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Van Gogh in the Borinage in Belgium

‘IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS:
WHAT VINCENT VAN GOGH SAW’
ROAD TRIP PART 1.

Quote: ‘In the Borinage more or less “the artist” van Gogh was born and his artistic development took place.’

Note: All my blogs are summaries of the detailed articles appearing in my magazine JWC. Including the XL photo reports.

Painter Vincent van Gogh visited different countries during his life. We are all familiar with his drawings and paintings. What I thought was still missing is an extensive photography of his living and working places.

Vincent died in 1890 in Auvers-Sur-Oise, near Paris in France. Of course, a lot has changed in more than a hundred years. Although some structures effortlessly stand the test of time. Much has been thoroughly renovated. This month, JCW magazine focuses on Belgium. During my Road Trips, I took pictures of the places Van Gogh lived and worked. Where he walked and suffered…

Two years of Borinage
Vincent stayed in the Borinage for about two years before moving to Brussels. It’s actually striking that Vincent has lived in so many different places. Travelling, by horse cart and train was possible. I can’t imagine living in different countries like Vincent did in his short life.

More than a thousend coal mines
My search for the places through which Vincent travelled and stayed took me to the Belgian Borinage. A region in the Wallonia province of Henegouwen, known for its coal industry. The area is located west and south-west of Bergen (Mons), the capital of Henegouwen provence. The Borinage, with an area of ​​approximately 10×15 km, once had more than a thousand coal mines. It’s fascinating to see what Vincent saw before drawing the miners in this region. To experience the environment, as it were, ‘through the eyes of Vincent’.

Moving again and again …
I taste the atmosphere of the Borinage at full. Vincent ended up here because he was not allowed to continue his studies at the Flemish school for Evangelists in Brussels. In December 1878 he left for the village of Pâturage in southern Belgium. In his suitcase a Bible, a folder with sermons and some clean clothes. He tried to find work as an evangelist to build a life as a missionary among the miners. In order to follow in the footsteps of his father, the preacher Theodorus (Dorus) van Gogh. 

The Belgium Borinage: a place called Wasmes
After his arrival, Vincent stayed for a short while on Rue d’Eglise with Theodore van der Haagen, whose children he taught in the evenings. He received a little salary for a six-month trial internship as an evangelist in Wasmes, a small community of Protestants with their own church. Vincent spoke at meetings, gave Bible readings and visited the sick and injured.

Strange fellow
As a preacher, he had little or no contact with the communion. They thought he was ‘a strange fellow’. The Borinage is quite desolate, which was much worse in its time. When I think of the beauty of Arlès in the south of France, I want to leave here, just like Vincent, as soon as possible. Moving again and again will have entailed a lot of restlessness for Van Gogh? Habituation … You don’t feel comfortable or ‘at home’ everywhere…?

Rue du Petit Wasmes
Vincent moved from Rue d’Eglise to 81, Rue du Petit Wasmes, Wasmes. Now called 221, Rue Wilson, in Colfontaine. At the home of Jean Baptiste Denis and his wife. The house has recently been completely renovated and houses a small museum about the famous painter. Outside there is a minecart for decoration as it used to be pulled or pushed by children and/or horses.

Marcasse coal mine
It was early April 1879 when Vincent visited the coal mine of Marcasse, near Cuesmes, where he was shown around by a coal miner. He also descended into the mine shaft. At a depth of sevenhundred meters, a completely new world opened up for him. He was confronted with the desolate and shabby life of the miners. What motivated Vincent to assist the miners? It says a lot about van Gogh and his character. It’s known that he cared about his fellow man. Because in Nuenen and Zundert in the Netherlands, he assisted farmers and weavers in their austere existence. His help to the coal miners is therefore not that strange.

Pencil and charcoal
In that period he drew a lot and certainly not bad at all. He drew with pencil and charcoal and gradually improved his technique. Unfortunately, much of his artwork has been thrown away or gone. Fortunately, a number of drawings still exist. Like that of the toiling miners in the sparsely populated area. Drawings that affect you. When you see it you can feel how hard life and work were here. Such slave labor is hard to imagine, is it?

Colonne of the living dead
Van Gogh stayed on the first floor at the back of the house. With a view of the fields of Petit-Wasmes and the Charbonnage de Marcasse. Vincent must have seen the passing coal miners here, the “Colonne of the living dead” through the window at nightfall. By the way, the mines paid well compared to other heavy industries. That especially helped to keep the morale high here. Big problems didn’t come until later. People got sick. ‘Dust lung’, mine dust in the lungs …

Wasmes, a hamlet of only a few streets, has changed little in a century. The industrial horizon has disappeared. The factory chimneys, the mining towers and the two Terrills that Vincent must have seen, have been demolished. The streets still look deserted.

To be continued in JCW Magazine …
Read this complete story with many beautiful and exclusive pictures in JCW Magazine.

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