1. Jean Denis, one of the offspring of the Denis family with whom Van Gogh boarded in Wasmes, stated that Vincent had made several drawings of members of his family: ‘Grandmother busy milking the cows, making soup, grinding coffee; Grandfather harnessing the horses, etc. Each time he had finished, Van Gogh would give his drawing.’ (la grand-mère occupée à traire les vaches, à préparer la soupe, à moudre le café; le grand-père attelant les chevaux etc. Chaque fois qu’il avait terminé, Van Gogh donnait son dessin.) When the drawings were later found, they were torn up. According to witnesses, other drawings Van Gogh made at the time must have included the following: ‘The Cage: Pâturages coal-mine, no. 10 shaft, Grisoeuil’, ‘The Decrucq family picking potatoes: the men digging, the women gathering up the potatoes’, ‘Miner outside his cottage’, ‘Portrait of Madame Denis’, and ‘A pair of miners carrying bags on their backs.’ (‘La Cage: charbonnage de Pâturages, puit no 10 de Grisoeuil’, ‘La famille Decrucq faisant la récolte des pommes de terre: les hommes bêchant, les femmes ramassant les pommes de terre’, ‘Mineur devant sa chaumière’, ‘Portrait de Madame Denis’ and ‘Un couple de mineurs portant sur le dos un sac’). See Eeckaut 1990, pp. 93-94 and ‘Annexes’, p. 50; Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, pp. 223-225.
4. Van Gogh, who had meanwhile lost his post as an evangelist, was exploring his possibilities for the future. He went to Sint-Maria-Horebeke (a small village c. 50 km west of Brussels) and Tournai (a city c. 40 km north-west of Wasmes) to ask acquaintances for help and advice (see also n. 6 below).
The evangelization committee, whose demands he had failed to meet, had given him three months to look for another situation. He was judged to be lacking in several qualities necessary to perform his duties, namely the ability to speak eloquently and to organize meetings at which the community could be uplifted by hearing the message of the gospel. Van Gogh’s successor, Hutton, would succeed within two months in turning around the deteriorating situation, as emerges from the minutes of a meeting of the church council of Wasmes: ‘The trial made in accepting the services of a young Dutchman, Mr Vincent Van Gogh, who believed himself called to evangelize in the Borinage, has not yielded the expected results. If to the admirable qualities he displayed among the sick and injured, to the devotion and spirit of sacrifice of which he furnished many demonstrations, watching with them at night and divesting himself for them of most of his clothes and linen, had been added a gift for speaking, indispensable to anyone placed at the head of a congregation, Mr van Gogh would certainly have been an accomplished evangelist. It would not, of course, be reasonable to ask for extraordinary talents. But it is a fact that the absence of certain qualities may render the performance of the evangelist’s primary function totally deficient. Unfortunately, that was the case with Mr van Gogh. Therefore, once the trial period had expired, we were obliged to abandon the idea of keeping him longer.
The evangelist currently employed, Mr Hutton, took up his post on 1 October 1879. The work he has done so far is extensive and has already borne fruit.
Mr Hutton has re-established the meeting that had been established by Mr Péron in Warquignies and had lapsed under Mr van Gogh. But it seems to have been seriously compromised due to that neglect, because it is continuing with difficulty.’ (L’essai qui a été fait en acceptant les services d’un jeune homme Hollandais, M. Vincent Van Gogh, qui se croyait appelé à évangéliser dans le Borinage, n’a pas donné les résultats qu’on en attendait. Si aux admirables qualités qu’il déployait auprès des malades et des blessés, au dévouement et à l’esprit de sacrifice dont il a fourni maintes preuves en leur consacrant ses veilles et en se dépouillant pour eux de la meilleure partie de ses vêtements et de son linge, s’était joint le don de la parole, indispensable à quiconque est placé à la tête d’une congrégation, M. Van Gogh aurait certainement été un évangéliste accompli. Sans doute il ne serait pas raisonnable d’exiger des talents extraordinaires. Mais il est constant que l’absence de certaines qualités peut rendre l’exercice de la principale fonction de l’évangéliste tout à fait défectueux. C’était malheureusement le cas de M. Van Gogh. Aussi le temps d’essai expiré, a-t-il fallu renoncer à l’idée de le conserver plus longtemps.
