In 1850, it was in the city of The Hague that Dorus van Gogh’s brother, better known as Uncle Cent, married his bride, Cornelia Carbentus. And what’s so remarkable is that just six months later, Dorus himself married another Carbentus girl, named Anna Cornelia. In other words, the two brothers of the van Gogh family were now married to two sisters from the same family.
Steel Engraving: Producing Near-photographic Images
Uncle Cent embarked on a career that would soon make him one of the leading art dealers in Holland, if not of Europe. The source of that success lay in the development of a new technology: steel engraving. In an age before industrial photography, printed engraving was the primary medium through which noted works of art could be copied and distributed around the world.
The technique had its origin in the woodcuts of the 15th century, by artists such as the German Albrecht Dürer, but then underwent a revolution with the development of copper engravings. The copper medium allowed the artist to draw on the metal surface with a fine sharp instrument called a burin. Artists used hatching to suggest shades, but it still fell short of creating a true reproduction.
That level of fidelity only became possible with the development of steel engraving, originally developed for the production of banknotes. Steel, rather than copper, allowed the artist to create washes of gray and other effects to produce a near-photographic image of the original work of art, so that for the first time, publishers could produce high-quality engravings, or even illustrated books.
This article comes directly from content in the video series In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Hague Shop
In the mid-1840s, Uncle Cent traveled to Paris to strike a deal with a leading supplier of such prints, by the name of Adolphe Goupil. And from that point on, Uncle Cent’s shop in The Hague, located on a square called the Plaats, became the primary source of art reproductions in Holland.
The most popular art prints at that time were made by the French Barbizon school, which rejected the classical and mythological themes of official art. Instead, the Barbizon painters focused on pastoral scenes in the countryside. These were artists such as Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, and, above all, Jean-François Millet.
Before long, Uncle Cent felt he needed to feature works by Dutch artists as well. As it happened, the city of The Hague had spawned a movement that had much in common with the Barbizon school, particularly in its use of light effects. This became known as De Haagsche School, the Hague School, with painters such as Anton Mauve, Jacob Maris, and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch.
These artists were mostly known for their brooding landscapes under windswept, cloudy skies; but unlike the Barbizon, they looked to the Golden Age of Dutch 17th-century art for inspiration. This was perfect for a nation that was still trying to define its new identity after years of French occupation under Napoleon.
And so, by the 1850s, the little shop on the square had become Holland’s primary art dealership.
In time, the business merged with Goupil’s in Paris, and together they became a leading source of art and reproductions throughout Europe.
One Lucky Nephew
As Uncle Cent and his wife Cornelia had not been able to have any children of their own, both of them had decided to dote on their nephews and nieces, beginning with young Vincent. When Uncle Cent heard that young Vincent was no longer going to school and had nothing to do, he offered Vincent a job at his shop in The Hague.
By then, Uncle Cent himself had largely withdrawn from the business, and day-to-day management was left to the gallery’s supervisor, Herman Tersteeg. In 1869, Vincent traveled to The Hague and became an employee of Goupil’s.
Nurturing a Future Genius
Vincent became deeply smitten with the prints of Jean-François Millet, and particularly his focus on depicting the harsh conditions of the French peasantry. Millet’s painting of The Gleaners, for example, shows three poor women scrounging for the leftovers after the field has been harvested. It was not just art; it was a cry for social justice.
During the Paris Rebellion of 1848, large crowds had toppled the monarchy, demanding social reforms. And so, the painting struck a deep chord with young Vincent. It kindled his desire, many years later, to devote himself to the poor and downtrodden.
Common Questions about How van Gogh Family Entered the World of Art
Unlike copper, steel gave artists more creative freedom since it allowed for near-photographic productions of the original work of art. Steel, rather than copper, allowed the artist to create washes of gray and other effects to produce a near-photographic image of the original work of art, so that for the first time, publishers could produce high-quality engravings, or even illustrated books.
In 1840s, the most popular art prints were made by the French Barbizon school, which rejected the classical and mythological themes of official art. Instead, the Barbizon painters focused on pastoral scenes in the countryside. These were artists such as Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, and, above all, Jean-François Millet.
Millet’s painting of The Gleaners shows three poor women scrounging for the leftovers after the field has been harvested. Vincent was moved by the painting’s call for social justice. It kindled his desire, many years later, to devote himself to the poor and downtrodden.