Theo van Gogh
Theo van Gogh (1888).jpg
Theo van Gogh in 1888
Theodorus van Gogh[1]

(1857-05-01)1 May 1857
Groot-Zundert, Netherlands
Died25 January 1891(1891-01-25) (aged 33)
Utrecht, Netherlands
Cause of deathDementia paralytica
OccupationArt dealer
Known forFinancial support and correspondence with his brother Vincent van Gogh
(m. 1889)

Theodorus van Gogh[1] (Dutch pronunciation: [teːjoːˈdoːrʏs ˈteːjoː vɑŋ ˈɣɔx];[a] 1 May 1857 – 25 January 1891) was a Dutch art dealer, the younger brother of Vincent van Gogh. Theo's unfailing financial and emotional support allowed his brother to devote himself entirely to painting. Theo died at the age of 33, six months after his brother died at the age of 37. At his death Theo owned practically all of his brother's artwork. Theo's widow Jo van Gogh-Bonger worked tirelessly to promote the work of Vincent and keep the memory of her husband alive. Theo made a significant impact on the art world as an art dealer, playing a crucial role in the introduction of contemporary Dutch and French art to the public.[2] His widow was able to draw on the connections that Theo made to promote Vincent's work. In 1914, she reburied Theo's remains next to Vincent's.

Early life

Theo van Gogh in 1873. This photograph was believed to have been of Vincent, but in 2018 was reassigned to Theo.[3][4]
Theo van Gogh in 1873. This photograph was believed to have been of Vincent, but in 2018 was reassigned to Theo.[3][4]
Sculpture of young Theo, mistakenly considered to represent Vincent, Tilburg (Netherlands)
Sculpture of young Theo, mistakenly considered to represent Vincent, Tilburg (Netherlands)

Theodorus "Theo" van Gogh was born on 1 May 1857 in the village of Groot-Zundert in the province of North Brabant, Netherlands.

He was the son of Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. His elder brother was artist Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890).

Business career

Theo worked for some years at the Dutch office of the Parisian art dealers Goupil & Cie in The Hague. Theo joined the Brussels office on 1 January 1873 as their youngest employee. After Theo was transferred to the London office, he moved to the office in The Hague, where he became a successful art dealer.[5] By 1884, he was transferred to the Paris main office, which in 1884 took the name of Boussod & Valadon.[6] Beginning in the winter of 1880–1881, he sent painting materials as well as monthly financial support[7] to his brother Vincent, who was then living in the Netherlands.

Personal life

In Paris, Theo met Andries Bonger and his sister Johanna, known as Jo. He was quite taken with her and hoped to marry her. At the time, she was in a relationship she hoped would lead to marriage. When it did not, she reconsidered Theo's proposal. They married in Amsterdam on 17 April 1889. During their short engagement, they had an extensive correspondence, later published as Brief Happiness,[8] in which they discussed practical matters or setting up married life together, but Theo also conveyed strength and the importance of his bond with Vincent. The couple moved to Paris, where their apartment became a venue for socializing with artists and members of the artistic community. Their son Vincent Willem was born in Paris on 31 January 1890. On 8 June, the family visited Vincent, who was living near Paris in Auvers-sur-Oise.

Vincent died in July 1890 at age 37. Theo suffered from dementia paralytica, now understood as late-stage neurosyphilis,[9][10][11][12] and his health declined rapidly after Vincent's death. Weak and unable to come to terms with Vincent's absence, he died six months later (25 January 1891) at age 33 in Den Dolder.[13]

Theo's great-grandson, also named Theo van Gogh, was a controversial film director, who was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam in 2004 by an Islamic extremist after making a short film critical of the treatment of women in Islamic culture.[14]

Relationship with Vincent

This 1887 portrait by Vincent van Gogh, long thought to be a self-portrait, was reassessed in 2011 to be one of his brother Theo van Gogh.[15]
This 1887 portrait by Vincent van Gogh, long thought to be a self-portrait, was reassessed in 2011 to be one of his brother Theo van Gogh.[15]

