Vincent van Gogh was a model employee in Goupil’s art firm. He was rewarded with a posting to the Goupil’s branch in London. At first, this was a happy time. Vincent flourished in the job and soon made more money than his father, Dorus. However, soon circumstances changed and Vincent found himself without a job.
Vincent’s Downward Spiral
While in London, Vincent fell in love with the daughter of his landlady, a girl named Eugénie Loyer. His mother, Anna, wrote to Vincent’s brother, Theo: “I am very glad for Vincent that he has found such a nice family to live with. You know now yourself, how agreeable it is. He always seems to be in good spirits.”
But then Eugenie revealed that she was in love with someone else. Vincent had little or no experience with women, and the rejection affected him deeply. He became sullen and withdrawn.
His work suffered, and in 1875 he was transferred to the Goupil office in Paris. His uncle hoped that being in the center of European art would revive Vincent’s spirits, but that effort failed. In 1876, he was dismissed from the firm.
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For the next four years, Vincent seemed to live in a wilderness of his own making. After a brief and unsuccessful stay back in England, he returned to the home of his parents for Christmas of 1876. As it turned out, Dorus had moved the family to another city in Brabant called Etten, and this was where he served as the pastor of the beautiful church.
Vincent became increasingly obsessed with religious ideas. He began to live like a hermit, fasting and avoiding any form of meat. His letters to Theo were now full of references to the Bible:
You do not know how much I yearn for the Bible. I read it daily, but I should like to know it by heart, to study all those stories thoroughly and lovingly, and especially to find out what is known about Christ.
This was a time when many people would invest in a family Bible. Based on major advances in printing techniques, these Bibles would often feature richly decorated covers and detailed steel engravings of key scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
For many families, including the van Goghs, such a Bible was their most prized possession. Vincent would actually paint the one that belonged to his father after Dorus passed away in April of 1885.
The Rough Journey of a Missionary
With his heart now set on a career in ministry, Vincent applied to the theology program at the University of Amsterdam in May of 1877. But unfortunately, he failed to pass the entrance exam.
He then moved to a missionary school in Belgium, but after three months, he failed there as well; he was dismissed for his poor skills as a preacher, or so it was said. Undaunted, Vincent then set his mind to becoming a missionary, and in 1879, he took up a post in the bleakest part of Belgium: the mining region of the Borinage.
Here, the miners lived in pitiful hovels, surrounded by towering black heaps of mining waste. They worked long hours in the depths of the earth to harvest coal, for wages that barely kept their families afloat. Vincent was deeply moved by the experience and sketched the miners in—still rather crude—drawings.
He insisted on living in the same squalor as the miners did, moving into a small hut and sleeping on straw, which shocked the local church. Even before his six-month contract was up, he was told it would not be renewed.
Genius Finds Its Way
Wandering through Belgium, Vincent wound up in the town of Cuesmes. And it was here, in the summer of 1880, that he found a new purpose in life. He began to make drawings of the people and views of the local town, which so impressed his brother Theo that he suggested that Vincent should perhaps become an artist. In fact, Theo promised to send him some money so that he could pursue that goal.
Vincent wrote to him:
I heard in Etten that you sent me 50 francs. Well, I have accepted them. Reluctantly, of course, and I’m somewhat despondent, but I have reached sort of an impasse. … What else can I do? And so I am writing to thank you.
This was the turning point in Vincent’s life. At long last, it seemed that he had found his true vocation.
Common Questions about How Vincent van Gogh Ended Up Painting
Vincent van Gogh fell in love with a girl called Eugene but she later confessed her love for someone else. The rejection affected Vincent deeply. He became sullen and withdrawn. His work suffered, and in 1875 he was transferred to the Goupil office in Paris with the hope that being in the center of European art would revive Vincent’s spirits. However, that effort failed, and in 1876, he was dismissed from the firm.
Vincent van Gogh was set on a career in ministry. He thus applied to the theology program at the University of Amsterdam in May of 1877. However, he failed to pass the entrance exam. He then moved to a missionary school in Belgium, but after three months, he failed there as well because of his poor preaching skills. Ultimately, he settled on becoming a missionary. All of these attempts were fueled by Vincent’s fascination with the Bible and religion in general.
After Vincent van Gogh traveled to Cuesmes, Belgium, he started to make drawings of the people and the views there. His brother, Theo, was much impressed by the drawings and thought that Vincent had found his calling as an artist. He even sent Vincent money in order to help him pursue that career path.