18 September 2019
'All for Vincent. The Life of Jo van Gogh-Bonger' will be launched at the Van Gogh Museum today. This biography provides a detailed account of the life story of Jo van Gogh-Bonger (1862-1925), the wife of Theo and sister-in-law of Vincent van Gogh. It reveals the importance of her efforts for Vincent’s reputation.
When the brothers passed away shortly after each other, Jo assumed responsibility for Van Gogh’s artistic legacy. From 1891 up to her death, she dedicated herself to raising awareness of Vincent’s art and letters.
Author Hans Luijten (Senior Researcher at the Van Gogh Museum) uses a wealth of source material to sketch the multifaceted life of this committed woman, who in the decades around 1900, acted decisively in a world dominated by men. Jo was not only active in the art and cultural sphere, but also in the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (the predecessor of the Labour Party) and the burgeoning women’s rights movement, which fought for better working conditions for women. Luijten: ‘Jo van Gogh-Bonger is perhaps not a household name, but she was a force to be reckoned with. I am delighted that we are now able to tell her life story in such detail’.
A resolute mission
For this publication, Hans Luijten conducted years of research into the extraordinary life of Jo van Gogh-Bonger, examining letters, cash books, various documents and previously unpublished diaries. The biography focuses on Jo as a person and reflects on her role in the circulation of the work of her brother-in-law, Vincent van Gogh. Luijten: ‘When Jo marries Vincent’s brother Theo in 1889, they move into a flat in Paris; that is where their son Vincent is born in January 1890. The artist dies six months later, and Theo wishes for nothing but to raise awareness of his brother’s work. However, he dies six months later, leaving Jo with their son and a sizeable art collection. Following the death of Theo, she decides to pursue her husband’s mission’.
A magisterial exhibition
Jo worked cleverly and strategically to draw attention to Van Gogh’s work. She not only resolutely sold his paintings and drawings with the help of writers, art critics and traders, but also organised countless (sales) exhibitions, and loaned work to museums. Luijten: ‘One of Jo’s major feats was the organisation of a magisterial exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in 1905, where she united no less than 484 of Van Gogh’s works. A Van Gogh exhibition of this magnitude would never again be matched’. Between 1891 and 1925, Jo sold at least 192 paintings by Van Gogh and 55 works on paper.
Influence on Van Gogh’s reputation
Jo focused on selling Van Gogh’s works, inspired writers and critics to cover his art, and in 1914, published Vincent’s letters to Theo. Luijten: ‘This was of vital importance, as following the publication of the letters, appreciation of Vincent as an artist only increased further. Jo’s dedication significantly contributed to his reputation’. This publication is the first to explore in detail her influential role and motivation behind working to cement Van Gogh’s reputation, first in the Netherlands, then France, Germany and the United States.
When Jo died in 1925 at the age of 62, care of all paintings and drawings that she (deliberately) had not sold, together with all of the letters, passed to her son. These works now form the heart of the Van Gogh Museum, which opened in 1973.
Additional focus online and in the museum
To mark the publication of All for Vincent. The Life of Jo van Gogh-Bonger, a themed wall will be installed on the first floor of the museum for two months, presenting the pivotal role of Jo van Gogh-Bonger in raising awareness of Van Gogh’s work. The wall features several photographs, paintings, the cash book and her publication of _Brieven aan zijn broeder (Letters to his Brother). A digital edition of Jo’s diaries will also be published online. In 2020, the Van Gogh Museum will once again reflect on Jo’s role during a series of varied activities as part of International Women’s Day.
All for Vincent is published by Prometheus in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum. The richly-illustrated book is available at bookshops and in the Van Gogh Museum (online) shop, and costs € 35 (ISBN 9789044641660). The book is published in Dutch. An English translation is in preparation.