Vincent van Gogh
 

From his youth onward, Vincent van Gogh travelled from place to place and country to country, never staying long. 
Walk in his footsteps and discover the places where he lived as they are today. 

England

Ramsgate

  • April 16, 1876 - June 23, 1876
After a failed career in the art trade, Vincent took a job as an assistant teacher at a school in Ramsgate.

On 4 January 1876, Vincent was told he would lose his job in Paris with the art dealers Goupil & Cie as of 1 April. Vincent decided to leave the art trade and enter the field of education. He applied for various posts in England but received few replies.

On 14 April, the day before he was to leave Paris, he received a positive response. William Port Stokes (c. 1832–1890) offered Vincent a position as an assistant teacher at his boys’ school in Ramsgate in exchange for room and board, but no salary. Vincent was happy to have found a job and accepted the offer. He knew nothing about Ramsgate except that it was a seaside resort with 12,000 inhabitants.

Saying goodbye to his parents was painful for Vincent, especially on top of the change in direction from art to teaching. The weather reflected his feelings, and Vincent found apt words to describe it:

“We’ve often parted from each other already, though this time there was more sorrow than before, on both sides, but courage as well, from the firmer faith in, and greater need for, blessing. And wasn’t it as though nature sympathized with us? It was so grey and rather dismal a couple of hours ago.” Read the complete letter

Ramsgate’s distinctive seaside atmosphere reminded Vincent of other coastal towns he knew, such as The Hague and Scheveningen.

Although his new job took some getting used to, Vincent enjoyed working at the boys’ school. Life there was so pleasant and carefree that it worried him:

“These are really happy days, the ones I’m spending here, day after day, and yet it’s a happiness and peacefulness that I don’t trust entirely, though one thing can lead to another.”  “ Read the complete letter

Vincent lived in Ramsgate only briefly; in June, the boarding school where he worked moved to Isleworth, a town just outside London, and he followed.

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School Stokes

  • April 16, 1876 - June 23, 1876
Vincent was employed as an assistant teacher at Mr. Stokes’s boarding school.

On 16 April 1876, Vincent arrived in Ramsgate to work as an assistant teacher at a boys’ school run by William Port Stokes (c. 1832–1890). He received room and board but no salary and had been offered the job just two weeks earlier. The school housed 24 boys between the ages of 10 and 14, and they were subjected to a strict routine, rising at six every morning and going to bed at eight. Vincent taught them French and German and gave them sums, quizzes and dictation. Out of his own love of literature, he also encouraged the boys to read. He helped to look after them outside school hours, and thus he had little free time. He summed up his job in a letter to his brother Theo:

“For the time being, then, giving the lessons isn’t so difficult, but it’ll be more difficult to make the boys learn them.” Read the complete letter

Headmaster Stokes commanded respect from the boys, Vincent wrote, but he sometimes sent them to bed without bread or tea if he deemed them to have misbehaved, which outraged Vincent. Besides Stokes and Vincent, the school had one other teacher.

The small school looked out over the ocean, and to Vincent, the view was lovely enough to make up for the bedbugs. Like the other buildings around it, the house was constructed in a simple style; Vincent noticed that they all looked alike and were made of the same yellow brick. Ramsgate had a harbour, which was a good place for Vincent to walk, as he liked to do often. He frequently took the pupils to the beach, even in heavy storms. He once built a sand castle with them and was reminded of doing the same with his brother Theo in their home village of Zundert.

The school was located on Spencer Square, which had a patch of grass where the children played during breaks. Vincent’s house was also on the square. He made two drawings of the view from the school’s window, both entitled View of Royal Road, Ramsgate. Vincent wrote to Theo that he could imagine all too well how the boys felt as they stood at the window watching their parents leave after visits. For Vincent, Ramsgate evoked memories of his own boarding school days in Zevenbergen.

Vincent had been in Ramsgate just two weeks when he wrote to his brother Theo about Stokes’s plans for the school:

“Mr Stokes told me that he intends to move after the holidays – with the whole school, naturally – to a village on the Thames, around 3 hours from London. He would then furnish the school somewhat differently and perhaps expand it.” Read the complete letter

In June 1876, the school and all its pupils moved to Isleworth. Although Vincent thought about finding a new job, he decided to move with the school.

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