van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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 Memoir of Vincent van Gogh

By Johanna Gesina van Gogh - Bonger, Vincent's sister in law

The family name, Van Gogh, is probably derived from the small town Gogh on the German frontier, but in the sixteenth century the Van Goghs were already established in Holland. According to the Annales Généalogiques by Arnold Buchelius, a Jacob van Gogh lived at that time in Utrecht, “in the Owl behind the Town Hall.” Jan, Jacob's son, who lived “in the Bible under the flax market,” sold wine and books and was Captain of the Civil Guard. Their coat of arms was a bar with three roses, and it is still the Van Gogh family crest.

In the seventeenth century we find many Van Goghs occupying high offices of state in Holland, Johannes van Gogh, magistrate of Zutphen, was appointed High Treasurer of the Union in 1628; Michel van Gogh - originally Consul General in Brazil and later treasurer of Zeeland - was a member of the Embassy that welcomed King Charles II of England on his ascent to the throne in 1660. In about the same period Cornelius van Gogh was a Remonstrant clergyman at Boskoop; his son Matthias started as a physician in Gouda, and later became a clergyman in Moordrecht.

Vincent's Grandfather

In the beginning of the eighteenth century the social standing of the family was somewhat lower. David van Gogh, who settled at The Hague, was a gold-wire drawer. His eldest son, Jan, followed the same trade, and married Maria Stalvius; both belonged to the Walloon Protestant Church. David's second son, Vincent (1729-1802), was a sculptor by profession, and was said to have been in Paris in his youth; in 1749 he was one of the Cent Suisses. With him the practice of art seems to have come into the family, together with fortune; he died single and left some money to his nephew Johannes (1763-1840), his brother Jan's son.

Johannes was at first a gold-wire drawer like his father, but he later became a Bible teacher and a clerk in the Cloister Church at The Hague. He married Johanna van der Vin of Malines, and their son Vincent (1789 -1874) was enabled, by the legacy of his great-uncle Vincent, to study theology at the University of Leiden. This Vincent, the grandfather of the painter, was a man of great intellect, with an extraordinarily strong sense of duty. At the Latin school he distinguished himself and won all kinds of prizes and testimonials. “The diligent and studious youth, Vincent van Gogh, fully deserves to be set up as an example to his fellow students for his good behavior as well as for his persistent zeal,” declared the rector of the school, Mr. de Booy, in 1805. He finished his studies at the University of Leiden successfully, and graduated in 1811 at the age of twenty-two. He had many friends, and his album amicorum preserves their memory in Latin and Greek verse. A little silk-embroidered wreath of violets and forget-me-nots - signed, E. H. Vrydag 1810 - was wrought by the girl who became his wife as soon as he secured the living of Benschop. They lived long and happily together, first at the parsonage of Benschop, then at Ochten, and from 1822 at Breda, where his wife died in 1875, and where he remained until his death, a highly respected and esteemed man.

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