Swirling, curling brushstrokes. Vivid colors. Thick layers of paint. These are the hallmarks of a painting by Vincent van Gogh, whose work his fellow artist Paul Cézanne once called “that of a madman.” But Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids moves beyond the image of the mad pauper to reveal a complex young man who loved nature and reading, spoke four languages, and enjoyed a successful career as a gallery salesman before embarking on studies as a minister and, finally, finding his calling as an artist.
Kids journey from the Netherlands to Paris to southern France as they learn about van Gogh’s friendships with four other like-minded painters who admired but were determined to depart from Impressionism: Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac, Émile Bernard, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Aspiring artists and history buffs learn not only how these Post-Impressionists’ daring shapes, colors, and techniques distinguished their work from what was painted before but also how the men helped one another and whether or not they always got along.
Twenty-one creative projects bring history and art to life. Readers will create a Starry Night peep box, make a Pointillist sailboat (that can really sail!), craft a Japanese fold-out album, and much more. The text includes a time line, glossary, and reading list for further study.
About the Author
Carol Sabbeth is the author of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Monet and the Impressionists for Kids, and Crayons and Computers. She presents art workshops to children and teachers throughout the United States.
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Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids
Their Lives and Ideas ? 21 Activities
By Carol Sabbeth
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2011 Carol Sabbeth
All rights reserved.
Happy Birthday, Vincent
ALL BIRTHDAY PARTIES are fun, but the one celebrated on March 30, 2003, takes the cake. It was the 150th anniversary of Vincent van Gogh's birth, and it seemed like the whole world wanted to join in.
Museums in London, Paris, Chicago, and New York celebrated the day with cake, candles, and special events. Every party had balloons, but one balloon was outstanding. In the Dutch village of Zundert, where van Gogh was born, a hot-air balloon decorated with his portrait floated across the countryside, peering down on the festivities.
All this for an artist who was barely acknowledged during his lifetime. He only sold one painting! What would van Gogh have thought?
In Amsterdam, musicians played for hundreds of Dutch families who waited in line at the Van Gogh Museum. Inside, a huge birthday cake dazzled the guests, along with an exhibit designed specially for Vincent. Called Vincent's Choice, it displayed van Gogh's favorite works of art. Gathered together from many museums, the exhibit contained works by Rembrandt, Claude Monet, and other famous artists whom van Gogh admired. Shining brightly among these paintings were his own. "It was conceived as a sort of a birthday gift for Vincent," said the museum's director, John Leighton. "We hope it would have made him smile."
A short ride away in Otterlo, another museum displayed over 100 of van Gogh's paintings and drawings. Included were a few works that have been officially recognized as fakes. Knowing that his work was so well loved that it was forged — now that would make him smile.
GROWING UP IN HOLLAND
Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, a small village near the Belgian border. His father, Theodorus, was a minister. On the day of his son's birth, Reverend van Gogh walked across the square to the town hall, opened the birth register, and proudly wrote "Vincent Willem van Gogh." Sadly, there was already an entry for that same name. Exactly one year earlier Anna van Gogh had given birth to the first Vincent. That baby had been stillborn. A year later the arrival of a healthy son was wonderful news. In the following years two brothers and three sisters would be added to Vincent's family.
Anna van Gogh came from a large family herself. Mrs. van Gogh had seven brothers and sisters. Her father was a talented craftsman, a bookbinder by trade. He was an artist as well. In his free time he liked to sketch flowers and plants, filling notebooks with his drawings. Vincent's mother inherited this talent. Like her father, she enjoyed sketching and watercolor painting.
Theodorus, Vincent's father, came from a family of 11 children. As a young man, Theodorus decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a minister too. Theodorus was known by the people in his church as the Handsome Pastor. He did have good looks, but many found his long sermons boring. Still, his congregation faithfully came every Sunday to the Dutch Reformed church where he preached. Unfortunately for Reverend van Gogh, the southern area of the Netherlands where they lived was mostly populated by Catholics. As a result, Reverend van Gogh's church had only 120 members. He didn't make a very large income.
