Van Gogh met Clasina “Sien” Maria Hoornik at the end of January, 1882. She was the mother of a five year old little girl, was pregnant and had been deserted by the baby’s father. Sien posed for a number of drawings and paintings for Van Gogh, these reflected the difficult life of the working poor. As payment for modeling, Van Gogh provided Sien and her daughter with a place to stay and food to eat. He eventually took her, along with her child, into his home.
Sien had a number of health related issues, including venereal disease which she probably passed on to Van Gogh. In June, he spent 3 weeks in the hospital with a bout of gonorrhea. On July 2, 1882, Sien gave birth to a son and named him Willem, after the artist. The woman had four children only 2 of whom lived. Van Gogh did his best to nurse Sien back to full health and even considered marrying her thinking it the best way to care for her.
When Van Gogh’s father learned of the relationship, he pressured his son to abandon the woman and her children, but he refused until finally in the fall of 1883 when following his brother Theo’s urging, he abandoned Sien and her children to paint in Drenthe. Sadly, his relationship with Sien was to be the only domestic relationship Van Gogh experienced.
Following Van Gogh’s departure, Sien gave her daughter to her mother and gave the baby boy to her brother. She moved to Delft and then to Antwerp resuming her life as a seamstress and probably fell back into prostitution. Later Sien told her son that Van Gogh was his father; though it is believed that the dates make this an impossibility. She married Anton van Wijk in 1901, and on November 12, 1904 drowned herself in the Schelde River in Rotterdam’s harbor 14 years after Van Gogh’s death.
The drawings and paintings of Sien portray her in domestic roles, mother, seamstress and domestic worker.