If someone were to make a list of the most written-about artists who ever lived, the exact order of importance might be in debatable, but without a doubt, at the top would be Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. There have been other, equally great and influential artists living and working along side these titans, so why have these four seemingly got the bulk of the ink? The answer is simple. Merely writing about the art of great artists is boring. To generate any real interest, artists have to have been colourful, troubled, and tragic, as well as tremendously talented and influential. All of the above were all of the above. Leonardo was a mysterious genius, Michelangelo a lonely workaholic, Picasso a flamboyant, creative dynamo, and Vincent...well, we might say he was something of all these rolled into one.
Perhaps because of this, Vincent van Gogh may well top the list. I'm not going to add significantly to the overwhelming volume of words depicting this troubled soul. Writing about his work would be redundant and, as I said before, boring (yes, even van Gogh). I could write about his chronic mental illness, but that would quickly become quite clinical and boring too. And, we all know already quite a lot about two of the men in his life, his crucial, touching relationship with his brother, Theo, and his stormy friendship with Paul Gauguin. Very well, what about the women in his life? Mmmm...that sounds juicy and also far less familiar, and there were five of them.
First, of course, was his mother, Anna Cornelia. She appears to have been a very normal, Dutch, Protestant mother whose most notable trait would seem to be her surprising longevity. She outlived both her sons by some seventeen years! She died in 1907 at the age 88. At the tender age of twenty, Vincent found his first love, a sweet, young English girl, and the daughter of the woman who ran the boarding house where he stayed. She rejected him. He became very depressed, began his Bible studies, and moved to Paris. Eight years later, in 1881, his fling with religion behind him, Vincent fell in love with Cornelia Adriana Vos-Stricker (called Kee), who incidentally happened to be his cousin. She rejected him too, this time triggering his first bout with the mental illness that would eventually end his life. A year later, he met Clasina Maria Hoomik (called Sien), a pregnant prostitute with a five-year-old daughter. After living with her more than a year, he ended up in a hospital with gonorrhoea. As the health of his father deteriorated, Vincent moved back to Holland where he set up a small studio and fell in love with the daughter of his neighbour, Margot Begemann. They planned to marry, but both families opposed the union, and in despair, Margot attempted to poison herself. With the death of his father in 1885, a tormented Vincent returned to France, his love life as tortured as his state of mind. There he finally found love, if not contentment, in his painting. During the next five years, he was to bring forth several hundred vibrant masterpieces--the timeless fruit of his one true love.