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Vincent van Gogh Had Three Fascinating Sisters You Never Knew About

Vincent van Gogh is probably best known for three things: his art; a struggle with mental health issues; and a close relationship with a loyal sibling, which was maintained largely through letters. For Vincent, those three facts took the form of awe-inducing canvases, a tragic suicide, and an art dealer brother by the name of Theo. But as it turns out, Vincent had three additional siblings, whose lives shared similar thematic currents. 

The Van Gogh Sisters is a new book out this month from Thames & Hudson. Written by Dutch art historian Willem-Jan Verlinden, it tells the long-overlooked stories of Anna, Lies, and Willemien van Gogh in a fascinating three-person biography. Though the sisters had creative attributes of their own, Willemien spent years in a mental institution. And through it all, they kept in touch through personal, illuminating epistolary exchanges.  

Those surviving letters are a large part of why Verlinden was able to write his book. And although key moments are likely to get plenty of attention (such as the fact that selling Vincent’s works ultimately made paying for Willemien’s care possible), its nuances might be even more interesting. 

“This is how the Van Gogh sisters will be remembered in the collective memory,” Verlinden writes. “Anna, the pious, obedient one, with whom Vincent seemed to bond at a young age, but who ultimately caused him to go abroad and never return; Lies, the eccentric poet and writer with a big secret, who presented herself as ‘the sister of’ the famous painter but never truly bonded with her brother or his art; and Wil, Vincent’s favorite sister, to whom he dedicated many paintings—the little sister who, like him, was ‘different.’” 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. And now, thanks to this book, many will not only know more about the lives of Anna, Lies, and Willemien, but may also be inspired to continue Verlinden’s work.

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