Uploaded by freeworldhome on 11.11.2012

A Van Gogh letter. £600,000.
And 20. At £620,000.
Who will offer me 650? At £620,000.
650 is here with Chris. That's 650.
That's £750,000.
Sold. 910.
You've just seen a world record being set - £750,000!
It's the most ever paid for a letter.
'It's a kind of madness, really, this mania for Van Gogh.'
He's our favourite artist.
We spend millions on him. But we don't know that much about him.
Not really. Yet the full story of Vincent Van Gogh
is a tale worth hearing.
'If you want to see how dramatically the world has taken leave of its senses
when it comes to Vincent Van Gogh.
I recommend a visit to his home town of Zundert.
This is a famous flower festival they have here.
And all these floats, made of millions and millions...of flowers,
are dedicated to Vincent.
Tens of thousands of people have turned up to see them.
Now I like flowers too,
and the effort it's got into creating these things is unimaginable.
I mean look at that. It's fantastic.
But, unfortunately, all this has nothing,
absolutely nothing, to do with the real Vincent Van Gogh.
Vincent would've hated it.
Van Gogh's father was the preacher here in Zundert,
Pastor Theodorus Van Gogh of the Dutch Reformed Church.
If you look down from the pulpit, there's a little brass bowl.
That's the font in which Vincent was christened in 1853.
A noisy little boy with red hair.
Vincent Willem Van Gogh.
The first of six children, all christened in this church,
all by their own father.
'We're actually in Catholic Brabant,
a tiny bit of Holland that pokes into Belgium.'
'It's Belgium, really.
So the Van Goghs were surrounded by Catholics.'
'The Protestant community here is tiny.'
'It kept them close. They were outcasts together, pioneers.'
That house behind me, the bright yellow one
that's the house Vincent grew up in.
Not the real one, but recreated
out of half a million dahlias
they like growing flowers here in Zundert.
But he did actually live a bit up the road, in that house there.
That's been rebuilt too,
but it stands the exacly the place
Vincent spent the first 16 years of his life.
'It's rather touching to be here.'
There're something I didn't know. I didn't realise till I got here,
he did an early drawing-
there are about 12 of his early drawing left
and there's one of this rather strange architectural feature.
It looks like a capital of a church or a bank or something.
And no-one really knew where it was. I certainly didn't now where it was.
Then you come here and realize actually
it's a capital on the top of the Zundert town hall across the road.
He must've sat in his bedroom, looked straight out of the window
and seen this pilaster in front of him.
So it's the first of the drawings that Vincent did
of the view from his bedroom - this funny little pilaster.
It's a habit he kept,
every room he ever stayed in, he'd drawn what's outside.
And it began here, as everything did.
Vincent had been deliberately named
after his uncle - another Vincent Van Gogh,
a hugely successful art dealer
whom everyone called Uncle Cent.
'At 16, Vincent was sent to
The Hague - where Uncle Cent had a gallery.'
'He was going to be an art dealer too.'
'Vincent had a special post created for him,
as an apprentice clerk at the Hague branch of Goupil & Cie,
the world's most prestigious art franchise,
who'd merged with Uncle Cent.'
'It was a behind-the-scenes job at first,
dealing with Goupil's extensive international paperwork.'
'Amazingly, Van Gogh turned out to be good at this
and was soon promoted to front of shop.'
Rich Hague clients would turn up here in their carriages.
They'd be met by the teenage Vincent Van Gogh,
who'd escort Sir and Madam inside
and commend them on their taste
when they decided on their purchase.
This is the three-volume correspondence of Vincent
to his brother Theo.
It's the biggest,
heaviest and most celebrated epistolic package in art.
I've tackled it a couple of times now.
It took me several months each go.
'Vincent is almost as famous for writing these letters
as he is for painting Sunflowers.'
'There's so much insight here into his creative thinking.'
'But the first letter was just a brief note about the weather
scribbled to Theo from The Hague in September 1872.'
Theo was a couple of years younger than Vincent,
but he also decided to become an art dealer
while Vincent was here.
They hoped one day they might work together.
But on the 17th of March 1873,
a rather glum Vincent wrote to Theo
to tell him he was going to be moved.
