New book chronicles the lives of Van Gogh’s sisters

Van Gogh

‘The Van Gogh Sisters’ by Willem-Jan Verlinden. Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson

NEW YORK – The Van Gogh Sisters, a compulsively readable biography of Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters, will be released April 20, 2021. Art historian Willem-Jan Verlinden draws on extensive research and previously unpublished letters and photographs from the family archives to write about Vincent Van Gogh’s sisters, whose stories have been largely neglected.

“This is how the Van Gogh sisters will be remembered in the collective memory,” writes Verlinden in his book, The Van Gogh Sisters (Thames & Hudson, April 20, 2021): “Anna, the pious, obedient one, with whom Vincent seemed to bond at a young age, but who ultimately caused him to go abroad and never return; Lies, the eccentric poet and writer with a big secret, who presented herself as ‘the sister of’ the famous painter but never truly bonded with her brother or his art; and Wil, Vincent’s favorite sister, to whom he dedicated many paintings the little sister who, like him, was ‘different.’”

In this thoughtful and compelling group biography, Verlinden draws on extensive research and previously unpublished correspondence in the Van Gogh family archives to bring Vincent’s three sisters out from their brother’s shadow, poignantly portraying their dreams, disappointments and grief. The Van Gogh siblings grew up at a time when long-distance travel by train first became possible and, as each went their own way, following work and study to London, Paris, Brussels and beyond, they maintained the close relationships forged in their youth in the idyllic Netherlands countryside by sending candid and personal letters.

The oldest sister, Anna, worked as a governess in England as a young woman before marrying a Dutch industrialist. It was an argument with Anna, in the aftermath of their father’s death, that provoked Vincent to leave the Netherlands and never return. The second sister, Lies, fell into poverty in spite of her literary aspirations and was forced to sell many of her brother’s paintings. Willemien (Wil), the third sister, was an active participant in the emerging feminist movement. She visited the studio of Edgar Degas in Paris with her art-dealer brother Theo and discussed art enthusiastically with Vincent. She and Vincent also shared struggles with mental health, which resulted in Wil being institutionalized for the second half of her life.

Illustrated throughout with archival family photographs and beautiful reproductions of Vincent’s drawings and paintings that bring vividly to life the Van Goghs’ world and their era of social upheaval, The Van Gogh Sisters paints a deeply moving portrait of these remarkable women. While the lively and revealing correspondence that Vincent maintained with his brother Theo is already famous as a source of insight into the mind of one of the most celebrated artists of all time, readers can now discover the previously neglected voices of his sisters Anna, Lies and Willemien, whose stories will inform and enhance appreciation of Vincent’s life and art.

About the book:

The Van Gogh Sisters, by Willem-Jan Verlinden, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, Thames & Hudson, April 20, 2021, 272 pages, 132 illustrations, $39.95, hardcover, ISBN: 9780500023600

About the author:

Willem-Jan Verlinden was born in the town of Helvoirt in the Netherlands and studied art history in Leiden. He has worked for a number of museums and art foundations and is the co-author, with Kristine Gorenhart, of How I Love London: Walking Through Vincent Van Gogh’s London (2013).