a. Start of the walk, the treeline, the sky.

b. A greenhouse in the distance. 

c. d. e. The Pagnevaart pond, probably, now dry and overgrown. 

f. Former station, built in 1855. The last passenger train stopped here in 1938. 


1. Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker (eds.) (2009), Vincent van Gogh - The Letters. Version: January 2020. Amsterdam & The Hague: Van Gogh Museum & Huygens ING. Letter 168.

2. Vincent van Gogh, View of a wood, Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum. 

3. Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, Nienke Bakker (eds.) (2009), Vincent van Gogh - The Letters. Version: January 2020. Amsterdam & The Hague: Van Gogh Museum & Huygens ING. Letter 246.

4. My next stop, after Etten-Leur. 

5. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh, The Life, London: Profile Books, 2011-2012, pp. 38-43. 


Seppe & Pagnevaart

All right, so I’m confused right now. 

Well, I’m confused about a lot of things, adulthood and covid, the third position on my violin, some parts of family history, but regarding this project, this blog, I’m confused about where Van Gogh actually drew his Marsh with water lilies

I wrote earlier that he’d drawn this beautiful picture in nature reserve De Oude Leemput. I’d based that on the map I’d been given at the tourist office, which stated this. I’d checked in the letters, in which Van Gogh writes: ‘I made a pen drawing of another spot in the marsh where many water lilies grow. (Near Roosendaalseweg.)’1 I’d checked the map, and yes, De Oude Leemput was very near the Roosendaalseweg. 

But earlier in the letter, he mentions the heath at Seppe, and the Passievaart (he means the Pagnevaart), which he describes as ‘a huge marsh’. At this point, I’m sure the source of my confusion is obvious to you. 

Does it matter much? I’m sure it does to the actual experts, or the people living in or near Etten-Leur - those who, if they ever were to take a glance at this blog, would perhaps be unable to hold back a dispairing groan. But to the rest of us? And does it matter to me? 

Let me get back to you on that one. I’m still getting into the swing of this thing, not sure what I’m trying to find on days like this, my second trip. Am I actually trying to find pieces of Van Gogh’s life by taking a walk through the woods of Seppe (now called Bosschenhoofd) and the Passievaart? Or is the walk more like a process that allows me to think about his life, his creative life, think about what I can learn from it? 

In any case, Van Gogh went all over the countryside here to draw. So I drive to Bosschenhoofd, park the car at the Golden Tulip hotel, drink a cup of coffee outside, September morning sunshine, warm but more benign than last time, listen to the chatter of a clique of superior businessmen with superior egos. Beginning of autumn. I keep my coat on. 

Bosschenhoofd was mostly heath in Van Gogh’s days, and now it’s a small village. More things lost to time. But I’ve found another map online, one not directly related to Van Gogh but one that would take me both through Bosschenhoofd and the Pagnevaart park. 

The walk starts at the edge of two fields, a dirt track in between, a treeline which reminds me of the drawing he supposedly made in the Liesbos, where I’ll go this afternoon.2 Two cows lying down in old bottle banks, recycling for the win. The sky’s suddenly turned overcast, but now and then the sun comes through, emphasising the vivid greenness of the grass. Van Gogh would have described it much more strikingly, I’m sure. His letters, most of them to Theo, reveal the artist in him. The way he describes landscapes, their shapes and colours and what they mean to him, how he often utilises these descriptions to reinforce the message he’s trying to convey, the arguments he’s making. Even in his descriptions of paintings, his language is lyrical: 

And a landscape by Courbet: yellow hilly, sandy ground, with fresh young grass growing here and there, with black brushwood fences against which a few white birch trunks stand out, grey buildings in the distance with red and blue slate roofs. And a narrow, small, light delicate grey band of sky above. The horizon very high, however, so that the ground is the main thing, and the delicate little band of sky really serves more as contrast to bring out the rough texture of the masses of dark earth.3 

He wrote this relatively early in his career, when he lived in The Hague.4 Descriptions of the landscape in the south of France are gorgeous, too, perhaps even more so, but I’ll go there a little later in this project.

The trail I’m following skirts the edge of the forest, which is cordoned off by a wire fence. On the other side, there’s a campsite, camper vans scattered here and there, dashes of white between the trees. I’m startled by the sound of a galloping horse rushing towards me from behind, but as I turn round I see it’s only a large dog, its owner trotting to keep up.  

Can I see Van Gogh walking here? At the moment, all I see is a narrow strip of trees, mobile homes, stalks of maize metres high, half of a discarded pingpong table, a small greenhouse, a shed in the distance. The path leads away from the fence into the forest proper, mostly deciduous, some pine trees added in. 

The Pagnevaart pond is dry regularly, my map says, and if I’ve come to the right place it’s indeed been dry for a while. A shallow kind of gulley, completely overgrown now. Is this where he drew Marsh with water lilies? In any case, there’s something ethereal about this spot, how, after the closeness of the forest, I can suddenly see into the distance. It’s a bit ghostly, too, a green river. A remnant of the past, but changed irrevocably. 

A length of blue string dangling from one of the trees makes me look up. Two stripes, green and yellow, painted on its bark, a code I can’t read. Did Van Gogh ever look up like this? He must have, of course, but I don’t think he ever painted or drew just the tops of trees - except of course in the case of the famous almond blossoms, made as a gift for his newborn nephew. Van Gogh more often cast his eye downwards, not just in his artistic work, focusing on the undergrowth, the bench at his feet, but also as a child, in the town of Zundert, where he’d been born: 

He peered deeply into the fleeting vignettes of life on the heath: the blooming of a wildflower, the laboring of an insect, the nesting of a bird. His days were spent ‘watching and studying the life of the underbrush,’ sister Lies recalled. (...) he began collecting and categorizing the wildflowers that grew along the creekbank and in the meadows. He used his knowledge of the fugitive birds to start a collection of their eggs.5 

Again, the two pictures of the same view, one by Van Gogh and the other by Van Rappard, come to mind: Van Gogh’s focus on the swamp itself, Van Rappard’s on the town in the distance. 

The path slopes down and again there’s some kind of gulley, again completely overgrown, again offering a view into the distance. A small plane rumbles overhead, wind brushes the leaves, but softly. I spend a few minutes here, then move on. 

The rest of the walk takes me through fields, past the tiny airport of Breda, across the railway and past the former station, built in 1855, now a small restaurant. I like the old gray door in the side of the building leading right onto the tracks. It’s clearly no longer in use, and though I’m sure it’s not original, it at least looks like a door Van Gogh could have walked through. 

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© Viola van de Sandt, 2021.