Vincent van Gogh and his 100-mile walk to Welwyn

Now one of art’s most famous figures, Vincent van Gogh’s life was a tragedy and failure. But long before he wanted to be an artist, he came to England to work and even visited Welwyn.

After an original incantation in London in 1873, where he worked for an art dealer, van Gogh returned to England three years later and moved to Ramsgate.

He worked in an unpaid role as a supply teacher at Mr Stokes Boarding School in Kent City, but he was not the only van Gogh working in education in England at the time.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh lived in England in 1873 and 1876.
– Credit: Flickr

His sister, Anne, worked as a French teacher at the Preparatory School at Ivy Cottage in Welwyn.

Desperate to visit his sister, but in poverty and nearly 100 miles away, Vincent decided to leave, and left for London on June 12, 1876.

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His journey was written down in letters to his brother Theo.

“Last Monday I left Ramsgate for London,” he wrote.

“It’s really a long walk, and when I went it was terribly hot, and it remained so until the evening when I arrived at Canterbury.

“That same evening, I walked a bit further until I came to a couple of large beeches and elms next to a small pond, where I rested a bit.

“In the morning at half past three the birds began to sing when they saw the morning darkness, and I continued on my way. It was good to walk.

“In the afternoon I arrived at Chatham, where in the distance past partly flooded, low-lying meadows, with elms here and there, the Thames is full of ships. It’s always gray weather there, I think.

“There I met a carriage that took me a few miles further, but then the driver went into an inn and I thought he would stay there long, so I went on and arrived towards evening in London’s well-known suburbs . . “

Vincent van Gogh

A plaque on Ivy Cottage marks van Gogh’s trip to Welwyn.
– Credit: Facebook

Now just over 25 miles from Welwyn, van Gogh decided to stay a few nights in London, but not out of choice.

“I spent one night with Mr. Reids and the next with Mr. Gladwell, where they were very, very friendly,” Vincent wrote.

“I wanted to go to Welwyn that night, but they literally held me back by force because of the pouring rain.

“But when something was released, about four in the morning, I headed for Welwyn.”

He described his arrival at Welwyn and continued: “In the afternoon at 5 o’clock I was with our sister and was very glad to see her.

“She looks great and you would be just as happy with her room as I am, with ‘Good Friday’, ‘Christ in the Olive Garden’, ‘Mater Dolorosa’ and with the ivy around her instead of frames.

“A handshake in thought from your dear brother, Vincent”

Anne was happy to see her brother write: “It was great to meet Vincent again, and I am glad that he also meets them here, because no one can imagine what a happy life I live here, surrounded by so much love. ”

Anthony Padgett with his Van Gogh sculpture.  Photo: Anthony Padgett.

Anthony Padgett with his Van Gogh sculpture. Photo: Anthony Padgett.
– Credit: Archant

It is believed that Vincent only visited his sister in Welwyn on this one occasion, where he stayed in the village for two days before going to Isleworth, where he continued to teach.

His trip to Welwyn was marked in 2018 when a bust of his head was installed in the village by sculptor Anthony Padgett.

When he left England in 1877, van Gogh lived in Amsterdam and then Cuesmes, Belgium, where he decided to become an artist.

Many of his famous paintings focused on people and the world around him, and his time in England served as inspiration.

“The landscape here is magnificent, completely different from Holland or Belgium,” he wrote in a letter to Theo.

“Everywhere you see magnificent parks with tall trees and shrubs where you are allowed to walk.”

The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh painted Starry Night while in an asylum.
– Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite painting almost 900 paintings in less than 10 years, he would be branded a failure, selling only one piece in his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, which was sold for 400 francs in Belgium for seven months. before his death.

He was also called a madman, who famously cut off his earlobe after suffering a mental breakdown and subsequently spent time in an asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France, where he painted most of his famous works – including Starry Night .

His life would come to a tragic end in July 1890, when he is believed to have shot himself in the chest with a 7 mm Lefaucheux pinfire revolver before dying of his injuries two days later, just 37 years old.

A commercial failure of his lifetime, van Gogh is now rightfully loved and celebrated as one of the greats of art.

Although his nearly 100-mile walk from Ramsgate to Welwyn was long before he chose a full-time brush, it served as an inspiration for what was to come.

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