Reverend van Gogh's brothers, however, were wealthy businessmen. Three of his five brothers owned art galleries. His most successful sibling, also named Vincent, worked with a French firm with headquarters in Paris. Uncle "Cent" sold works painted by Holland's most popular artists.
A FRECKLED BOY
Young Vincent was a freckled boy with red hair and blue-green eyes. As a youth, Vincent loved to wander through the fields and heaths around his home. This region, or province, of the Netherlands is called North Brabant. The village where he lived was surrounded by small farms, and the families who owned them were poor. Men and women, wearing wooden shoes to keep their feet dry as they sloshed through the mud, worked very hard to earn a living. Vincent had great respect for these peasants and would remember them later in his art.
As a boy, Vincent wasn't particularly interested in art. He showed some talent, but when his parents praised him, he often destroyed his work. He tore up a drawing of a cat climbing a tree when his mother and father admired it too much. An elephant made out of clay was smashed for the same reason. Vincent didn't think his artwork deserved the attention his parents gave it, and he told them so. In later years, what Mrs. van Gogh remembered most about her son was not his artistic talent but his stubborn, willful personality.
As the oldest child, he was the first to attend school in the village. But his days as a schoolboy didn't last long. Most of the other students were farmer's children and must have been too spirited for the van Goghs. When Vincent's parents started to worry that the peasant children were making their son too rough, they took him out of school. Instead, they kept him at home and hired a governess to teach all their children. When Vincent was 11, his parents sent him to a boarding school in a nearby town. Although his parents visited him on occasion, he was sad to be away from home at such a young age.
Vincent was an average student — intelligent but not brilliant. He enjoyed his classes in calligraphy and drawing but didn't think of art as a career. In the 1800s drawing was part of any well-educated young person's training. What Vincent did excel at was languages. He could speak Dutch, German, French, and English. He also loved to read.
When he returned home during vacations, Vincent spent as much time as possible outdoors. He loved nature and explored the hills and dales outside of town, hoping to make new discoveries. He knew where the most beautiful flowers bloomed and could locate the nests of his favorite birds. His younger brothers and sisters would have liked to join him on these outings, but they didn't dare ask to come along. Their brother was serious, silent, and thoughtful. They knew he preferred to be alone.
When he turned 15, Vincent left school. Like most young men his age, it was time for him to decide on a trade. Once decided, he would begin with an apprenticeship. The trade he chose turned out to be a very good choice for a future artist.
THE YOUNG APPRENTICE
Vincent was going to learn the trade of selling art. He moved 60 miles away, to a city called The Hague, to become an apprentice at his uncle Cent's art gallery. Cent's firm, Goupil & Cie., also had galleries in London, Brussels, New York, and Paris.
The Hague was very different from the farming village where Vincent had grown up. Surrounded by woods and situated right next to the sea, the town provided many new places for him to explore. The city dates back to 1248, when a nobleman built a castle in the forest that he used for hunting. A town developed around the castle and came to be called The Hague, which means "The Hedge." In the 1500s, it became the seat of government for the Netherlands. In van Gogh's day, King William III and the royal family lived there.
In July 1869, 16-year-old Vincent began work as a clerk at the art gallery. Located on a fashionable square called the Plaats, the gallery looked more like the parlor of an opulent mansion than a store that sold paintings. Lush draperies trimmed with tassels hung from windows and decorated the doorways between rooms. The rooms were decorated with expensive furnishings, oriental carpets, and fireplaces graced with beautiful mantels. Most spectacular of all were the paintings. Set in ornate gold frames, they covered the walls from floor to ceiling. The gallery was designed to resemble an upper-class Victorian parlor so buyers could see how the paintings would look in their own homes.
Vincent entered the art trade at the perfect time. The fact that there were so many people who could afford to purchase paintings was relatively new. Previously, the only people wealthy enough to buy artwork were a privileged group of very successful businessmen, kings, queens, and royal-court members. Churches, which were supported by the wealthy, could also commission great works of art. The Industrial Revolution, which was going strong by 1869, changed all that. Railroads were built, large factories were opened, and the businesses that supplied them sprung up throughout Europe. As a result, an upper middle class made up of successful business owners and merchants emerged. They had money to spend on beautiful homes and needed artwork to decorate their walls.
