In 1924, a man from London’s National Gallery visits Johanna Bonger in Holland and makes a substantial offer for a painting of Sunflowers. This is where we begin.
In 1891, Johanna Bonger was Theo Van Gogh’s wife for only 2 years, and their young son Vincent Willem, was a year old when Theo died – 6 months after his older brother, Vincent. As his own family didn’t believe in him, they were now the custodians of Vincent’s art (paintings and drawings, numbering over 600 all told). Johanna was devastated, having watched her Theo slowly succumb to his own madness in an asylum. She was told by most of her family and friends to just get rid of the art, as it was deemed worthless and Johanna was educated as an English teacher, not an art dealer. She refused.
Fueled by a deep love for her husband and inner drive and passion that most people underestimated, Johanna decided to take up Theo’s mission to bring Vincent’s art to the world. As a widowed single mother, she opened a boarding house, determined to support herself and young son on her own. She organized and translated Vincent’s letters, slowly began loaning Vincent’s art to different galleries across Europe, selling a few here and there to cover the immense costs.
For 35-years up to her death in 1925, she was unwavering in her efforts. Without her, the world would not know the name Vincent Van Gogh beyond footnotes in others artist’s biographies. And we certainly would not know his art. Johanna Bonger, the woman who saved Van Gogh.