Het huis van de familie Denis
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Rue Wilson 221, Colfontaine

Rue du Petit-Wasmes 81, Wasmes

The house fell into ruin but is now being restored. It is set to open in 2015 as the visitor attraction Maison Van Gogh in Colfontaine.

Van Gogh in

Family Denis

  1. 23 Dec. 1878
     - 1 Aug. 1879

After he arrived in the Borinage, the businessman Benjamin Vanderhaegen helped Vincent to find accommodation with the farmer Jean Baptiste Denis and his wife, Estere Fiévez, in Petit-Wasmes. By then, Vincent was working as a lay preacher for the Belgian evangelism committee. The rent was a low 30 francs per month because Vincent taught the couple’s children in the evenings. In his free time, he drew maps of Palestine, hoping to sell them to schools and catechism classes. According to accounts, Vincent made drawings of the Denis family, including portraits of Mrs Denis; the grandmother milking cows, making soup and grinding coffee; and the grandfather harnessing the horses. Vincent gave the drawings to the family, but they probably tore them up soon after.

Vincent permitted himself no luxuries, gave all of his clothing to the sick and ate the simplest food possible. Finding his boarding house too comfortable, he rented a small cottage to live in instead. His parents so opposed the move that Mr Van Gogh travelled to the Borinage to attempt to change Vincent’s mind. His father succeeded for in a letter of March 1879, Vincent wrote to his brother Theo:

“Have rented a small house where I’d really like to live entirely on my own, but which now serves only as a workplace or study, because Pa thinks it better that I board with Denis, and I do too. I have prints on the wall there and all sorts of things.” Read the complete letter

Vincent lived with the Denises through August 1879. After the Belgian evangelism committee refused to renew his contract, he departed for Cuesmes. Vincent retained affection for the family; in a letter to his friend the artist Eugène Boch in 1888, he wrote:

“If you ever go to Petit-Wasmes, would you find out if Jean Baptiste Denis (farmer) and Joseph Quinez (miner) are still living there, and tell them on my behalf that I’ve never forgotten the Borinage, and that I’ll always have a wish to see it again?” Read the complete letter

Relevant letters from Vincent

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  1. Georges Duez

    Vincent van Gogh au Borinage
    Mons, 1986
  2. Geneviève Eeckaut

    Van Gogh au Borinage
    Marcinelle, 1990
  3. Sjraar van Heugten (red.)

    Van Gogh in de Borinage: de geboorte van een kunstenaar
    Brussel, 2015