'It was another promotion.'
'He'd done so well in the Hague
that he was being sent to London.'
'He was 20.'
He arrived at Victoria Station on the 19th of May 1873
and soon found lodgings somewhere in Battersea.
He spoke decent English. It quickly improved.
Within weeks, he was reading Keats.
London came at him from all sides.
It was the largest city in the world,
and four million people had somehow squeezed themselves into it.
Here is what it looked like.
This is Gustave Dore's London,
published just before Vincent got here.
Look at the state of it.
This is Ludgate Hill, looking up towards St Paul's.
Look at those crowds.
Vincent had a copy of this and treasured it.
You might recognise this image as well. It's Newgate Prison.
Two decades later, he still hadn't forgotten it.
'Vincent described his first year in London
as the happiest of his life.'
He went boating on the Thames, visited the museums, the parks.
But what really cheered him up was moving here
to 87 Hackford Road, Brixton,
where Vincent had a room at the top that he loved.
I don't need to tell you what Brixton is today.
It's Yardie country. Dangerous.
But it wasn't like that in Vincent's time.
In 1873, this was a prosperous middle class suburb.
No-one knew where Vincent lived in London until 1971,
when a postman, a Van Gogh obsessive,
called Paul Chalcroft, tracked him down to this house.
Chalcroft was on strike at the time, getting ready for the three-day week,
with lots of hours on his hands.
There's a Mrs Smith living here now.
'And I iamgine it was a heck of a surprise
when the striking postman knocked on her door
and told her that Van Gogh lived here.
You must be Mrs Smith.
Hello. Good Morning.
- Do you know I've read... - Yes, I am.
- I've read so much about you... - Really?
and about this house.
- You're welcome. - Thank you.
I really want to ask you...
Come through.
What was it like when the postman turned up.
- The striking postman. - Paul Chalcroft.
- Paul Chalcroft - He's very excited, actually.
Is that one of his?
That's Van Gogh's. And that's Paul Chalcroft's, too.
- He was obsessed with lots of these... - He was actually...
He knew everything about Vincent from the day he was born till...
In fact, his wife said,
" I don't know where to put all these pictures drawn by Van Gogh."
She's dropping them behind me.
Not like the day was when he was here.
Well, it'll still be more or less the same.
- You've fenced in the stairs, haven't you? -Yes.I did.
This was the room he slept in.
This one here?
Yes. This one here, and two windows.
That's all the paintings in there.
- There's the... "The church at Auvers". - That's right.
That's Paul Chalcroft's work again.
Do you sleep here now? Mrs. Smith.
- Is this your bedroom? - Yes. It's my bedroom.
So you sleep in the room Van Gogh slept in.
Yes, I do.
That must be quite exciting. I'll be exciting.
I can't hear him snoring at all.
- Lucky you. - Yes.
I bet he did.
His landlady, Mrs Ursula Loyer,
ran a small school here.
She also took lodgers.
Vincent was working in Covent Garden at Goupil's London office.
Every morning, he walked to work
in a top hat he bought specially -
he thought it made him look more English.
This journey to Covent Garden took him 45 minutes.
And that's not easy.
Van Gogh was a ridiculously fast walker.
He shot past the Oval,
where the English play that strange game called cricket.
He didn't enjoy the fog, it depressed him.
And the river, pumped full of sewage,
used to stink so badly he hurried across it.
But he loved this view over Westminster Bridge.
The Houses of Parliament, just built, the Thames Embankment,
newly reclaimed from 32 acres of mud.
He couldn't have missed the poverty.
You know that expression "Slumming it".
Slumming was something what Londoners used to do in Vincent's time -
it means going to look at the slums.
The worst ones were in the east end,
Whitechapel, Bethnal Green.
Terrifying places - underage prostitutes lurking in the alleys
and an unbuilt sewage system pumping crap into the streets.
I know you won't believe this, but I really did that.
It took me... fifty- fifty-three minutes.
That's eight minutes more than Vincent.
And he used to do it twice a day -
strolling into work, strolling back.
He worked just there, at Goupil's,
which is a noodle restaurant now.
It's basically selling prints and earning £90 a year.
It's actually a good salary in those days,
about three times the average payment for a labourer.
