We were recently contacted by a Vincent van Gogh Gallery Facebook follower with a question regarding Van Gogh’s relationship with a girl named Betsy Tersteeg so we did some research.
Elisabeth (Betsy) Tersteeg (1869-1938) was the daughter of Hermanus Gijsbertus Tersteeg and Maria Magdalena Alida Tersteeg-Pronk. Mr. Tersteeg was an art-dealer at Goupil & Co art gallery in The Hague and was a friend of the Van Gogh family. He was Vincent and Theo’s manager when they worked at Goupil and he helped to mentor and nurture the boys. Letters to Theo from Vincent in their younger years show the great respect the brothers had for this man who took on a fatherly role with them during their early time away from their own loving family.
The Tersteeg family was very kind to Vincent and before leaving Helvoirt for Paris he wrote to Theo on May 9, 1873 saying,
“Theo, you have no idea how kind everybody here is to me, and you can imagine how sorry I am to have to leave so many friends.”
On November 19, 1873, Vincent wrote to Theo and in concluding his letter said,
“Give my compliments to everybody who inquires after me, especially at Tersteeg’s, Haanebeek, Auntie Fie, Stockum and Roos; and tell Betsy Tersteeg something about me when you see her.”
Even when the brothers no longer worked at Goupil they continued communication with Mr. Tersteeg and the family.
Vincent frequently asked Theo to remember him to the Tersteeg family and to pass along his warm wishes. He was clearly fond of this family and even created a little sketchbook for Betsy. Tersteeg helped Vincent to clarify his ideas about what he did and did not want to do so that he could stand firm and not compromise his principles. He nurtured Vincent’s early artistic pursuits and sent Vincent paints and a sketchbook which helped to awaken Vincent’s artistic aspirations while he was working as a preacher in the Borinage.
Vincent’s relationship with Mr. Tersteeg became somewhat difficult and Vincent grew mixed views of the man. Tersteeg did not approve of some of the choices Vincent made after leaving Groupil. In 1882, when Vincent returned to The Hague and hoped to establish himself as an artist, he expected that Mr. Tersteeg would be a great support. However, Mr. Tersteeg objected to his lifestyle, at the time he was living with a prostitute, Sien Hoornik. This rejection from Tersteeg changed their relationship and impacted Vincent’s ability to work.