Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger (1862-1925)

April 2, 2018

The last few months of Van Gogh’s life were spent frantically creating artwork, with the artist often finishing entire canvases in a single day. While many events of his life, such as his time in the Saint Paul’s Asylum in Saint Rémy de Provence offered the tortured artist a plethora of opportunities for artistic subject matter, what truly helped to establish the artist’s talent and reputation were the relationships he kept. Before his death in 1890, the only family with whom Vincent maintained a relationship with were his brother Theodore, and his wife Johanna. Theo died shortly after Vincent from syphilis leaving his wife and young child behind. Newly widowed, Johanna became the soul inheritor of a mass collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork. However history would prove that her exposure to the art world and natural savvy for its business would serve as an essential factor in earning Vincent Van Gogh the title of one of the greatest artists of all time.

 

Needing not only to unload the sizable collection of drawings and paintings, but also having to provide for her son Vincent, Johanna saw the large collection as an opportunity for a career as an art dealer. Having been guided by her husband before his passing, she saw to it that the collection of artwork she had inherited from her brother-in-law was distributed and loaned out as a whole and not sold to buyer’s individually. 

 

Johanna came a from a wealthy family in Amsterdam who was familiar with the avant-garde art scene. While Vincent van Gogh did not sell a single piece during his lifetime, other successful artists of the time were aware of his artistic accomplishments. Artist's like Monet and Gauguin knew of Vincent simply through an appreciation for his talent. 

 

The rising momentum of Impressionism as well as the development of new modern art movements helped to increase the popularity of Van Gogh’s work after his death. As a master of the Impressionist style, in addition to the collections of personal letters and drawings that Johanna saved offered a deeper understanding of the artist’s emotional state while creating some of the most recognizable works of all time. Many believe Johanna was able to manipulate a male driven art system to her advantage. As a widow, many galleries did not see her as a force seeking profit, yet she made smart decisions about who and where she would loan the art to, therefore increasing the world's understanding of what a fantastic artist Van Gogh truly was. The art collection, as well as the personal letters and sketches Johanna had salvaged were left to her son after her passing in 1925. He then went on to take the collection and use it to create the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 1973. Not much else is known about Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger's life, however without her significant contributions to the management of Vincent Van Gogh's work, it is questionable as to whether or not his mastery would be shared with the world.

 

“#42/125 Why Was It Vincent's Sister-in-Law Who Recognised the Quality of His Work?” Van Gogh Museum, Van Gogh Museum , www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/125-questions/questions-and-answers/question-42-of-125.

Havlicek, William, and David  A Glen. “JOHANNA: The Other Van GoghThe Remarkable Woman Who Changed the History of Art.” Creative Storytellers, The Endangered Child Foundation, www.creativestorytellers.com/johanna/.

“History - Historic Figures: Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).” BBC, BBC, 2014, www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/van_gogh_vincent.shtml.

Nix, Elizabeth. “7 Things You May Not Know About Vincent Van Gogh.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 8 July 2015, www.history.com/news/7-things-you-may-not-know-about-vincent-van-gogh.

Righthand, Jess. “The Woman Who Brought Van Gogh to the World.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Nov. 2010, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-woman-who-brought-van-gogh-to-the-world-66805589/.

“What If Vincent Van Gogh Had the Marketing Skills of His Sister-in-Law? The Story Would Be Quite Different.” Malcolm Dewey Fine Art, 4 Oct. 2016, www.malcolmdeweyfineart.com/blog/what-if-van-gogh-had-hired-his-sister-in-law#.WrvU9NPwZ-U.

 

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