Van Gogh's favourite English writer was Dickens.
He read most of the novels, and then reread them.
He was always quoting Dickens in his letters,
gobbling up Dickens's sympathy for the London poor,
all those blighted Oliver Twists scrounging in the streets.
Dickens opened Vincent's eyes to modern human misery.
Dickens died in 1870,
just before Vincent got here.
To commemorate his death,
one of Vincent's favourite victorian sentimentalists
Luke Fildes
produced an unforgettable image of Dickens's empty chair,
pushed away from his desk.
Vincent bought this illustration
and learnt from it how an empty chair
can stand in so poignantly for a missing person.
Haunted by this image,
Vincent went on to become
the greatest painter of empty chairs
that's ever been.
Vincent's landlady in Brixton, Mrs Loyer,
had a daughter, Eugenie,
who was 19, a year younger than Vincent.
Perhaps the chief reason
why he enjoyed his first year in London so much
was because Eugenie was here.
Vincent fell for her all the way. He was besotted.
What's extraordinary is that
he didn't tell her he was in love with her for almost a year.
He kept it bottled up.
He let it fester.
Vincent never said a word.
When it finally came out,
an amazed Eugenie informed him
that she was already secretly engaged to a previous lodger -
an engineer called Samuel Ploughman.
The effect on Vincent of this firm and terrible rejection
was devastating.
When Eugenie rejected him,
Vincent did what many before him have done
and will always do - he found religion.
He didn't look into very far,
It was already there in his blood,
his upbringing.
He started reading the Bible at nights, puffing away his pipe,
coming home early from work.
He'd go to Salvation Army meetings at Elephant and Castle,
hang around soup kitchens and prayer halls,
sinking ever deeper into a melancholy love stupor.
His work was now going so badly
that his boss's decided to transfer him again, to Paris.
This is the old Goupil HQ in Paris,
where Vincent was made head of pictures.
He didn't deserve it,
so it could only had been intended as a deliberate confidence booster.
It's for sale now. It's been turned into a loft.
So you're coming into Galerie Goupil...
As head of pictures,
Vincent was the chief salesman here.
The way it was supposed to work,
was that Vincent would greet the rich clients,
commend them on their taste,
and sell them the most expensive stuff on the walls.
Simple, but it didn't work out like that.
The new, religious Vincent chose instead to question their taste,
argue with them and suggest they buy some proper landscapes
instead of the salon nonsenses that'll hanging all around them here.
It was a fascinating time in the Parisian art world.
A few months before Vincent was transfered here,
a bunch of disaffected artistic rebels
whom cruel critics had dubbed the Impressionists
had just opened and closed their first show.
But Vincent was too immersed in his new obsession with the Bible
to take any notice of them whatsoever.
Vincent had found a room up here in Montmartre.
Montmartre means "The hill of martyrs" -
and a martyr was definitely what he now fancied himself to be.
He spent every evening up in that little room,
reading the Bible and praying feverishly.
"Get rid of all your books,"
He wrote to Theo, "And keep only the Bible."
Goupil employees were expected to work over Christmas,
it was their busiest selling period of the year.
But without telling anybody,
Vincent bunked off at Christmas that year,
and spent it in Holland with his family.
When he returned to Paris,
he was summoned into the boss's office and asked to resign.
- Merci. - Merci
Goupil's gave him three months' notice, which was generous of them.
Vincent had been reading the English papers in Paris,
looking through the classifieds for a job.
He eventually found one, here in Ramsgate,
teaching French, German,
arithmetic and dictation to young boys
at a school opened in this building
by a Mr William Stokes.
This job was unpaid - just board and lodging.
But he was teaching, and that pressed Vincent's vocational buzzer.
The school was crummy.
Dickensian, one might say.'
The floors of bedroom in which the boys slept were rotten,
the windows broken.
And Vincent complained desperately about the bedbugs.
He did a couple of drawings out of the school window
of this view.
They're rather delightful.'
Stokes turned out to be entirely unreliable.
Just two months after he got here,
Vincent learned that the school was closing
and moving to Isleworth, a London suburb,
where Stokes promised Vincent a proper job.
Vincent decided to walk there
and to visit his sister on the way, who was teaching in Welling,
a mere 100 miles away.