Theo admired his elder brother Vincent for his whole life, but communicating with him proved to be difficult, even before Vincent opted to follow his artistic vocation. The communication between both brothers suffered from diverging definitions of standards, and it was evidently Theo who kept on writing letters. Vincent is known not to have kept the letters Theo sent; on the other hand, Theo kept every scrap of correspondence from his brother (651 letters addressed to Theo in total).[16] Therefore, mostly Vincent's answers survived and few of Theo's (32 letters from Theo to Vincent remain).[16] Theo was often concerned about Vincent's mental condition and he was amongst the few who understood his brother.[17] It is known that Theo helped Vincent maintain his artist lifestyle by giving him money. He also helped Vincent pursue his life as an artist through his unwavering emotional support and love. The majority of Theo's letters and communications with Vincent are filled with praise and encouragement. Vincent would send Theo sketches and ideas for paintings, along with accounts of his day to day experiences, to the delight and eager attention of Theo.[18]

Dealer and artist

While Theo is best known for being the brother of Vincent van Gogh and one of his major roles in art was his influence on Vincent's career, Theo himself made many important contributions. Theo played a vital role in the introduction of contemporary Dutch and French art to the public:[2] Theo was instrumental in the popularity of Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet and Edgar Degas by persuading his employers, Goupil & Cie, to exhibit and buy their works.[19]

In 1886, Theo invited Vincent to live with him in Paris, and from March they shared an apartment in Montmartre. Theo introduced Vincent to Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Rousseau, Camille Pissarro and Georges Seurat, and in 1888 he persuaded Gauguin to join Vincent, who had moved to Arles.[citation needed] Theo not only conspired with Vincent as the liaison between Vincent and Gauguin, but was the deciding factor in his move to Arles seeing as it was Theo van Gogh who planned and eventually committed to supporting them both financially.[20] He paid for living and professional expenses as well as for the travel expenses Gauguin accumulated to get from Pont Aven, Brittany, to Arles. Theo was equally the one with whom Gauguin communicated when his relationship with Vincent turned volatile and unmanageable, notably the severing of the ear fiasco. Theo was the source of stability and the intermediate between the two artists and allowed them to create prolifically for a couple of months (63 days); paintings that would otherwise not have survived.[21]

Competing with Durant-Ruel and Georges Petit, the young dealer was to take over an important stake in this market. In 1888, he exhibited ten paintings by Monet from Antibes.[6] Theo also had close relations with Pissarro, and in the Autumn 1888, he presented a few of the painter's latest works and in 1890 he devoted an exhibition to him. Degas allowed him to set up a small exhibition of his nudes in January 1888 and a year later an exhibition of a selection of his works. Theo was also interested in Sisley, Renoir, and other such "moderns" as Besnard, Carrière and Raffaëlli.[6]


Main article: The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

The two brothers maintained an intensive correspondence, with Theo often encouraging his depressed brother. Theo was one of the few people Vincent could talk to and confide in. These letters are one of the few sources of information about Vincent's life, providing detailed accounts of not only the occurrences but also the thoughts and feelings in his life. Over three-quarters of the more than 800 letters Vincent wrote were to Theo, including his first and his last.[22]

It is largely thanks to Theo and his wife Johanna, who in 1914 decided to publish the letters between Theo and Vincent, that the letters are available.[17] Hardly any of Theo's letters survive because Vincent failed to keep them.[23] The two-year period in which Vincent and Theo lived together in the neighbourhood of Montmartre in Paris is also the least documented period of Vincent's artistic career because of the lack of letters.[24] These letters witness both the emotional and professional state of Vincent throughout his life as early as 1874 and serve as a diary for his everyday encounters.[25] The letters have been collected and published in book form as The Letters of Vincent van Gogh.[26][27]

Film legacy

The van Gogh brothers' relationship figured in the Vincente Minnelli 1956 movie adaptation of Irving Stone's 1934 biographical novel Lust for Life. In it, Hollywood star Kirk Douglas played Vincent, and British actor James Donald appeared as Theo.

The family relationship was the more central subject in Robert Altman's movie Vincent & Theo (1990), starring British actors Tim Roth as Vincent and Paul Rhys as Theo.

The brothers' relationship is also featured in Maurice Pialat's 1991 film Van Gogh, with Jacques Dutronc playing Vincent and Bernard Le Coq as Theo.

The delivery of Vincent's final letter to Theo after Vincent's death, and the circumstances surrounding his death, was the subject of the 2017 film Loving Vincent, which was animated by oil paintings made with Van Gogh's techniques.

Julian Schnabel's meditation on Vincent's artistic life, At Eternity's Gate (2018), featured Willem Dafoe as Vincent and Rupert Friend as Theo.


