Van Gogh's Contemporaries Van Gogh's Life

Sien and Van Gogh (Part 1: Anton Mauve)

In January of 1882, Van Gogh moved to The Hague where his cousin-in-law, Anthonij (Anton) Rudolf Mauve, was of great assistance to him and encouraged him to paint.  Mauve was a Dutch realist painter and member of the Hague School.  Mauve had a tremendous influence on Van Gogh and is mentioned in 152 of Van Gogh’s letters.  January 1-2, 1882 Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo saying,

“Mauve gives me great hope that I shall soon begin to earn something…If I were greatly in need and asked Mauve, he would not refuse me, but I really think he has already done enough…Each day I find Mauve cleverer and more trustworthy, and what more can I want?”

Van Gogh spent a few weeks in Mauve’s studio where he introduced Van Gogh to oil painting and then watercolor techniques.  January 12-16, 1882 Van Gogh wrote,

“Mauve has now shown me a new way to make something, that is, how to paint watercolours. Well, I am quite absorbed in this now and sit daubing and washing it out again; in short, I am trying to find a way.”

Along with teaching him, Mauve lent Van Gogh money and helped him to rent a studio of his own.  Unfortunately, the two did not see eye to eye and Mauve grew cold towards Van Gogh.  In April 1882 Van Gogh wrote,

“As to the money for Tersteeg, when I first arrived here, he and Mauve were so kind and said I need not worry; but in less than a month they suddenly changed and spoke quite differently, thinking perhaps that I should give up. At first it hurt me, and then later it left me rather cold, and I thought, I will try not to mind.”

Then April 15-17, 1882 he wrote,

“Of course it causes me a great deal of worry and makes my life far from easy when those whom I thought I could depend on for sympathy, like Mauve and Tersteeg, become indifferent or hostile and spiteful. I have not heard anything from Mauve; one day he is ill, and then again he needs rest, or he is too busy.”

Van Gogh’s relationship ended with Mauve, perhaps because of drawing from plaster casts or perhaps due to his relationship with an alcoholic prostitute, Clasina Maria “Sien” Hoornik.

In a letter May 3-12 Van Gogh wrote,

“I met Mauve today and had a most regrettable conversation with him, which made it clear to me that Mauve and I have parted for good. Mauve has gone too far to retract, and anyhow he certainly wouldn’t want to… In the end he said, `You have a vicious character.’ I turned away then – it was in the dunes – and walked home alone.

In the same letter Van Gogh writes about meeting Sien,

“Last winter I met a pregnant woman, deserted by the man whose child she was carrying. A pregnant woman who walked the streets in the winter – she had her bread to earn, you’ll know how. I took that woman on as a model and have worked with her all winter. I couldn’t pay her a model’s full daily wages, but I paid her rent all the same, and thus far, thank God, I have been able to save her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her.”

He continued,

“The woman is now attached to me like a tame dove. For my part, I can only get married once, and when better than now, and to her, because it is the only way to go on helping her and she would otherwise be sent back by want on to the same old path which leads to the abyss. She has no money, but she is helping me to earn money with my work.”

Letter Sources:

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