‘The guardian of Vincents legacy’: new biography details devoted life of Van Gogh’s sister-in-law Jo Bonger


Jo van-Gogh Bonger © Van Gogh Museum

Vincent van Goghs sister-in-law Jo Bonger led a colourful life, including an encounter with Leon Trotsky in New York at the time of Russian Revolution. Although best known as a tireless promoter of Vincents art, she was also a progressive feminist. The first biography of Jo van Gogh-Bonger (1862-1925), revealing the full story of her astonishing life, will be launched this afternoon in Amsterdam.

Jo Bonger and her son Vincent (named after the artist) were visiting New York in 1917, around the time the tsar Nicholas II was deposed. Trotsky was also in New York and she attended a meeting at which he called for the overthrow of capitalism in Russia. Bonger was then involved with the womens rights movement in the Dutch Social Democratic Workers Party. As for Trotsky, after collaborating with Lenin to establish a communist government, he would later be brutally assassinated by a Stalinist agent, who broke his skull with an ice axe.

All this is captured in Everything for Vincent: The Life of Jo van Gogh-Bonger, by Hans Luijten, a senior researcher at the Van Gogh Museum. His 620-page book, published in Dutch and due to be available in English next year, will be the definitive biography. “Bonger was a force to be reckoned with and we are now able to tell her life story in great detail,” Luijten says.

At the age of 20, Bonger had stayed for two months in London, where she studied in the reading room of the British Museum and improved her English. By a curious coincidence, she visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery in August 1883, almost 10 years to the day after Vincent, who in 1873 had been working as an art dealer in London. Both signed the visitors book, but in 1883 they had not yet met.

In 1889 Bonger married Vincent's brother Theo van Gogh and they set up home in Paris. Vincent shot himself in July 1890 and Theo tragically developed syphilis, dying in January 1891. From then on Bonger became a tireless promoter of Vincents art. She organised his major retrospective in Amsterdam in 1905 and with nearly 500 paintings and drawings, it remains the largest exhibition ever held of his work. During her lifetime she sold nearly 250 of his paintings and drawings, ensuring that they were carefully dispersed to raise his stature. She also published his letters, which have been invaluable for Van Gogh scholarship. The rest of the family collection passed to her son Vincent and in 1973 it formed the basis of the Van Gogh Museum.

Bonger saw the Van Gogh brothers through the eyes of her favourite writer, George Eliot. “In their death they were not divided” was a Biblical phrase taken up in Eliots The Mill on the Floss. This is how she wanted Theo and VinRead More – Source