Remembering Theo Van Gogh

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Remembering Theo Van Gogh
Theo van Gogh is best known for being the brother of artist Vincent van Gogh and for the patience and financial backing he offered him. Theo himself made an important contribution to the French art world by introducing Impressionist stars such as Monet and Degas to the public. He persuaded his employers Goupil & Cie to exhibit their works and and later branched out on his own to specialize in them. Without Theo, and the life’s work of his young widow Johanna Bonger, Vincent van Gogh wouldn’t be one of the world’s most recognizable painters. Like his older brother, Theo had a short, poignant life and tragic death. The Van Gogh family had been in the business of selling paintings throughout the 1800s. Theo’s uncles Hendrick and Cor were book and art sellers. Uncle Cent van Gogh was a partner in the very successful art dealership Goupil & Cie with branches in major European centers. Just months after his 16th birthday, Vincent van Gogh became a junior apprentice at his uncle’s business in The Hague, moving to the London location in 1873, and from 1875-76 at the Paris head office. Theodorus van Gogh, born May 1, 1857, four years after his older brother, was a thinner, paler, more precise version of Vincent. Theo would follow the requisite path and work for his Uncle Cent. At 15, Theo took a position at Goupil’s office in Brussels. He was a frail child, away from home for the first time, and he endeavored to make his parents proud. Theo did well at the Brussels branch. Modest and intelligent, his employers entrusted him with some managerial duties. He manned the Goupil & Cie kiosk during the 1878 Exposition Universelle. At first, Theo found Paris chaotic and confusing but he returned permanently to Goupil’s Paris headquarters in late 1879. Theo van Gogh age 15, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Following Cent’s retirement, the firm became Boussod & Valadon and Theo became manager of their office on Boulevard Montmartre. When he let an apartment at 25 rue Laval (now Victor-Masse), he was smack in the epicenter of the modern art world. Theo was au courant with not just art, but also theater, music, food, and fashion. Theo was a highly competent expert at Boussod & Valadon. His success as a dealer of contemporary art was a stark contrast with the path of his older brother. Vincent failed at his attempts to be an art dealer, language teacher, bookseller, and lay preacher. Theo advised Vincent to develop his skill as an artist and to stop making life so difficult for their parents. Vincent followed this brotherly advice and decided art was his life’s calling. Theo was the steadier of the two and became Vincent’s anchor. Theo selflessly started providing his ne’er-do-well brother with painting supplies and monthly support. Vincent van Gogh’s view from Theo’s apartment by Google Art Project

Lead photo credit : Theo van Gogh, 1878 via Municipal Photo Museum Amsterdam courtesy of Stedelijk Museum

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Shirley Pappas
    2022-04-23 04:59:32
    Shirley Pappas
    Thank you so much for this article. I have visited Auvers-sur-Oise many times, but never knew much about Theo's widow and how important she was promoting Vincent's work. Wonderful article.