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Vincent was born to Anna Cornelia Carbentus (1819–1907) and Theodorus “Dorus” van Gogh (1822–1885) on 30 March 1853 in the village of Zundert in the Dutch province of North Brabant.
He came into the world exactly one year later than a stillborn brother, also named Vincent. He was therefore the eldest but not the firstborn. After Vincent, the Van Goghs had five more children: Anna (1855–1930), Theo (1857–1891), Elisabeth (1859–1936), Willemien (1862–1942) and Cor (1867–1900).
Dorus had followed in his father’s footsteps by entering the clergy, and on 11 January 1849 he took up the post of parson for the Zundert community. Dorus Van Gogh was a popular minister. Zundert was a country village, inhabited by simple folk, and Vincent was later reminded of them when he went to work with labourers and the poor, for instance in Belgium’s Borinage region. He later wrote that in spite of all his travels and the various places he had lived, he still resembled a ”Zundert farmer” and identified with the people there in a way:
“Anyway, I plough on my canvases as they do in their fields.” Read the complete letter
Vincent’s childhood in Zundert was pleasant, and the family was close-knit. The children were given lessons in the parsonage, attended schools in and outside the village, played in the parsonage garden and took walks in the countryside. Their mother, Anna, and the nanny, Leentje Veerman (1813–1898), played central roles in the house.
After being educated at the village school and at home, Vincent was sent to boarding school in Zevenbergen. After two years there, he attended secondary school in Tilburg. He left that school early and lived at home for one and a half year before moving to The Hague to take his first job as an office clerk for the art dealers Goupil & Cie. The move would mark the beginning of a life filled with travels abroad, yet Zundert would always remain a reference point. On 19 January 1871, Dorus van Gogh’s tenure in the village ended. On 5 February, he took up the post of minister in Helvoirt, 50 kilometres northeast of Zundert. But the village lingered in Vincent’s memory:
“Oh that Zundert, the thought of it’s almost too much at times.” Read the complete letter
An idealised idea of Zundert haunted Vincent for the rest of his life. With a mixture of wistfulness and bitterness, he wrote to his brother Theo in 1885:
“I always imagine that in Zundert and for a few years afterwards there was generally a better atmosphere at home. Since then, I don’t feel it’s got any better. These days — But what I don’t know is whether that former — that it was better in Zundert — is just my imagination — it could well be. But now, in any event, it’s certainly not that. Anyway. Regards.” Read the complete letter
While ill in Arles in 1888, Vincent even described seeing all the rooms of the Zundert house pass before his eyes:
“During my illness I again saw each room in the house at Zundert, each path, each plant in the garden, the views round about, the fields, the neighbours, the cemetery, the church, our kitchen garden behind — right up to the magpies’ nest in a tall acacia in the cemetery.” Read the complete letter