Vincent Van Gogh in Mons

Vincent Van Gogh in Mons

Van Gogh au Borinage

It was while he was in the Walloon coal-mining area of the Borinage, from December 1878 to October 1880, that Vincent van Gogh abandoned his career as a preacher and decided to become an artist. This exhibition takes you through this crucial period, during which the artistic ideas he developed largely set the course for his work. With some seventy paintings, drawings and letters by and from Van Gogh, the exhibition – which also includes over twenty works that the artist copied or that influenced his work – beautifully portrays his various sources of inspiration. The aim is not just to provide an insight into the beginnings of Van Gogh’s artistic career, but also to depict the living conditions in the Borinage at that time.

The Birth of an artist

Little has been preserved of Van Gogh’s work during this period, largely consisting of copies based on other artists’ prints and sketches, or of his subsequent output in Brussels (between October 1880 and April 1881). However, the first months of his artistic career, which were decisive for his entire work, are interesting not just for his creations of the time. He made a choice at this time in favour of a more personal direction and themes to which he remained faithful throughout his career. The daily lives of workers and peasants exerted a continuous fascination on him, through his admiration for painters such as Léon Lhermitte, Jules Breton and Jean-François Millet, but also through the experience of the difficult living conditions he shared with the miners and workers of the Borinage.

These themes, which he was already exploring during his stay in this region, resonate throughout his later work: simple workers, the modest dwellings in which they lived, and weavers too, whom he observed with great admiration in March 1880 but only immortalised later on, in 1883 to 1884, when he came across large numbers of them while living in the town of Nuenen in the Netherlands. In 1889 to 1890, he returned to his early years as an artist by applying himself once again to the task of making copies: in Saint-Rémy, where he revisited the work of artists he admired – this time displaying his genius in painting rather than drawing – and in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he drew inspiration from studies that he had previously copied in the first months of his artistic career.