L’évangéliste actuellement à l’oeuvre, M. Hutton, a pris possession de sa charge le 1er octobre 1879. Son activité jusqu’ici a été grande et a déjà porté des fruits.
M. Hutton a rétabli à Warquignies la réunion qui avait été inaugurée par M. Péron et était tombée sous M. Van Gogh. Mais son abandon parait l’avoir sérieusement compromise, car elle se soutient avec peine.)
See Vingt-troisième rapport du Comité synodal d’évangélisation 1879-1880. Etterbeek-Bruxelles 1880, pp. 17-18 (Union des églises protestantes de Belgique). Excerpts printed in the Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, pp. 227-228.
In his recollections of the l’Eglise Protestante of Petit-Wasmes, the chronicler Antoine Denis remarked that Van Gogh was ‘losing his mind [and] becoming ... a responsibility’ (perdait la tête [et] devenait ... une charge). (An extract from the archives of this church was kindly supplied by minister Ruben Quenon in 1973; a copy of the manuscript is to be found in the Dossier Pièrre Secretan-Rollier, Amsterdam, Vincent van Gogh Foundation). Vincent’s parents saw no way out of the situation, and Mr van Gogh complained to Theo: ‘We are sorely tried by this and are literally at our wits’ end’ (FR b2487, 19 July).
A letter written by Mr van Gogh to Theo on 5 August makes it possible to reconstruct events: ‘We’ve had another letter from Vincent. He has left Wasmes, and is now at Cuesmes, near Mons. He writes that last Friday he went to Maria-Horebeke in Flanders, arriving there Sunday afternoon – mostly on foot – to meet Rev. Pieterszen, who was in Brussels. He then went there and met him on Monday morning – after consulting him, he is now back in Cuesmes, and there he’s found accommodation and hopes in future to find a small room ...
In Brussels he visited the various families he had become acquainted with there. What kind of impression will he have made? Like a ?....
Oh, we can imagine almost anything! His letter was written in a rather cheerful tone – mixed with bitterness. Tomorrow it will be ten years since he left our house and I brought him to The Hague to work in Goupil’s firm. What troubles we’ve had since! ... We are tired and all but despondent ... I wrote this morning to Vincent and to others in his behalf. In the main I do not object to or condemn what he is doing. I think it best to leave him to his own devices, but we watch him with trepidation and remain ready to come to his aid if necessary. We invited him to come home, but he definitely doesn’t want that’ (FR b2488).
One of the ‘others’ to whom Mr van Gogh had written in Vincent’s behalf was the Rev. Abraham van der Waeyen Pieterszen, whose answer arrived in Etten on Sunday, 7 August (FR b2491, 10 August, Mrs van Gogh to Theo). Pieterszen had no solution. Vincent had arrived at his place on Sunday evening [i.e. 3 August], weary and flushed: ‘He was given good accommodation and invited to breakfast the following morning. He made the impression on everyone who saw him that he is someone who gets in his own way. He had lost a lot of weight. I sent Pieterszen 50 francs to give him, without his knowing that the money had come from me. Pieterszen had advised him to go to us, but he didn’t want to. Then, however, he went to Cuesmes ... Can he go on evangelizing on his own account? P. thought that would be best. But where would the financial means come from? Should I go and visit him to try and get him to come here? What will become of him?’ (FR b2488). This letter was probably one of the reasons Theo decided to visit Vincent (see letter 154).
In Brussels, Van Gogh had also gone to see the family of Otto Geerling, at whose house he showed up looking dirty and bedraggled. See Lutjeharms 1978, p. 106. Vincent knew Geerling from the time he and his father had stayed with them during their visit of 16-17 July 1878 (see letter 145, n. 2).
It is assumed that Van Gogh went to Tournai to visit the Rev. David Bonte. Cf. Lutjeharms 1978, p. 106. Bonte’s recollections make no reference to this visit, however (quoted in Verzamelde brieven 1973 vol. 1, pp. 224-225).