Vincent came to Tilburg in September 1866 to study at the King William II secondary school. It was housed in an impressive building that was originally intended as a palace for King William II (1792–1849) but never used as such, since the king died before it was finished. The building was therefore given to the city of Tilburg in 1864 with the proviso that it be turned into a secondary school, which duly opened in 1866. Vincent had received a sound primary education at Jan Provily’s school in Zevenbergen and was permitted to skip the preparatory class and enter the first form.
The lesson programme consisted of Dutch, French, German, English, history, geography, geometry, geometrical drawing, freehand drawing, botany, zoology, penmanship and gymnastics. Vincent took drawing lessons from Constant Cornelis Huijsmans (1810–1886), a painter as well as an instructor who harboured outspoken views on pedagogy and employed an innovative teaching method that focused on the individual pupil. Huijsmans also published influential books: his principal work was Grondbeginselen der Teekenkunst (“Principles of Drawing”, 1852), and Het landschap (“The Landscape”, 1840) was a popular manual for painters. Vincent’s weekly four hours of art lessons focused largely on drawing from objects (plaster casts), perspective, and the study of reproductions of artworks. His training was so extensive that his complaint in a letter to his brother Theo many years later is remarkable:
Vincent did well in his studies, passed his exams with a grade of 7.36, and moved up to the second form. Despite these favourable results, however, he broke off his studies prematurely and returned to his parents’ house in Zundert in March 1868. The reason is unknown, though multiple possible causes exist.