Vincent van Gogh lived with his uncle Johannes “Jan” van Gogh, the director of Amsterdam’s naval dockyard in the eastern part of the city. Vincent often got up early in the morning, and he enjoyed watching the thousands of workers trickle into the dockyard; the sound reminded him of the murmur of the sea. The lively surroundings fascinated Vincent, and he imagined there would be plenty for an artist to see on the docks.
His uncle had set up a study bedroom for him, and Vincent spent a lot of time there. He was compelled to study hard, starting early every morning and continuing until late at night. Every day he walked to the house of Maurits Benjamin Mendes da Costa, who was teaching him Greek and Latin. At home, he prepared for lessons and wrote essays designed to deepen his knowledge of the Bible; he produced a paper on the history of the Reformation, a map of the apostle Paul’s travels and a list of all the biblical parables and miracles. Meanwhile, he was also studying algebra and geometry and trying to keep up his English and French. He read the Bible often, and it inspired the drawing The cave of Machpelah, based on a story in the book of Genesis.
Vincent covered his walls with art prints bought from a Jewish book dealer in the city in a bid to give the room a bit of atmosphere,
“which is necessary to get and refresh ideas.” Read the complete letter
Almost every time he wrote to his brother Theo, Vincent mentioned how difficult he was finding his studies; he confessed:
“if I could I’d like to skip over a few years.” Read the complete letter
Over time, Vincent grew increasingly anxious about meeting his self-imposed goal. In February 1878, he wrote of his doubts: he was not sure he could succeed, and in spite of reassurances from his friends and family, he became consumed by fear. That July, he decided to return to Etten and moved out of Uncle Jan's house.