Vincent got there in three days.
This walking business wasn't just a case of saving on rail fares.
He was driven to do it by the religious mania
that was growing in him.
He'd been reading Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.
It affected him immediately.
He wasn't a penniless Dutch teacher
walking to see his sister.
He was a humble pilgrim
making his difficult way in life.
It's a feeling Vincent never lost.
And did any man ever show as much affection
for his trusty boots as Vincent, years later, went on to show?'
Stokes's school in Isleworth turned out to be another no-hoper.
But just down the Twickenham Road was another boys' school,
run by the Reverend Thomas Slade Jones -
a congregational minister,
the first man ever to understand fully Vincent's religious passion.'
The Reverend was one of the few heroes of Vincent's life.
He gave him a job at this school and paid him.
It was in this house that
Vincent's frantic Bible reading and growing religious mania
finally found an outlet.'
He decided he wanted to be some sort of a missionary.
Teaching wasn't enough for him.
He thought about going up north to work among the poor
in the dark satanic mills.
But there was quite enough poverty to be getting on with in London,
where a man with a religious mission could find plenty to do.
These are the minute books
of the Turnham Green Congregational Church for 1876.'
Look who's in them named as
a new church worker and assistant preacher, Mr. Van Gogh.
Look at the spelling. It's wrong.
That's why he began calling himself Vincent -
he was fed up with the English getting his name wrong.
"As Mr.Richardson proposed, Mr Stembridge seconded
that Mr.Vincent Van Gof, spelt G-O-F,
be accepted as a co-worker."
The Reverend Slade Jones,
pestered mightily, one imagines, by Mr.Van Gogh -
and, boy, could Mr.Van Gogh pester -
was finally persuaded to allow Vincent
to step across that crucial religious divide
that separates the sheep from the shepherds.
On the 29th of October 1876,
on a sunny autumn Sunday,
Vincent rose before the faithful
at the Richmond Methodist Chapel in suburban west London
and delivered his first sermon.
We still have it.
We know exactly what he said
to his first congregation.
"It's an old belief and good belief
that our life is a pilgrim's progress."
"that we are strangers on the earth..."
It's long, well-meaning,
repetitive, boring.
Every few sentences, it resorts to thick bundles of biblical quotation
that would've left many of us dozing in the aisles.
The most impressive thing about it for me is that it's in English,
a language which he'd mastered so quickly.
He must've had help writing it.
Perhaps from the Reverance Slade Jones.
"On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand."
"He's been walking for a good long while..."
Since none of us has time to listen to it all,
let me tell you that its main theme was pilgrimage.
Life is tough, the road is long,
but faith in God will see us through.
And it all feels sneakily autobiographical.
Further ahead in our story, after some turbulent religious times,
the preacher who stood up here and delivered his first sermon
was to give up religion rather fiercely and claim to despise it.
But one of the keys to understanding the real Van Gogh
is to realise that once all this has soaked into his art,
it could never be removed. Never.
That Christmas, Vincent went home to his family.
He said he'd return to London after the holidays.
But he never did.
Whatever promises he'd made to his new flock in England,
his family forced him to break.'
Instead of returning to Isleworth after Christmas,
Vincent was packed off to this cute little town, Dordrecht,
where his family had come up with a new calling for him -
he was going to be a book seller.
His boss was to be a Mr. Braat.
And the book shop stood right there where that cafe is.
Actually I can easily imagine Vincent
as an eccentric book dealer.
His family always remembered him with his nose stuck in a book.
And later, he'd go on to paint books with such love and excitement.
It didn't matter how humble a book was,
Vincent's art always stressed its preciousness.
The book sellers I know
tend to be scruffy, cranky, unwashed types,
lost in their own world, just like Vincent.'
He'd sit in a corner wearing his English top hat,
ignoring the customers - as book sellers do -
and busying himself with
remarkable task he'd set himself here in Dordrecht.
Vincent, remember, spoke four languages fluently,
and he decided to produce a translation of
the Bible in all of them simultaneously -
Dutch, French, German and English.
He divided his paper in four columns
and inched his way through the Bible in four languages at once.
This is a painting he did some years later of his father's Bible.'
