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Where Van Gogh became a painter

Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 in Groot-Zundert (the Netherlands). But the artist was born in August 1880 – in Cuesmes !

The house in Cuesmes where he lived from August 1879 to October 1880 was saved from ruins in the 1970s and is now open to the public. It is considered to be one of the essential stopping points along the Van Gogh route through Europe. After all, this is the house where he became a painter!

Vincent van Gogh's career had been unremarkable up until the time he arrived in the mining area of Borinage, where he stayed until October 1880. The young Vincent arrived in Pâturages at the start of the winter of 1878. He was 25 years old. This was his first contact with these miners, who earned just 2.52 francs per day. He set off for Wasmes in January to take up a post as a preacher (following in his father's footsteps). At first, he lodged with Jean-Baptiste Denis, in Rue de Petit Wasmes. It was an elegant house, quite different from the others. But Vincent wanted to share the life of the miners and found it to be too luxurious. So, he rented a hut instead. He dedicated himself entirely to his role as a preacher, making endless visits, gradually giving away more and more of his allowance, his clothes, his food and all of his time to the miners and their families. He became a "miner among miners".

He went down into the pit. At a depth of 700 metres, he saw the workers sleeping in the galleries, children, horses, danger everywhere. He saved a miner following a firedamp explosion, but was disowned in 1879 (losing his wage of 50 francs per month) by the Belgian Union of Protestant Churches (which was not impressed by his role as a "priestly labourer"). He found this decision unjust and humiliating.

In shock, the young man left Wasmes in August 1879, moving to Cuesmes where he stayed with the pastor Francq, who was renting the outbuilding of a house occupied by a miner and his family: the Decrucq family. He remained there until October 1880. From there, he explained to his brother Théo that he was feeling confused. Leading a itinerant life of suffering and deprivation, Van Gogh spent time considering what purpose he could give to his life. He practised drawing, taking inspiration from the lives of the miners. He then realised what it was that he had come to seek among them: "I felt my energy return, and I told myself: whatever happens, I'll get through it, I'll pick up my pencil which I abandoned in my despondency and I'll return to drawing, and from that moment, everything changed for me." The painter was born!

Borinage was therefore the birthplace of Vincent van Gogh the artist. He discovered within himself a need to express something with regard to humanity, and this would also become his identity as an artist. His predilection for themes taken from the reality of daily life for farmers and labourers originated there, and reminiscences of Borinage (miners, weavers, modest dwellings symbolising their occupants) can all be found in his subsequent works.

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