The Van Gogh family lived at the parsonage beside the Dutch Reformed church where Vincent’s father was parson. During his long stays in Etten in 1878 and 1881, Vincent used the annex at the back of the house as a study, and later a studio. The room, with an ivy-covered exterior, overlooked the house’s back garden, which Vincent probably depicted in his 1881 drawing Tuinhoek. Vincent drew the parsonage twice in April 1876: once with the church depicted beside it and once without. He gave one drawing to his sister Willemien, who later made her own copy. Anthon van Rappard, who stayed with the Van Goghs for twelve days in the summer of 1881, also drew the parsonage at Etten.
For Vincent, the house was the scene of pleasant holiday visits with the family and a place where the door was always open when he needed to rethink his future. The Van Goghs evidently welcomed guests: Vincent’s friend Van Rappard came to stay, and his cousin Kee Vos made a lengthy visit in 1881. During that visit, Vincent fell passionately in love with her.
Although Vincent mostly worked in the countryside and villages around Etten, he also spent plenty of time in his studio. There, he drew diligently, copying from Charles Bargue’s instructional book Cours de dessin, which he had used in the Borinage; sketching from photographs (one was probably a portrait of his sister Willemien) at Theo's suggestion; and drawing from live models. He filled the walls of his studio with drawings of familiar Brabant types.
Vincent’s relationship with his family was tense, owing to his marriage proposal to Kee and persistence after she had turned him down, and the family’s subsequent embarrassment. Vincent was all too aware of the precarious situation:
“Here I have my models and my studio, life would be more expensive elsewhere, and working more difficult and models costlier. But if Pa and Ma said to me calmly, leave, of course I would leave.” Read the complete letter
In the end, Vincent was indeed asked to leave, and not calmly. In December 1881, he and his father had a ferocious argument, and he left the parsonage in fury and went to stay with Anton Mauve in The Hague.
In 1888, encouraged by Paul Gauguin to work from his imagination, Vincent made a painting based on his memories of the parsonage garden at Etten.