It's still being used in Zundert.
The book-selling job didn't work out, of course.
Vincent was still determined to join the church,
like his father and his grandfather.
Amsterdam University had a six-year theology course,
and Pastor Theodorus fixed it for his son to get on it...
providing he passed some exams in Latin and Greek.'
Vincent, alas, turned out to be unusually hopeless at both of them.'
Something unsettling happened here in Amsterdam
Something I find it disturbing.
If Vincent's studies weren't going well,
he used to punish himself by picking up a cudgel
and beating himself across the back until he bled.
And on particularly cold nights, he used to come home late deliberately,
so that the door to the house would be locked
and he'd be forced to spend the night outside, shivering.
These were weird habits, and perhaps they were habits he never lost.
Vincent never made it on to the theology course. He dropped out.
The only religious calling
still open to someone as unqualified as him
was to become a missionary - the lowest of the low.
A place called Laeken in Belgium
had a training school for evangelists,
which he failed to get into, of course.
But a kindly teacher at this school,
the Reverend Peterson - remember that name,
liked something about him
and arranged for Vincent to be given a trial period,
ministering to the miners in the notorious Borinage.
The Borinage's geographic nickname hereabouts
is the Black Earth Country.
It's a bleak industrial stretch of slag heaps and mine workings
straggling the border between France and Belgium,
spoiling the land on both sides.
He looked up the Borinage in an encyclopaedia.
And this encyclopaedia informed him
this was a happy working community populated
by a race friendly miners who descended into the earth every day
content to the knowledge that they were being useful and serving God.
But that's in the encyclopaedia.
In real life, the Borinage was hell on earth.
While the mine owners back in Brussels were coining it,
the poor sods dark here
were leading some of the grimmest lives available to man
in so-called civilised Europe.
Vincent's duty as a preacher were twofold.
Here in Wasmes, where he lodged in the interesting pink house behind me,
there was also a converted dance hall
that was used for a makeshift Protestant chapel.
Vincent preached there to the few miners' who turned up and their families,
and he'd deliver his notoriously long sermons.
He would also do the rounds of the miners' houses
and conduct Bible classes there - communal Gospel readings.
Thus he found out exactly how the miners were living.
And it appalled him.
There's a trait where you need to keep an eye on with Vincent.
It's a powerful urge, a recurring one,
to hurt himself.
He wanted to do more with the miners
than just conduct their Bible classes.
He needed also...
to share their misery.
So he began giving away his food,
and his clothes too. Starving himself, shivering in the cold,
just like them.
He even stopped washing
so that he too like the miners, was stained a permanent black.
Now, even in this community, grim though it was,
the preacher was still someone you looked up to.
Mrs. Denee, the landlady of the house here,
complained about him not washing.
"Oh, Esther" He replied, "Don't worry about the details."
"They don't matter in heaven."
Vincent persuaded one of the older miners to take him down into a pit
and he described the experience in a particular evocative letter to Theo.
"Down in the mine shaft,
the diggings were arranged like a beehive
one cramped chamber next to another,
inside each of which, a pathetic black figure
would be picking away at the walls."
"Pick, pick, pick."
Vincent was surprised to find horses down here,
tragic beasts fated to spend their days
trudging backwards and forwards pulling the carts.
There were eight years' kids as well,
small enough to squeeze into any hole.
I was wondering why missionaries were being sent to the Borinage at all?
I mean it's hardly the deepest Congo and Brussels is only a few hours away.
I found the answer here, in Germinal by Emile Zola.
It's the finest mining novel ever written,
and it's set on the French side of the Borinage.
Read page 45,
and you'll see there were women down here too.
'With their smaller bodies,
they too could squeeze into tighter spaces.'
'But it was hot, and they didn't wear much.'
Zola describes how a miner, coming around a dark corner,
encountered the midst tempting sight of one of these young girls,
down on her hands and knees, with her back to him.
I won't go on.
But this is why they sent missionaries to the Borinage:
to preach against promiscuity and sin.
'And it's true -
every slither of symbolism you encounter in these mines
feels satanic and hellish.'
Remember Vincent was on trial here,
his appointment as a preacher was temporary.
He wanted it renewed, but it depended on his performance.
