The Other Van Gogh

The enduring legacy and extraordinary life of VINCENT VAN GOGH
as told through the diary and letters of his remarkable sister-in-law, JOHANNA,
with further insight and extensive research by credible experts.

David A. Glen & William J. Havlicek
170 mm x 242 mm, Over 360 pages
Softcover with French flaps

ISBN: 978-0-9824872-0-4 

by David A. Glen and William J. Havlicek

Over 360 pages, available late Summer, 2020

David Glen and William Havlicek, in their new 360-page book, have now produced the most definitive and comprehensive account of the life and legacy of the illustrious artist, Vincent van Gogh, drawing from new research and the hundreds of letters between Vincent and his benevolent brother Theo, and from the diaries and letters of one of history’s most remarkable women, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger.

Johanna van Gogh-Bonger
Helene Kröller-Müller

Johanna was Vincent’s sister-in-law, and wife to his benevolent brother Theo.  After the deaths of Vincent and Theo, who both died in their 30s and within a year of each other, Johanna became keeper and advocate of Vincent’s immense collection of paintings, sketches, and illustrations, which had been left to her young son, also named Vincent.

Johanna single-handedly preserved and chronicled over 520 hand-written letters (eventually more than 900 would come to light) without which we would never have understood the devoted relationship and interdependence Vincent had with his brother Theo, nor the remarkable beneficence that lay at the very core of the Van Gogh family as a whole. Most importantly, we would never have come to know the extraordinary genius that was Vincent van Gogh.

The letters, publicly exhibited for the first time at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2009, proved crucial in dispelling many of the apocryphal stories that later surrounded Vincent’s life … stories that crassly portrayed him as some madman whose art betrayed a fractured and frenzied soul rather than the highly intelligent man we now know he was.

Johanna with Vincent’s mother, Anna Carbentus, and Johanna’s son,<br />nephew of the famous artist, and also named Vincent Willem Van Gogh.

Johanna with Vincent’s mother, Anna Carbentus, and Johanna’s son,
nephew of the famous artist, and also named Vincent Willem Van Gogh.

Johanna had realized that Vincent’s letters to Theo were crucial to our understanding of Van Gogh yet she did not want their powerful message to eclipse his art, withholding them from public scrutiny for nearly twenty-four years until his reputation as an artist was safely established.  Johanna’s astute care and dedication to preserving the very essence of Van Gogh were manifested in a way of which he would have approved: through action.

Glen and Havlicek have carefully researched and accumulated letters and documents that accurately portray Johanna as a woman whose indomitable and tenacious spirit met with great antipathy in a time when women were not welcome in the world of art dealing.  But her steadfast determination and stamina were soon to attract the attention of principal art dealers and collectors.  And by her death in 1925, Johanna had secured for posterity Vincent van Gogh’s reputation as an artistic genius.  Moreover, his letters were to finally lay to rest all doubts about the workings of his mind and were to reveal an astonishing literary ability that had previously gone unnoticed.

Johanna as depicted by her second husband, the artist Johan Cohen Gosschalk

Johanna as depicted by her second husband, the artist Johan Cohen Gosschalk

This fascinating story also depicts in rich detail the various characters with whom Johanna was involved.  Not the least of these was of course her husband Theo.  The two, despite their brief time together, were very much in love.  Vincent’s constant presence in their lives, and his financial dependency on Theo, might have nettled a lesser person.  Yet Johanna had a fondness for Vincent that is evident in her own letters and diary, as did he for her.  His genius, in her eyes, was never to diminish.  Our story furthermore tells of the brief and loving relationship that existed between Johanna and Theo in the short time they had together before his death.

Other personalities are presented including the renowned art dealers Cassirer and Bremmer who were to orchestrate the sale of a large number of Van Gogh paintings and drawings to the affluent collector Helene Kröller-Müller.  These now comprise the second-largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in existence at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands.  And Helene Kröller-Müller’s patronage of Vincent’s art plays an important role in a wider story of a wealthy German family’s fall from grace in post-war Holland.

Vincent Willem van Gogh, Johanna’s son and nephew of the celebrated artist.

Vincent Willem van Gogh, Johanna’s son and nephew of the celebrated artist.

Johanna was not only left with the task of promoting the inimitable Vincent and his work; she was also left with a baby boy, also named Vincent Willem van Gogh, later known as “The Engineer”.  It was he who was to forge the foundation that today administers, together with the Dutch state, the considerable legacy of paintings, drawings, and letters that comprise the Van Gogh Collection in the museum in Amsterdam.

But in those early days, life for Johanna wasn’t easy and, notwithstanding her dedication to preserving and promoting Vincent’s work, she first and foremost wanted to ensure the health and welfare of her son.  This caused her to move from the bustle and pollution of Paris to the town of Bussum, not far from Amsterdam.  It was there that she became acquainted with a literary group of socialists known as the “tachtigers” (the 80s Group) who were to be instrumental, through their advice and connections, in helping Johanna promote Vincent’s work.

Johanna’s story, that of the caring and steadfast Theo, and the remarkable patronage of Helene Kröller-Müller, are inextricably tied to the very existence of one of history’s artistic icons in the person of Vincent van Gogh. And we believe that Johanna’s story is also the most comprehensive and definitive story of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Through her dedicated action and commitment to preserving Vincent’s legacy, she has forever changed the history of art.

This beautifully illustrated book also draws extensively from William Havlicek’s original book Van Gogh’s Untold Journey, and dispels much of the myth and conjecture that has come to surround the artist’s tumultuous life.  In Havlicek’s words, “Vincent’s handwritten correspondence with his brother Theo and others reveals an unknown, adventurous, deeply compassionate Vincent whose essence seems to have been lost in the dramatic and often apocryphal stories surrounding his illness and early death.  In writing Vincent we hope to finally unveil these unknown aspects of Vincent—ones that should be considered heroic and certainly praiseworthy—and correct the historical record once and for all.”

Vincent holds many other compelling revelations, among them the artist’s vicarious relationship with Charles Dickens. Perhaps most revealing is Havlicek’s discovery of how the inspired words of Victor Hugo, embodied in one of his characters in Les Misérables, gave Van Gogh the idea for one of his most celebrated paintings of all: The Starry Night.

This literary tour de force is the most comprehensive and eminently readable account of Vincent van Gogh’s life and his enduring legacy, thanks in no small part to the remarkable Johanna who, through her advocacy and dedicated action, was to forever change the history of art.