Monday, October 15, 2012

Van Gogh "Mini" Post

While I was researching my last post on van Gogh’s Crabs, I came across some information on another work I felt like sharing. It’s called Sorrow and was done in 1882. After reading a bit about it, I found it really is quite sorrowful.

There are a number of different versions of Sorrow. My favorite is the chalk drawing in the New Art Gallery Walsall in the UK. Its lines are more angular, and it has an even stronger graphic quality than the lithographs. Plus I love the detailed setting. You can certainly see van Gogh’s interest in Japanese prints.

Chalk, 44.5 x 7 cm.
Lithograph, 46.7 x 37.1 cm.
Pencil and wash, 46.7 x 30.2 cm.

Anyway, I found myself admiring the woman's stomach rolls. They make the piece seem so grounded and down to earth. At the same time though, the title and subject of the piece made me think the woman was more or less destitute, and as stereotype tells us, all poor people back in the day were nothing but skin and bones. So I figured that maybe she was pregnant.

It turns out she was. Her name was Clasina Maria Hoornik and she was 32 years old. When van Gogh came across her wandering the streets of the Hague with her 5-year-old daughter in January 1882, she had been abandoned by her unborn baby’s father, was working as a seamstress and a prostitute, smoked cigars, and drank too much. Van Gogh called her “Sien” and took her into his home. In exchange, she became his model.

In July, Sien gave birth to a son and named him Willem, which, incidentally, is van Gogh's middle name. Van Gogh loved Sien and his new family. In a letter to his brother Theo, he even talked about marriage. But the couple had a hard life. Because of their relationship, van Gogh became estranged from nearly all of his family and friends. On top of that, the little household was extremely poor, Sien was typically sick, and at the time Willem was born, van Gogh was recovering from the clap (which he probably got from Sien). By 1883, Sien had gone back to prostitution and drinking.

In the fall, van Gogh left Sien and the only domestic relationship he would ever have. Sien’s life continued to be unstable. While she married a man in 1901 to to legitimize her children, she had given them up to their grandmother and uncle. In 1904, she drowned herself in the Schelde River.


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