At the time, the most popular paintings were reproduced by a technique called engraving. The Goupil gallery carried these high-quality prints. Vincent was soon assigned the job of selling them. He took his job seriously and eventually became a connoisseur. To do this, he had to study art from ancient times through modern days. He learned all he could about the engravings and the original paintings. Vincent also made a point to meet the many successful Dutch artists who visited the gallery and talk to them about painting.
Everyone at Goupil & Cie., including Vincent, was happy with his progress. During his free time he learned more about his trade by visiting museums and other galleries. His uncle Cor owned a gallery in Amsterdam, which was only 33 miles from The Hague. When not visiting his uncle, Vincent spent hours exploring the great art museums there, where he could study the paintings of Dutch and Flemish masters such as Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Rembrandt. It's common for aspiring artists to set up easels in front of such great works and practice the painting techniques of the masters. But this didn't occur to Vincent. At the time he had no intention of becoming an artist. If he sketched at all, it was to take notes or explain an idea.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
HOLLAND OR THE NETHERLANDS — what should van Gogh's homeland be called? It depends on whom you ask.
Properly speaking, the country where van Gogh was born is called the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Or, as he would say in his native language, "Koninkrijk der Nederlanden." The short version, the Netherlands, means "low land." It is low! Much of the country is below sea level. Without dikes, nearly half the country would be underwater. The name Holland means "land in a hollow." Technically, this name only applies to a section of the country: 2 of the 12 provinces, called North Holland and South Holland. This is where the cities of Amsterdam, Delft, and The Hague are. The Dutch prefer to call their country "Nederland." It is English-speaking people who often refer to the country as Holland.
Why are people from the Netherlands called Dutch? This comes from the German word "Deutsch," which means German. Originally the English used the word to refer to all Germanic people (people from Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). In the 16th century, due to trading, the English were most often in contact with Hollanders. The name "Dutch" came to be limited to the people of the Netherlands.
Three years after Vincent moved to The Hague, his brother Theo came to visit. Theo, who was four years younger, looked just like Vincent. Theo was thrilled to spend time with his older brother. He would soon need to begin an apprenticeship, and it turned out that he would follow the same path as his brother.
A few days after Theo went home, Vincent wrote to thank him for visiting. It was the beginning of a friendship they maintained through letters. In the years to come, Vincent would write more than 600 letters to Theo.
Six months after his visit, Theo started his apprenticeship at Goupil & Cie. The company's mangers didn't want brothers working at the same gallery, so Theo was sent to the branch in Brussels, Belgium. Soon after, Vincent was transferred to London to get experience at the English branch of the company. After four successful years at the gallery, it was a promotion to be proud of. The director of The Hague branch, Mr. Tersteeg, wrote to Vincent's parents telling them how much his clients, as well as painters, enjoyed working with their son.
ON TO LONDON
In May 1873, 20-year-old van Gogh arrived in England. He loved London and enjoyed strolling through its beautiful parks and gardens. One of his favorite places to visit was Hyde Park, where "hundreds of ladies and gentlemen ride on horseback." Because he spoke fluent English, he had no problem communicating with the people he met. He was a successful salesman, and the gallery paid him well. He could be seen in top hat and gloves, like the other gentlemen of the city.
He found a room in a boardinghouse within walking distance of his new job. There was a piano in the parlor, and it was a cheery, welcoming place. The woman who owned the home, Ursula Loyer, was a clergyman's widow, and van Gogh felt comfortable with her motherly ways. In the evenings, he enjoyed the company of his fellow lodgers. In a letter to Theo he wrote, "There are also three German boarders who are very fond of music, they play the piano and sing, so we spend very pleasant evenings together."
