When Vincent started drawing, it seemed that he had found his true vocation. He moved to The Hague in late 1881 and became an apprentice of his cousin-in-law, Anton Mauve, a member of The Hague School. He introduced Vincent to the essential techniques of drawing and painting in watercolor or in oils.
Improvement in Art
One of Vincent’s most successful attempts during this period is a stunning painting, the Girl in White in the Woods. This was the first time he was able to buy his own oil paints, thanks to funds remitted by Theo.
The low perspective suggests that Vincent painted it on his knees—in fact, pieces of oak leaves have been found in the pigments. Even Vincent was somewhat surprised by the rapid improvement of his art:
I don’t know exactly how I paint it. I see that Nature has told me something, has spoken to me, and that I’ve captured it in shorthand.
Vincent was particularly taken by an artist named George Hendrik Breitner, one of the most innovative Dutch painters of the time. Like Vincent, Breitner was deeply concerned with the role of art in social change.
Vincent’s First Studio
Vincent’s parents didn’t quite know what to make of this idea of becoming an artist.
In their eyes, Vincent had walked away from a promising career as an art dealer and had likewise failed in his ambition to join the ministry. They felt that at 28 years of age, Vincent should have been well on his way to make a career for himself, rather than asking his parents for money. Vincent was well aware of it.
On top of that, in late December, during a brief stay in Etten, Vincent and his father had a huge fight when Vincent refused to attend his father’s Christmas service. He was done with religion, he said. The feelings ran so high that his father asked him to leave the house, and he did.
And so, the beginning of 1882 found Vincent in The Hague once more. Here, he rented a room in a house just outside the city, at 138 Schenkweg. It would become his very first studio.
While the house no longer exists, we do have a number of fine views from the window that reveal Vincent’s growing confidence with working in watercolors.
This article comes directly from content in the video series In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Younger Brothers Are Great Sponsers
Despite his growing confidence as an artist, Vincent was deeply worried about how he was going to support himself. After the big fight with his father, he knew he couldn’t expect anything from their corner. He wrote to his brother Theo for help:
I’m asking you, Theo, if you can do it, to send me something now and then, whatever you can spare, without getting yourself in trouble.
And thus, the pattern was set for the remainder of his life; from then on, it was only his younger brother who would support him in his quest to become an artist.
A New Social Circle
That winter and spring, Vincent spent many hours in the arcades of the Binnenhof, the Dutch Parliament buildings, where booksellers sold international books and magazines. These stalls put him in touch with some of the progressive French authors of the time and their ideas about social justice, such as Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, and above all, Émile Zola. These inspired Vincent to use his art as a force for social change.
But like any young man, Vincent also had a growing yearning for love. He thought he’d found it when he met an alcoholic prostitute named Clasina Hoornik, known as Sien. She had a five-year-old daughter and was expecting a second child. Vincent moved in with her and, needless to say, it led to a huge scandal, and inflamed the tensions with his family back home.
Anton Mauve, too, was shocked and decided to break with him. Desperate now, Vincent offered his watercolors and paintings to the same Goupil art gallery where he had worked, but his old manager, Herman Tersteeg, refused to sell them. He didn’t like Vincent’s rather stark depictions of the poor and told him that he should produce more ‘commercial’ art instead.
Experimenting in Painting
In the fall of 1883, faced with the burden of caring for a family that wasn’t his own, Vincent left Sien and retreated into the remote northeastern province of Drenthe. Here he focused on drawing and painting the thatched cottages and dark heath, in morose monochrome colors. This probably reflected his mood, as he was racked by guilt over leaving Sien and her children.
Nevertheless, for the first time he began to fully explore the possibilities of oils, of working with delicate layers of shade and color to depict the subtle tones of nature. His confidence in his art was growing. The same could not be said for his mood, which wasn’t helped by the dark skies of Drenthe.
Things can’t stay the way they are right now. I have to find a way out. The harder I work, the more hard-pressed I become. I’m at a point right now where I say: I cannot go on.
There was only one option: to swallow his pride and to return to the house of his parents. As it happened, they had moved to the Brabant village of Nuenen. And it was here that Vincent finally hit his stride as a painter.
Common Questions about Vincent van Gogh’s Early Days of Painting
Vincent’s parents didn’t quite know what to make of his idea of becoming an artist. In their eyes, Vincent had walked away from a promising career as an art dealer and had likewise failed in his ambition to join the ministry. They felt that at 28 years of age, Vincent should have been well on his way to make a career for himself.
Vincent was put in touch with some of the progressive French authors of the time and their ideas about social justice, such as Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Émile Zola. These inspired Vincent to use his art as a force for social change.
After Vincent left Sien, he retreated into the remote northeastern province of Drenthe. There he focused on drawing and painting in morose monochrome colors. This probably reflected his mood, as he was racked by guilt over leaving Sien and her children.