a. a. 

a. The Etten-Leur tourist office, former home to the carpenter who’d made Van Gogh’s portable folding chair.

b. The map Van Gogh and his brother Cor drew of Etten and environs, a blown-up version of which is attached to a back wall of the tourist office. Please follow the link in note 3. to letter 145 and click on ‘facsimile’ for a wonderful, much more professional, version in HD. 

c. Front cover of the map I used while trawling through Etten-Leur.

d. And its back cover, for the (probably unnecessary) sake of completeness.  


1. Van Gogh decided to pursue a career as an artist back in the Borinage the year before, and spent some time in Brussels before moving to Etten.

2. Stichting Vincent van Gogh  Etten-Leur, De Ettense Mijl, Vincent van Gogh, Stadswandeling Etten-Leur.

3. Vincent and Cor van Gogh, Map of Etten and environs, sketch with letter 145, in: Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker (eds.) (2009), Vincent van Gogh - The Letters. Version: January 2020. Amsterdam & The Hague: Van Gogh Museum & Huygens ING.

4. Now Etten-Leur, as the two villages have grown into one another during the past century.

5. J.A. Rozemeyer, Van Gogh in Etten, Stichting Vincent van Gogh Etten-Leur, 1990, p. 26.

The ‘Etten Mile’

I start in the tourist office, a graceful little building squashed right against the side of the church. I’ve done my research, have made a list of spots I want to visit, but there’s bound to be a map or something of the sort available, listing all known Van Gogh locations. Best trust the locals, right?

She’s friendly, the woman behind the till. I’ve forgotten to take a basket - compulsory in almost every shop, now, while ye olde plague is raging - but she forgives me with an easy smile. I look around. Glass cabinets with rings and bracelets, dolls, scarves, almond blossoms printed on too many surfaces: the bottomless commercial opportunity that is anything Van Gogh.

But books, too, a few, and when she sees me browsing these, instead of the assorted kitsch (a few items of which I am shamefully tempted by), she warns me of her husband. He’s a volunteer in the church next door, where I’ve booked a ticket later in the afternoon. He’s doing the tours, she says, and whenever he realises a visitor is even just vaguely interested in Van Gogh, he’ll prattle on for hours.

Sounds good, I think. Any help, I’ll accept; I’m feeling increasingly intimidated by this project, the scope of which seems to grow ever larger now that I’ve got down to it. The lady hands me the kind of map I was looking for, a walking route I’m awkwardly translating as the ‘Etten Mile’. The back cover wishes me ‘welcome to the place where Vincent started his career’, which isn’t true exactly, as I discussed, but never mind.1 I’m not writing a biography.

The map informs me that this little building which today houses the tourist office was, during Van Gogh’s time, home to the church organist, Johan Daniël Claas, who died in 1906. His successor, Sander de Graaf, was a local carpenter, and he’d made the folding chair Van Gogh took with him when he went to the surrounding countryside to draw.2 It’s a nice idea, I think as I step outside, squint against the bright sunlight: small town, stories of people connected to Van Gogh scattered throughout.

There’s a map Van Gogh drew with his younger brother Cor back in 1878, supporting this idea. Names are scribbled on it, a tight cursive: ‘Kees van Eekelen’, ‘Jan Kerst’, ‘Willem de Bakker’.3 These are the members of the Protestant community of Etten, people whom Vincent must have visited while accompanying his vicar father on his rounds. Etten, and the neighbouring town Leur4, around that time had a population of about 5700. Most inhabitants were Catholic, only 158 were Protestant.5

Etten was a small town, then, and Van Gogh would have of course walked around, so traces of his life here should not be rare. But before I came here today, I read somewhere that Etten’s changed a lot over the years, and that most of the spots as they were then have disappeared. I check the map to see where this Etten Mile would have me go next, and the first stop corroborates my research: ‘Location of the vicarage’.

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© Viola van de Sandt, 2021.