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  • Writer's pictureMacy

Johanna van Gosh-Bonger – The Women made van Gogh

Sister-in-law of Vincent van Gogh and wife of Theo van Gogh, was an English teacher, born Dutch. I first heard of her story as “the woman who made Vincent van Gogh world famous” through an episode of The New York Times’ The Daily podcast. Along with the gender-equality movement, I feel like introducing this important part of history to my audience. Here is to all the art enthusiasts and the devoting women.

After her husband’s death, shortly followed through Vincent’s passing, Johanna van Gogh was left with 200 or so pieces of Vincent’s paintings and the correspondences between the two brothers. She moved from Paris, the family house she had with Theo, to Amsterdam, and opened a boarding house in order to support her family of two. She then started working on publishing the letters of the van Gogh brothers’ in Dutch and promoting Vincent’s artworks. The reputation of Vincent portrayed as an artist was established by her tireless work to bring every painting into life through the letters that Vincent wrote to Theo.

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

In the letters accompanying the famous ‘Starry Night’, Vincent wrote “In the blue depth the stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires.” Vincent van Gogh’s sister-in-law, proficient in Dutch, English, French and German, started working on the publication and the translation of the correspondences between the two brothers, Vincent and Theo. An anthology of letters from Vincent to Theo was completed in 1914, as well as a successful showings of van Gogh’s paintings “Kunst van heden” exhibition, in Antwerp, Belgium.

Johanna, or ‘Jo’ as she was preferred to be called, organised multiple exhibitions to raise the awareness of Vincent’s works in the arts community. Through Theo’s conversations and the letters from Vincent, she peeked into the artist’s mind and world. Every letter was just like pages of a diary, telling the daily life stories and the creating process inside an artist’s mind. Vincent Willem van Gogh, Jr. Johanna and Theo’s son, later took over the work of his mother, and founded the Vincent van Gogh Fondation. If you ever have a chance to visit Amsterdam, don’t miss the chance to visit the Van Gogh Museum.

Self-Portrait, Vincent van Gogh, 1887

  1. The Woman Who Made van Gogh, The New York Times (subscription may be needed)

  2. Research Project: Biography of Jo van Gogh-Bonger, the Van Gogh Museum

  3. Three Important Women in Vincent van Gogh’s Life, the Van Gogh Museum

Thank you for reading.

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Take good care of yourself,


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