After he been here about six months,
they sent someone down from Brussels to inspect him.
The Reverend Roche Dieu was his name,
"Roche Dieu" in French means "The Rock of God".
A terrifying name.
And this terrifying Roche Dieu
discovered Vincent starving, filthy, unkempt,
manically identifying with the miners,
and recommended that he be sacked.
Vincent's example, reported Roche Dieu, was a bad one.
Vincent was devastated, absolutely devastated.
He'd already been brutally rejected in love,
and now the Church, to which he'd given so much,
was also rejecting him.
As soon as he'd shaked out some of the shock,
he set off on another of his absurd walks.
This time, all the way to Brussels. It took him over a week.
And he cornered one of his old superiors from Laeken -
the kindly Reverend Peterson.
And for some unknowable, instinctive, curious reason,
Vincent took with him to Brussel a batch of the drawings
he'd been making of the Borinage miners.
They looked as if they've been scrawled
out of crude black bits of the Borinage itself,
raw, clumsy.
He's already 27 and he has the drawing skills of a child.
But Reverend Peterson saw something here
and encouraged Vincent to go on.
And there is something, isn't there?
Thank God, say I, for the kindly Reverend Peterson.
Because without him, Vincent might still be in two minds today
about his true calling.
He came back here to the Borinage
and prevaricated some more for a whole year.
But finally, in this lonely little miner's house
in which he'd holed up,
Vincent Van Gogh concluded he should be an artist.
He knew at last what he wanted to become,
but he couldn't do it here.
There was no art here to set him an example.
He knew that he had to get back
to what he called "The land of pictures".
And after two years in the Borinage,
he decided abruptly to return to Brussels.
We can't show you the little room above a cafe
into which Vincent moved in Brussels
when he turned up here in October 1880.
It's been modernised into a railway bridge.
But I can show you something better than that.
I can show you this. It's a self-help book for artists
published originally in the 1860s by Charles Bargue.
Vincent would've known it from his days as an arts dealer.
And now in Brussels,
he began dutifully to work his way through it.
The idea of Bargue
is that you copy one page after another, learning as you go.
It's a mechanical slog.
It wouldn't suit everyone, but it suited Vincent.
He was, as we'll be seeing
throughout the artistic helter-skelter ride that now lies ahead of us,
an instinctive copyist.
He stayed in Brussels for over six months.
Everyone advised him to join the Academy of Arts of the road from here.
But Vincent was reluctant.
He knew what he was like in classroom situations.
This was his academy.
But you'll be wondering
how this failed preacher with a talent for self-flagellation
paid his way in Brussels.
It's not a city where a little goes a long way.
The small room above the Cafe was 50 francs a month.
There was food to buy, materials.
The fact is
that Vincent's father was still sending him money.
It isn't very impressive, is it?
27 years old and still scrounging off his parents.
Pastor Theodorus was sending him 60 francs a month.
And then suddenly, for no obvious reason, this went up to 100 francs.
It was only later that Vincent found out the extra 40 francs
were coming from his brother, Theo.
Theo had been in Paris for two years working as an art dealer,
making a name for himself.
Theo was perhaps the only man on God's Earth
who welcomed Vincent's decision to become an artist.
As soon as that decision was made,
he began sending Vincent money,
and would continue to do so for the rest of Vincent's life.
This is Etten, a Dutch village in Brabant,
that was once so pretty.
See this car park? That's where the Van Goghs used to live.
Vincent left such a sweet drawing of his father's parsonage.
It breaks my heart to look at it.
Pastor Theodorus had been moved here just up the road from Zundert.
In 1881, Vincent turned up
for inglorious and obvious reasons.
He was broke and needed once again to scrounge from his family
now that he'd decided to become an artist.
And there's a cycle route you can go on now
that takes you through some of the places he drew
as he launched his great struggle to conquer the pencil.
I'm wobbling round it in a company of
a local Van Gogh historian Martin Monden.
He knows everything there is to know about Van Gogh in Etten.
So this is the famous tree Vincent drew when he was in Etten?
Yes, it was called The Orchard.
We call it The Murder Tree.
That means it is close to 350 years old.