VAN GOGH'S LETTERS
VINCENT VAN GOGH was an excellent letter writer. Luckily for us, his brother Theo was an excellent collector. Vincent often had a difficult time communicating with people face-to-face. But when he took up his pen, his ideas flowed. He wrote about everything: his favorite books, the artists who inspired him, his ups and downs. He often included sketches to illustrate his words. Most of his letters were to Theo, but letters to other family members, friends, and artists still exist. Theo kept all his letters in a desk drawer. His wife, Jo, remembered watching the pile of yellow envelopes with Vincent's familiar handwriting quickly stack up. Later, after both brothers had died, Jo carefully documented the letters. Then she shared them. Today, much of what is known about Vincent's ideas comes from the letters he wrote.
Mrs. Loyer's 19-year-old daughter Eugénie also lived at the house. Along with helping her mother with their boarders, she ran a nursery school for young children. It wasn't long before van Gogh fell madly in love with her. Eugénie, who wasn't aware of his infatuation, treated him kindly. But she didn't treat him like a boyfriend.
In fact, she was secretly engaged to a former boarder. Later, van Gogh's sister Anna came to stay at the home while looking for a job as a teacher. She noticed her brother's infatuation immediately. The fact that he denied it didn't stop her from reporting the news home to their family.
After a year at the boardinghouse, van Gogh could no longer keep his secret. He declared his love and asked Eugénie to marry him. Even though he was persistent, she rejected him.
Van Gogh was devastated. His whole outlook on life changed, and he became silent and moody. The dramatic change in his personality showed in his workplace, too. The young man whom clients and artists had enjoyed so much was now impossible to get along with. He and Anna moved to another home, but his spirits didn't lift. Hoping a change of scene would cheer him up, Uncle Cent arranged for him to be transferred to Paris — the art capital of the world.
THE CITY OF LIGHT
Van Gogh arrived in France in May 1875 to work at one of the Paris branches of Goupil & Cie. The move, however, did not turn out as Uncle Cent had hoped.
Instead of enjoying Paris, as most 22-year-olds would, van Gogh shut himself up in his room to read and discuss the Bible with a young Englishman who also worked at the gallery. For the first time since he left home, he began attending church regularly. His letters to Theo and his family included long passages from the sermons he heard. In the past, his letters often ended with news about a book by a favorite author, like Charles Dickens. Now he warned Theo to stop reading everything except the Bible. Because his behavior was drastically different, it worried his family. Even his father, who was a minister, worried that van Gogh was becoming a fanatic.
At the gallery, van Gogh started quarreling with customers. He spoke rudely to them, challenging their taste. At Christmas he was anxious to go home to his family. Van Gogh knew it was the busiest time of the year for the gallery but left anyway, without permission. When he returned after the holidays, he was fired. His boss, Mr. Boussod, generously gave him three month's notice. Not even Uncle Cent could fix the mess van Gogh found himself in. After seven years as an art dealer, van Gogh was out of a job.
He was ready for a change. Lately he had found everything connected with business more and more distasteful. Ready to follow a new path, van Gogh announced that "there were no professions in the world other than those of schoolmaster and clergyman."
On his last day at the gallery, van Gogh received a reply to his application for a job as a teaching assistant in England. The offer came from a man who ran a boarding school for poor boys between the ages of 10 and 14. Mr. Stokes, who was "completely bald and wears whiskers," agreed to give van Gogh food and lodging as payment, but no salary.
LIFE AS A SCHOOLMASTER
Van Gogh arrived in England eager to start his new career. His school was in Ramsgate, a village on the southeastern coast. The school had a stunning view of the sea and faced a square that had a large lawn surrounded by lilac bushes.
Despite the school's picturesque surroundings, however, things weren't so pleasant there. A room in the living quarters where the boys washed had rotten floorboards and broken windows. The cold wind from the sea whistled in, and cockroaches were everywhere.
Excerpted from Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids by Carol Sabbeth. Copyright © 2011 Carol Sabbeth. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Vincent and His Colorful Friends,
1 HAPPY BIRTHDAY, VINCENT,
2 BECOMING AN ARTIST,
4 THE LAND OF SUNFLOWERS,
5 THE LAST HOPE,
6 PAUL GAUGUIN,
7 HENRI DE TOULOUSE-LAUTREC,
8 PAUL SIGNAC,
9 ÉMILE BERNARD,
Epilogue: More Dazzling than Ever,
Map: Post-Impressionist Paths,