, In 1910 Vincent's paintings were shown for the first time in London at the Post-Impressionist Exhibition, and many people still laughed at them. Now the “Sunflowers” and the &ldChair” are in the Tate Gallery.

All through the years my mother had been steadily engaged arranging Vincent's letters in chronological order; many of them bore no date. The sequence could only by fixed by comparison of facts or references. In the beginning she copied them by hand, later on they were typewritten. The proofs she corrected herself.

The first volume of the Dutch edition was published in the spring of 1914. In 1915 she moved to New York, where she started translating Vincent's letters into English. At her death, September 2, 1925, she had reached letter 526. She had been back in Holland since 1919. During her lifetime a second printing of the Dutch edition was required, which meant a great success for a small country; she rejoiced in it very much.

My mother used to read much; later on she took a special interest in biographies. Young people liked her very much and her company was always interesting and worth while.

At her burial the directors of the Wereldbibliotheek, the publishers of the Dutch edition of the letters, sent a wreath with the inscription: Faithfulness, Devotion, Love.


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