Vincent’s 167th Birthday: The van Gogh Family Lineage through Tragedy and Service to Humanity

I’m revamping my 2-year-old story in celebration of the 167th birthday of Vincent van Gogh with additional links and information. Let’s celebrate this great artist while we quarantine during the coronavirus! What you don’t know about the descendants of Vincent van Gogh is amazing and relevant!

March 30th marks the birth of the great artist, Vincent Willem van Gogh. I own prints of many of his paintings that hang on walls in my home. Many years have been spent in admiration and trying to understand a deeply moving man. When I was very young, one of my favorite songs was Vincent by Don McLean (famous for his song American Pie). While others were into heavy metal, I turned the other way and found kinship in folk pop-singer songwriters. Rhapsodizing about Vincent’s life and struggles can be left to reading Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (highly recommended).

Vincent meandered from a young age trying to discover what his passion and service would be. It wasn’t until he turned 27 that he began to become an artist, and by the age of 37 he was dead. Vincent was self-taught for the most part, copying his mother’s sketches while young, transpiring into putting out 10 years’ worth of amazing work that never sold during his lifetime. NOT one painting! I could go on…..instead, I’ll leave you with a story on the man who consistently sees into my soul and inspires me to follow my heart. Bear with me through the facts while the tragedy transpires.

You can find basic details of Vincent’s life on-line easily. Vincent(1) was born 30 Mar 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands, and died 29 July 1890 at the Ravoux’s Inn in Auvers, France with no issue (for non-genealogist this means no children). What isn’t as easy to find are the details of his ancestry, much of which is covered in The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh1, 3 volumes first published in 1958 (I own the third edition collection, 2000, pictured above). His sister-in-law provided a memoir of Vincent outlining the family lineage, referencing Annales Genealogiques by Arnold Buchelius which states “Jacob van Gogh (16th c. family already established in Holland) lived at the time in Utrecht…. Jan, Jacob’s son, sold wine and books….”. The family lineage had generations of connections to art and literature. The name van Gogh is believed to be derived from the small-town Gogh on the German frontier.2

I will discuss some of his descendants through his brother Theo who had only one child. Vincent was the oldest of six children, three boys and three girls. The first born boy was stillborn leaving 5 siblings, Anna Cornelia (two daughters), Theodorus-Theo (one son), Elisabeth Huberta-Lies (5 children), Willemina Jacoba-Wil (no issue), Cornelious Vincent-Cor (no issue). Today I will focus on Theo’s only child Vincent, hopefully later I will have more time to dig into the other offspring of his siblings. Cor died (age 33) volunteering for the Anglo-Boer War, either in action or as a suicide was later suspected.3

Bear with me as we trudge through the countless Theos and Vincents!! Our Vincent van Gogh’s brother Theo(1) had one child…. Vincent Willem van Gogh(2) (named after his love of his brother). Vincent(2) was born in Paris, 31 Jan 1890, the same year as Vincent’s(1) death, with his own father, Theo(1) dying 6 months after Vincent(1) at the age of 33! This gives you an idea of Theo’s(1) devotion to Vincent(1), leaving his wife and 6-month-old to rush to Vincent’s side as he died in Auvers, probably in poor health himself.

**Not much is mentioned of Johanna Bonger vanGogh, the widow of Theo, except that she and her son worked their whole lives to honor and preserve Vincent’s(2) legacy. That changed recently with the new biography, Everything for Vincent: The Life of Jo van Gogh-Bonger, by Hans Luijten, senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum.4 I’m looking forward to the English translation later this year finding more out about this woman who was able to sustain herself and son as a widow in the 19th century!

Vincent(2), Theo’s son, called “the Engineer” was born 31 Jan 1890 in Paris, and died 28 Jan 1978, in Laren, North Holland, Netherlands. This Vincent(2) continued his mother’s devotion to the legacy of van Gogh by establishing the Van Gogh Foundation in the 1960’s where van Gogh’s collection was transferred. In 1973 the State of the Netherlands designed the Van Gogh Museum where the collection now resides. This family’s devotion is why we have the amazing amount of his work.

This Vincent(2) , son of Theo(1)who died at the age of 33, had two boys and a girl….yes, you guessed it, one son was named Theo(2). This Theo(2) was born 5 Nov 1920 in Amsterdam. My heart skipped a beat when I learned of his execution by the Nazis at the age of 24, 8 Mar 1945. He was a member of the resistance movement. Vincent’s(2) oldest son Johan, born in 1922 and died 21 Feb, 2019 had a prolific live in the Dutch secret service.5

Johan’s son, yes…another Theo(3), was a film director, producer, and actor who was brutally murdered in 2004 by a Dutch Moroccan who was not happy about his outspoken views on Islamic woman’s rights. Yes, there is a book about this murder and its meaning, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Burma. Theo’s(3) last film was “06” about the murder (ironically) of an outspoken gay libertarian, Pim Fortuyn. Theo(3) created a short film (2004), before his assassination, with now controversial activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, called Submission. Theo was murdered for making this political film, written by Ali, about how many women are treated by men under the Koran teachings.6

Can I say, “What the…?” This family history would make an amazing mini-series beyond focusing on Vincent the painter!

Theo’s(3) son, Lieuwe van Gogh, grandson of Johan, great grandson of Vincent the engineer, and great great grandson of Theo, brother of our Vincent van Gogh, is an ARTIST! Born in 1992 in the Netherlands and is on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/lieuwe.vangogh He was only 12 years old when his father was murdered. I can’t imagine….

Lieuwe van Gogh is embracing more than artistry, Lieuwe is also an activist performer following in his ancestor’s footsteps. This video from the band Frontliner features Lieuwe, who is a Muay Thai boxer, and has a powerful message. Watch until the end.

To learn more, please click on the many highlighted references!! Go visit the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, MA, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, or any other place that has a van Gogh painting on exhibit. A picture never does his work justice. My most moving moment, for me, was at the Boston MFA in 2000 when the exhibit Face to Face, the Portraits (book in picture above) came to Boston. The iconic self-portrait, front and center, and getting very close and seeing the thick strokes of paint then walking slowly further away to see the painting evolve.

Happy Birthday, Vincent! Cheers!

Vincent and Theo at rest together again.

Descendants of the Van Gogh line

1The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Bulfinch Press: Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York, London, third edition, 2000, xv.

2Ibid.

3The Unknown Van Gogh: the life of Cornelis van Gogh, from the Netherlands to South Afrika, Chris Schoeman, Cape Town, Zebra Press, 2015.

4Due to be released in English in later 2020. Published in Dutch Sep 2019. https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/news-and-press/press-releases/book-launch-all-for-vincent-the-life-of-jo-van-gogh-bonger

Review: The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey 18 Septemper 2019, https://www.theartnewspaper.com/amp/review/van-gogh-s-sister-in-law, Diaries of Johanna Bonger https://bongerdiaries.org/dagboek_jo_1

5 https://www.theartnewspaper.com/blog/the-astonishing-life-of-johan-van-gogh

6Submission https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGtQvGGY4S4 **warning this video is an adult topic and can be disturbing to some.

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Daniel Louis Duncan

Writer, researcher, lover of history, philosophy, politics and critical thought