On Good Friday in 1876, 140 years ago this week, Vincent van Gogh left his family home in the small Dutch village of Etten-Leur near Breda and travelled to England. He was twenty-three years old, and his future was uncertain. He was quite keen on sketching as a hobby, but at this stage he had no thought of pursuing a career as an artist. Three years earlier young Vincent had begun an apprenticeship with art dealers Goupil & Cie. He had already spent two years working in Goupil’s Covent Garden branch and then ten months in the Paris office before his decision to resign early in 1876. As a temporary measure he had then accepted a post as an unpaid teaching assistant at a small boarding school, so now he was on his way to Ramsgate. The journey by train and steamer took three days, during which he compiled a long letter to his parents, dated 14-17 April. His observations hint at the sensitive perception of landscape which characterises his later paintings: “When we were near the last station before London, the sun rose. The bank of grey clouds had disappeared and there was the sun, as simple and grand as ever I saw it, a real Easter sun. The grass sparkled with dew and night frost. …The houses on the [Ramsgate] shore are mostly built of yellow stone in simple Gothic style, and have gardens full of cedars and other dark evergreens. There is a harbour full of ships, shut in between stone jetties on which one can walk. And then there is the unspoiled sea, and that is very beautiful.” Like this letter, in a way. Vincent suffered from frequent serious mental and physical health crises until his early death in 1890, but here we see him nostalgic for his family, yet determined to move forward and find his place. Vincent winds up his description of his first evening in Ramsgate on Easter Day with, “In the evening we went with the boys to church. On the wall of the church was written: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ […] And now enough for today. What happy days we spent together! Thanks, thanks for everything. Love to all and a handshake from Your loving, Vincent.” A perfect way to sign off.
AND COMING UP …
** Sunday, April 17: 9am and 11am Holy Communion, 6.30pm Evening worship.
** Sunday, April 24, 11am: Annual Parochial Council Meeting (plus coffee!). What have we been up to, and what are we planning? Your chance to find out and to vote. Make sure you’re on the Electoral Roll!
** Saturday, April 16, 7pm: Highbury Community Association AGM, Fellowship Room. With speaker Tony Travers, a raffle and auction with all proceeds generously donated to the Spire appeal. TONIGHT!!
** Saturday, April 23, 9am: Men’s Breakfast in the Fellowship Room – last chance to sign up at the Welcome Desk for a morning of good food and spirited discussion.
** Thursday, April 28, 7pm: London Citizens UK debate about housing issues, including affordable rents and planning problems, with London mayoral candidates Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, at the Copper Box, QE Park. Join a group of concerned Christ Church members – see Sam Yung for details.
** Saturday, May 14, 7.30pm: Fundraising Auction and quiz for the Spire appeal. Online bids already very welcome – or maybe you can offer something for the auction? Tickets available at the Welcome Desk or from Rebecca Scharf or Becky Osborn, £7/£3 conc. (includes meal)
** Saturday, May 21: you might well need a quiet day by now! Keep the day free; details to come.
** Saturday, June 4, 7.30pm: a special thought-provoking evening about peace, music and war. Watch this space.