Vincent van Gogh: letters, art, and context > Van Gogh’s correspondence with family and friends

Photo of Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh corresponded with his family and friends. After Vincent and his brothers and sisters left home, they wrote to each other and their parents very frequently. Many letters from Vincent have been preserved, along with some of the replies. He is also mentioned in some letters from his friends and relatives to other people. Most of the surviving letters were kept by Vincent’s younger brother Theo. A total of 659 letters from Vincent to Theo have been preserved, and 46 from Theo to Vincent.

Letters from Van Gogh to Theo
Vincent shared almost all his thoughts with his younger brother Theo (1857-1891), who supported him financially from the moment he became an artist. He wrote about what he was drawing and painting and why he made certain choices. His letters also discussed the writers and artists that he especially admired, as well as his own inner feelings.
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Letters from Theo to Van Gogh
Theo shared Vincent’s enthusiasm for art and literature. His work at the leading art dealer’s Goupil & Cie in Paris allowed him to keep abreast of the latest developments in the art world. Theo could be very frank with his brother, but was also concerned for his well-being. He once wrote, “My poor brother, I’m infinitely sorry that things aren’t going as they should.” [letter 847]
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Letters from Van Gogh to his family
Van Gogh grew up in the Dutch province of North Brabant, with three sisters and two brothers. His father was a pastor. At the age of 16, he left his parents’ home to work in the art trade. After trying a number of jobs and programmes of study without success, he decided to become an artist in 1880. Besides Vincent’s correspondence with Theo, there are some surviving letters to other family members: his parents, his youngest sister Willemien, and his sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger.
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Letters to Van Gogh from his family
Few letters to Vincent from relatives other than Theo have been preserved. There is one letter from his sister Anna and one from Willemien. His sister-in-law Jo began writing him after she married Theo in 1889: “It’s high time that your new little sister came to chat with you and didn’t always just let Theo convey her regards.” [letter 771]
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Letters from Van Gogh to his friends
“I’m telling you my thoughts frankly, and for your part you, too, must always tell me yours frankly,” Van Gogh wrote to his friend the painter Anthon van Rappard (1858-1892). [letter 176] The Van Gogh Museum has 57 letters to Van Rappard in its collection, as well as two letters to Paul Gauguin, which were never sent. (Van Gogh’s letters to the artist Emile Bernard are in the Morgan Library in New York.)
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Letters from friends to Van Gogh
Van Gogh’s friends included artists such as Emile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, John Peter Russell, Anthon van Rappard and Paul Signac. In their letters they told each other about developments in their work, often describing their paintings in detail. They also discussed work by other artists. Van Gogh exchanged letters with friends outside the art world too, such as the postman Joseph Roulin.
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Letters from Van Gogh’s family members to each other
“Poor brother of Vincent, sweet, dearest Theo, you too have been very worried and troubled because of him,” their mother wrote in a sorrowful letter after learning that Vincent was suffering from serious episodes of mental illness. [letter b2425] Vincent had been admitted to hospital in Arles in late December 1888 after cutting off part of his left ear. Theo, who lived in Paris, was keeping the family in the Netherlands informed.
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Letters from Van Gogh’s friends to Theo
Besides his brother Vincent, Theo van Gogh had other correspondents. Letters from mutual acquaintances sometimes contain passages about Vincent. The painter Camille Pissarro, for instance, occasionally asked Theo how Vincent was doing. When he heard about Vincent’s death, he sent Theo his condolences the very same day. [letter b0818]
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Examples from this collection Vincent van Gogh: letters, art, and context

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