Vincent and Theo van Gogh's graves at the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise
Vincent and Theo van Gogh's graves at the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise

Theo's health was not robust when he married. In fact, he had been denied a life insurance policy because of it. It deteriorated significantly in the months after the death of his brother. He was admitted to the Willem Arntz Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, in Den Dolder on 18 November 1890. He had been diagnosed in Paris as suffering from a progressive and general paralysis. Initial examination confirmed this diagnosis. By 1 December his medical notes confirmed he presented all the symptoms of dementia paralytica, a disease of the brain caused by syphilis. He died on 25 January 1891. The cause of death was listed as dementia paralytica caused by "heredity, chronic disease, overwork, sadness".[13]

In 1914, Theo's body was exhumed from his resting place in Utrecht, Netherlands, and reburied with his brother at Auvers-sur-Oise at the wish of his widow, Jo, so the brothers could "lie together eternally".[28] By doing that, she also guaranteed that those visiting the grave of the by now well known artist would be aware of Theo's closeness to his older brother in life.

See also


  1. ^ In isolation, van is pronounced [vɑn].


  1. ^ a b Naifeh, Steven and Gregory White Smith. Van Gogh: the Life, p.23 New York: Random House (2011); ISBN 978-0-375-50748-9
  2. ^ a b Belinda Thomson (1999). "Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum". The Burlington Magazine. 141 (1158): 567–569. JSTOR 888614.
  3. ^ Arjen Ribbens (29 November 2018) En toen was er nog maar één foto van Vincent van Gogh.
  4. ^ Stefan Kuiper (29 November 2018) Een persoonsverwisseling: foto Vincent van Gogh blijkt broer Theo.
  5. ^ Jan Hulsker (1990). Vincent and Theo van Gogh: A Dual Biography. Fuller Technical Publications.
  6. ^ a b c "Musée d'Orsay: Theo van Gogh : art-dealer, collector, Vincent's brother". Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  7. ^ "The Letters of Vincent", Radio Netherlands Archives, November 1, 1998
  8. ^ Van Gogh, Theo, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, and Han van Crimpen. Brief Happiness: The Correspondence of Theo Van Gogh and Jo Bonger. W Books 2000. ISBN 9789040093722
  9. ^ Voskuil, PH (1992). "[Theo van Gogh's medical record]". Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 136 (36): 1777–80. PMID 1407128.
  10. ^ Deborah Hayden (2003). Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis. Basic Books. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-465-02881-8.
  11. ^ Ropper, Allan H. (3 October 2019). Longo, Dan L. (ed.). "Neurosyphilis". New England Journal of Medicine. 381 (14): 1358–1363. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1906228. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 31577877. S2CID 242487360.
  12. ^ Gonzalez, Hemil; Koralnik, Igor J.; Marra, Christina M. (August 2019). "Neurosyphilis". Seminars in Neurology. 39 (4): 448–455. doi:10.1055/s-0039-1688942. ISSN 0271-8235. PMID 31533185. S2CID 242484108.
  13. ^ a b van der Veen, Wouter; Knapp, Peter (2010). Van Gogh in Auvers: His Last Days. Monacelli Press. pp. 260–264. ISBN 978-1-58093-301-8.
  14. ^ "Gunman kills Dutch film director". BBC (2 November 2004). retrieved 21 July 2009
  15. ^ "Portrait of Theo van Gogh, 1887". Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  16. ^ a b "Correspondents - Vincent van Gogh Letters". Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  17. ^ a b Irving Stone (1937). Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh. The New American Library.
  18. ^ "Vincent van Gogh(Dutch Painter)" . Britannica. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  19. ^ Rewald, Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1973
  20. ^ "616 (618, 493): To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 28 or Tuesday, 29 May 1888. - Vincent van Gogh Letters". Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  21. ^ "852 (853, T28): Theo van Gogh to Vincent van Gogh. Paris, Sunday, 9 February 1890. - Vincent van Gogh Letters". Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  22. ^ "Important figures in the life of Vincent van Gogh". Van Gogh Gallery. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  23. ^ de Leeuw, Ronald, ed. (1996). The Letters of Vincent van Gogh. Penguin Group. ISBN 0-7139-9135-6.
  24. ^ "Biography". Vincent van Gogh. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  25. ^ "Van Gogh as a letter-writer". Vincent van Gogh Letters. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  26. ^ Jansen, Leo; Luitjen, Hans; Bakker, Nienke, eds. (2009). Vincent van Gogh – The Letters (The Complete Illustrated and Annotated ed.). Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-23865-3.
  27. ^ "Vincent van Gogh: The Letters". Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  28. ^ "La tombe de Vincent Van Gogh". Groundspeak. Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Retrieved 23 June 2009.

Further reading