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The Sad Story of Vincent van Gogh and His Lovers

Vincent Van Gogh, The Siesta (after Millet), 1890, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Artists' Stories

The Sad Story of Vincent van Gogh and His Lovers

Vincent van Gogh’s love life was a really sad one. The list of the artist’s lovers is full of unsuccessful romances and rejections. This is the tragic story of Vincent van Gogh and his lovers, I’m really sorry there will be no happy ending.

Van Gogh‘s choice of women was unconventional. Raised by a strict, protestant, pastor-father, throughout his life he oscillated between his respect for women as chaste, unattainable creatures, and his need for intimacy with women who were considered unsuitable. In most of the cases, the women he fell in love with were much older than him.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait, 1887, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait, 1887, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.

The young Vincent proposed to three women: Caroline Haanebeek in 1872, Eugénie Loyer in 1873, and Kee Vos-Stricker in 1881. Van Gogh was born in 1853 – so when he proposed for the first time, he was only 19 years old. All three women turned him down.

Caroline

Vincent van Gogh's lovers: Photography of the 80th birthday of Grandpa Stricker, Vincent's great-uncle. Caroline is second from the left.
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Photography of the 80th birthday of Grandpa Stricker, Vincent’s great-uncle. Caroline is second from the left. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Caroline and her sister Annet were Vincent’s second cousins on his mother’s side. His love for Caroline went unrequited and she married another guy. At the same time, Annet became a sweetheart of Theo (Vincent’s younger brother), but she fell ill and died.

Eugénie

Vincent van Gogh's lovers: Photograph of Eugenie Loyer.
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Photograph of Eugenie Loyer. Pinterest.

Eugénie Loyer was the 19-year-old daughter of a principal of a boys’ school and Vincent’s landlady while the artist was living in London. The principal rented him a room, when Vincent was taken on as a trainee in 1873 at Goupil art dealers. Vincent and Eugénie got on ‘like brother and sister’, but nothing more happened; Eugénie was secretly engaged to Samuel Plowman, who used to live in a rented room before van Gogh. Vincent became melancholic and withdrawn, and began to act strangely.

Kee

Vincent van Gogh's lovers: Kee Stricker with her son
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Photograph of Kee Stricker with her son. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The third girl, Kee Stricker, was also van Gogh’s cousin. Vincent met her just after the recent death of her husband. However, Kee’s answer to the marriage proposals was: “No, nay, never”. Yet, Vincent didn’t give up easily and even though both families opposed the relationship, the artist traveled to Amsterdam and turned up on the Stricker family’s doorstep. Everyone except Kee was sitting at the table. Vincent spoke with her father, Johannes Paulus Stricker, who tried to convince him to forget Kee. Van Gogh departed from the city, heart broken.

Sien

Vincent van Gogh's lovers: Vincent van Gogh, Sien Nursing Baby, 1883, private collection
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Vincent van Gogh, Sien Nursing Baby, 1883, private collection. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

There is no secret that Vincent was much attracted to “those women whom the clergymen damn so and superciliously despise and condemn from the pulpit” – as he wrote to Theo once. Of course, I mean prostitutes. In 1882, he became involved with Clasina “Sien” Maria Hoornik (1850–1904), a pregnant prostitute he had met on the street. The family didn’t accept the relationship – not only because Sien was a prostitute, but also because she was Catholic.

Vincent would live with Sien for more than a year and a half. This time was marked by physical and emotional instability by both Vincent and Sien. As Vincent became more and more involved with his work, Sien was pressured by her mother to return to prostitution in order to earn a better living. Pushed by the family, Vincent left Sien behind in the city with her children. In spite of having promised to marry her, he would only see her one more time.

Margot

Photograph of Margot Begemann.
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Photograph of Margot Begemann. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

In 1884, Vincent moved back in with his parents in Nuenen. Margaretha “Margot” Begemann (1841–1907) was ten years his senior and the daughter of their neighbors. She responded to Vincent’s advances, but their proposed marriage was opposed by Margot’s sisters. Another problem was that Margot frequently suffered from nervousness and mood swings. On a walk in September 1884, she got so distressed by a gossip she heard that she had an attack, and Vincent discovered that she had attempted to commit suicide by swallowing poison. He forced her to vomit and consult a doctor.  The relationship discontinued.

Years later, while living in France, Vincent asked his family how Margot was doing. He also wrote in 1889 that he wanted her to have one of his pieces. She is known to have possessed two of Vincent’s early works.

Gordina

Vincent van Gogh, Gordina the Groot, 1885, Collection of Mrs. M. C. R. Taylor, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Van Gogh Museum.
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Vincent van Gogh, Gordina the Groot, 1885, Collection of Mrs. M. C. R. Taylor, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Vincent had contact in Nuenen with a farmer’s daughter, Gordina de Groot, one of the ‘Potato Eaters’. When Gordina fell pregnant, everyone was positive that Vincent was the father. He denied it, and it was later shown that he was not responsible for the pregnancy. Whatever the case, the parish priest lost patience with all the tittle-tattle and promised to pay the villagers if they refused to pose for Vincent. Van Gogh made at least 20 studies while in Nuenen of Gordina, who, according to him, possessed the “coarse, flat faces, low foreheads and thick lips, not sharp but full”.

Agostina

van gogh lovers Vincent van Gogh, In the Café: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin, 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Vincent van Gogh’s Lovers: Vincent van Gogh, In the Café: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin, 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

What precisely went on between Vincent and Agostina Segatori, the Italian owner of the restaurant Le Tambourin, on the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris, remains unclear. The two had a relationship from December 1886 to May 1887.

Agostina was also a famous model who posed for celebrated painters in Paris, such as Édouard Joseph Dantan, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Eugène Delacroix, and Édouard Manet.

According to Paul Gauguin, Vincent was ‘very much in love’ with Agostina, but this lady friend too turned out to be a source of problems. Émile Bernard later claimed that Agostina provided Vincent with free meals in exchange for paintings – mostly floral still lifes. Also, Agostina gave Vincent’s first exhibition at her Café Tambourin.

The end

Agostina seems to be the last woman Vincent was in love with. After so many failed relationships, while staying in Arles in 1888, Vincent turned for comfort to prostitutes and to his only ‘requited love’ – art. His death occurred in the early morning of 29 July 1890, in his room at the Auberge Ravoux in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise in northern France. Van Gogh was shot in the stomach, either by himself or by others, and died two days later. You can read more about his mysterious death here.


Read more about Vincent van Gogh:

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