An exhibition at Tate Britain celebrates Van Gogh’s time in Britain.[i] He worked in Covent Garden and lived in Brixton and the Oval but he also visited Hertfordshire.
In 1826, Thomas Fox set up a preparatory school at Ivy Cottage, Welwyn, (next to the Wellington) which continued as a school until 1900. Vincent Van Gogh’s younger sister, Anna, (1855-1930) lived in England from 1874-1876, firstly in London, and then, for a time, taught French at this school.[ii]
There are plaques recording her time there and her brother’s visit but they do not reflect the fact that the walk started in Ramsgate. It was described in a letter Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother:
“Welwyn, 17 June 1876
My dear Theo,
Last Monday I left Ramsgate for London. That’s a long walk indeed, and when I left it was awfully hot and it remained so until the evening, when I arrived at Canterbury. That same evening I walked a bit further until I came to a couple of large beeches and elms next to a small pond, where I rested for a while. In the morning at half past 3 the birds began to sing upon seeing the morning twilight, and I continued on my way. It was good to walk then. In the afternoon I arrived at Chatham, where, in the distance, past partly flooded, low-lying meadows, with elms here and there, one sees the Thames full of ships. It’s always grey weather there, I think. There I met a cart that brought me a couple of miles further, but then the driver went into an inn and I thought he might stay there a long time, so I walked on and arrived towards evening in the well-known suburbs of London …..
But to continue: I spent one night at Mr Reid’s and the next at Mr Gladwell’s, where they were very, very kind. I wanted to leave for Welwyn that evening, but they literally held me back by force because of the pouring rain. However, when it had let up somewhat, around 4 in the morning, I set out for Welwyn. First a long walk from one end of the city to the other, something like 10 miles (each taking 20 minutes). In the afternoon at 5, I was with our sister and was very glad to see her.
She looks well and you would be as pleased with her room as I am, with ‘Good Friday’, ‘Christ in the Garden of Olives’, ‘Mater Dolorosa’ &c. with ivy around them instead of frames….. A handshake in thought from
Your loving brother
[i] This runs until 11 August 2019.
[ii] Tony Rook, Welwyn Garden City Past, Phillimore, 2001 is available through the Hertfordshire Library Service, Call number 942.586 WGC.