When Vincent came here after the Borinage,
this difficult time he had amongst the miners in Belgium,
this was the first place
he decided to be an artist. Very important.
Well, he made a lot of drawings during the 60'
and he was here till December 1881.
- So, Martin, I recognise that view. - Yes?
That's The Two Towers, yeah?
That's The Two Towers with the drawing by Van Gogh.
The landscape is the rising thunderstorm.
It's a roundabout now.
Yes, and a... a roundabout with sunflowers.
This would'v been the place that before was full of fields,
people digging, labourers' cottages?
That's right. It was a very small, narrow street
with, on both sides, small houses.
Farmers' houses and the diggers lived here
which were drawn by Van Gogh.
I think some of these beautiful drawings here
were the drawings of people working.
A man by the fire, the diggers, people gathering potatoes.
All done around here? This area?
All around here, yes.
I recognise his father's church. Of course, that's the one on the right.
Yes. The right-hand church
and it's the Christian Reformed Church.
At least it hasn't changed very much. Everything else has.
It's the same like 120 years ago, only the parsonage is gone.
And the roundabout has come.
Yes. That's right.
Something horrible happened to Vincent here in Etten.
His cousin, Kee Vos, a widow with a baby boy,
came to spend the summer in the parsonage,
and Vincent inevitably fell in love with her.
Women in black, widows, were a weakness of his.
When he could no longer contain his passion for Kee
and blurted out how he felt about her,
she dealt him and his love of widows a mortal blow.
"No, no, never," She replied.
Words he couldn't forget and kept quoting.
'"No, no, never."'
Stupidly, Vincent took this as a "Maybe".
He followed her to Amsterdam,
pushed his way in to her house,
but she wasn't there. She was hiding from him.
So he put his hand into a flame
and told her family he'd keep it there unless he saw her.
Her uncle just stood up and blew the flame out.
It was a ridiculous but critical event.
His parents were appalled of his behavior. Everybody was.
But Vincent couldn't see what he'd done wrong.
Was loving someone too much a crime?
Years later, when he was in Arles with Gauguin,
Vincent painted a mysterious picture,
Memory Of A Garden In Etten.
It shows a pair of widows. One is his mother.
He always said the other was his sister Wilhelmina.
But doesn't she look like the spitting image of Kee Vos?
"No, no, never", she said. How it must've hurt.
Vincent's life was peppered with lousy Christmases.
When he hacked off his ear, at the other end of the story,
that was at Christmas.
And the one he had in Etten in 1881
was another of the very worst.
He stormed out on Christmas Day itself,
refused to go to church and left immediately for here
The Hague.
There he must've trawled the red-light district
or perhaps visited an address he already knew,
where he sought out a prostitute
called Christien Clasina Maria Hoornik,
who, for some complex Dutch linguistic reason,
was called Sien.'
Vicent seems already to have known this Sien.
How else to explain the extreme abruptness
with which he took up with her?
Before Christmas, Kee Vos was his life, his destiny.
His everything.
After Christmas, he’s with Sien and wants to marry her.
From one to the other in a week.
Sien was a few years older than him,
and as people are fond of pointing out, she was no beauty.'
Pockmarked with smallpox,
she had a shrewish face and looked used, discarded.
Sien already had a five-year-old daughter.
She'd had two miscarriages and was pregnant again when Vincent met her.
She'd later have that baby whilst they were living together.
So life had dealt her one crappy hand after another
and wrinkled her prematurely.
But these wrinkles attracted Vincent every bit
as fiercely as some men
are attracted by long legs or fluttering eyelashes.
He liked his women faded.
She was bad tempered but he forgave her that.
She swore crazily - he forgave her that.
She drank, she smoked. He forgave all of it
because, unlike the others, she stayed with him.'
"The woman is as attached to me as a tame dove," he wrote, so pleased.
Sien is the only woman Van Gogh ever lived with.
They set up a house in the street behind me,
here in The Hague outskirts,
where it used to be cheaper and the trains keep you awake at night..
Vincent's best drawing so far,
his first masterpiece, was of Sien.
He gave it an English title -
He wanted her to look like a root he said
clinging to the earth for survival.
And she does.
It was all looking so good - he had a woman, he was settled.
But would it last?
What do you think? �