Theodore van Gogh, or Theo as he was commonly known, was a Dutch art dealer and the younger brother of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. Theo was not only Vincent’s brother, but also his best friend, confidant, and patron. He supported Vincent financially and emotionally throughout his turbulent and tragic life. But what many people may not know is that Theo also shared Vincent’s fate in a way. Theo died just six months after Vincent, at the age of 33, from a disease that may have been contracted from his brother. What was Theodore van Gogh’s cause of death and how was it related to Vincent?
The Disease That Killed Theo
Theo van Gogh’s cause of death is dementia paralytica; this disease is most commonly associated with the final stages of syphilis. Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through sexual contact or blood transfusion. If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious damage to various organs, including the heart, brain, and spinal cord. Dementia paralytica is a form of neurosyphilis that affects the brain and causes symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, delusions, hallucinations, and paralysis.
According to Anita Louise Art, Theo had suffered from syphilis for a long time. He may have contracted it from his brother Vincent, who was also infected with the disease. Vincent had a history of visiting brothels and engaging in risky sexual behavior. He may have passed the infection to Theo through a blood transfusion or a razor blade. Theo was always sickly and prone to ailments, but after Vincent’s death, his health deteriorated rapidly. He was admitted to hospital in mid-October 1890 and died on 25 January 1891.
The Bond Between Theo and Vincent
Theo and Vincent had a close and complex relationship. They were born four years apart in the same village of Groot-Zundert in the Netherlands. They shared a love for art and literature, but also had different personalities and interests. Theo was more practical and sociable, while Vincent was more passionate and solitary. Theo became an art dealer at a young age and worked for the Parisian firm of Goupil & Cie. He introduced Vincent to many contemporary artists and movements, such as impressionism and post-impressionism. He also encouraged Vincent to pursue his artistic career and sent him money and materials regularly.
Vincent appreciated Theo’s support and expressed his gratitude in hundreds of letters that they exchanged over the years. The letters reveal their intimate thoughts, feelings, and struggles. They also show their mutual admiration, respect, and affection. Vincent often referred to Theo as his “dear brother” or “best friend”. He also dedicated many of his paintings to Theo, such as Sunflowers or The Starry Night.
However, their relationship was not always smooth and harmonious. They also had arguments, disagreements, and misunderstandings. Sometimes they criticized each other harshly or hurt each other unintentionally. They also had periods of estrangement or silence. For example, after Vincent cut off part of his ear in a fit of madness in 1888, Theo was shocked and angry at him. He wrote to him: “I cannot tell you how unhappy your letter made me; I read it with a feeling of horror.” (according to Wikipedia)
Despite their differences and difficulties, Theo and Vincent remained loyal and devoted to each other until the end. When Vincent shot himself in the chest on 27 July 1890, he did not die immediately. He was taken to a nearby inn, where he asked for Theo. Theo rushed to his side and stayed with him for two days until he died on 29 July 1890. Vincent’s last words to Theo were: “The sadness will last forever.” (according to Huckleberry Fine Art)
The Legacy of Theo and Vincent
Theo played a crucial role in the recognition and appreciation of Vincent’s work. During Vincent’s lifetime, he sold only one painting out of more than 800 that he produced. He was largely ignored or ridiculed by critics and the public. It was Theo who believed in his genius and tried to promote his art to dealers, collectors, and museums. He also preserved most of his paintings and drawings after his death.
Theo’s widow Johanna van Gogh-Bonger continued his mission after he died. She inherited his collection of Vincent’s artworks and dedicated herself to making them known to the world. She organized exhibitions, published catalogues, edited letters, wrote articles, and corresponded with scholars and admirers. She also reburied Theo’s remains next to Vincent’s in Auvers-sur-Oise in 1914.
Thanks to Theo’s and Johanna’s efforts, Vincent van Gogh became one of the most influential and celebrated artists of all time. His paintings are admired for their expressive colors, dynamic brushstrokes, and emotional intensity. His life story is also fascinating and inspiring for many people. He is seen as a symbol of artistic passion, perseverance, and vision.
Theo van Gogh’s cause of death may have been tragic and painful, but his life was meaningful and noble. He was not only a successful art dealer, but also a loving brother, husband, and father. He had a positive impact on the art world and on his brother’s legacy. He deserves to be remembered and honored as much as Vincent.