However, Van Gogh did not achieve such fame thanks to the brilliance of his art alone. Much of the current international fascination with him can be attributed to the work of one woman: Jo van Gogh-Bonger, his sister-in-law. By the time of the Dutch artist’s death in 1890, his genius had little market value, so Jo devised a careful and thoughtful marketing strategy to pique the interest of collectors, museums, critics and the public. His work provided a basis on which Van Gogh’s fame would continue to grow, eventually reaching unprecedented heights.
Johanna Gezina Bonger, who was called Jo, was born in October 1862 into a middle-class family in Amsterdam. Known to her family as “Net”, Jo has lived a relatively calm life with her parents and nine siblings. She attended elementary school, learned to play the piano, and obtained a teaching diploma. In 1887, she was teaching English at a girls’ school when Theo van Gogh, the artist’s brother and her brother’s friend, passionately proposed to her after a short and infrequent acquaintance. In a letter written the same year, Theo confessed to a love at first sight scenario – that “the first time [he] laid eyes “on Jo, he saw something that he” had searched in vain in others “.
But for Jo, the proposal was a surprise and not a welcome one. “I couldn’t say ‘yes’ to something like that,” Jo wrote in her diary, following the passionate incident. She was drawn to the idea of the varied intellectual life offered by Theo, but not by the man himself. “Why does my heart feel numb when I think of him!” ” she wrote.
As awkward as the rejection must have been, Jo agreed to let Theo write to her. The couple exchanged more than 70 letters over nearly two years, and their bond deepened until Jo, too, fell in love. In 1889, the couple got married, moved to Paris and, a year later, welcomed a little boy, Vincent Willem, named after Théo’s dear brother.