a. Hendrick Hamelstraat 8-22, location of Van Gogh’s studios at Schenkweg 136-138. 

b. The plaque next to the front door. 

c. Vincent van Gogh, Carpenter’s yard and laundry, 1882, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo.

d. With my back to the front door, this is the view. 


1. To clear up the chronology: I went to The Hague on September 29, 2020, when I had indeed just put the first five posts online. I’m writing this during the final days of October. 

2. Van Gogh Museum, “Vincent’s Life, 1853-1890”, Van Gogh 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 196. 

011. THE HAGUE | THE NETHERLANDS | 15/11/20 

The Hague

September is ending, and the virus has spread. In some places around the world, it’s never left. Here, in the Netherlands, for a while it seemed like it had, one long summer when we went to restaurants, met with family. Then it turned out it hadn’t left, not really, and by the time I’m ready to make this trip, The Hague is reporting an outbreak in coronavirus cases, and the government is about to announce new restrictions. So that puts paid to the summer, right on schedule. 

I’ve thought a lot about whether or not to go through with this, with this trip, this project even. Travelling to The Hague doesn’t seem wise at the moment. Travelling at all isn’t wise. Should I stop, then, just four days after this blog finally went online?1 But just the thought of it, though it might be the sensible thing to do... Too apt, with Van Gogh’s story in mind, to quit - even if temporarily - after only a few months of trying. Van Gogh was a master in new beginnings, but that also means he was great at ending things.

He quit his secondary school in Tilburg halfway through his second year. Became at sixteen a trainee at the international art dealer Goupil & Cie, started in the The Hague branch, was transferred to London,  was transferred to Paris, was dismissed. He returned to England, tried to start again as a teacher, a preacher, returned to the Netherlands and tried to be a bookseller. He was becoming increasingly religious, so he decided to study theology in Amsterdam. Tried for a year, but he couldn’t do it. Went to Belgium to work as a lay preacher in the Borinage, taught and visited the miners and their families. Put such dedication to the job that the people were put off by him, thought him overzealous. Van Gogh decided to become an artist, enrolled at the academy there, quit after three months, moved back to Etten for Easter, left at Christmas and went to The Hague.2 

He drew. He painted. He died. He made history. 

I want to be like Van Gogh. I don’t want to be like Van Gogh. Five years of writing, beginning new novels, finishing them, trying for representation, failing, succeeding, failing again, beginning this project, and then to quit? 

So after much deliberation, I decide to go to The Hague anyway. I’ll stay outside, and won’t go into shops, museums, though I would have liked to see the Panorama Mesdag, an enormous painting of Scheveningen which was revealed in 1881, and which Van Gogh went to see. In normal circumstances I also would have gone to the Mauritshuis, exhibiting works by Vermeer and Rembrandt. It’s likely that Van Gogh went there, too (though he never mentioned it in his letters), but I’d have simply liked to see the Girl with a Pearl Earring

I detect the beginnings of a theme on the way to The Hague, when for an hour and a half it just won’t stop raining, and the world beyond the windscreen wipers shrinks and blurs. It’s like my trip to Etten-Leur, that very first day, and when I got there it was like the bloody south of France and my shoulders got sunburnt. This morning is bleak beyond belief, so dark it could be evening, and then at the end of the two-hour drive a strip of the palest, wateriest blue appears, a sky of a Dutch old master. 

There’s hardly any traffic. The motorway ends and I drive to the central station in two minutes. The parking garage, too, looks much emptier than what I imagine is usual. A dark and hollow space that creeps me out a little, the way my footsteps sound unnaturally loud, the squeal of the sliding doors, the see-through stairs. And then, before I get too maudlin and see symbols where there aren’t any, I get outside and the sun is shining and the sky’s a sharp blue. I put my mask on, and my sunglasses, mismatched moods and imagery, and walk away from the station, follow the railway, check the map on my phone. There’s a man shooting hoops on his own, another man watching him, and then there’s the building, Hendrick Hamelstraat, numbers 8-22.

This is the site of Van Gogh’s two homes in The Hague. The street used to be called Schenkweg, and Van Gogh lived first at number 138, setting up a studio only a week after he left Etten, then moved next door to number 136 in the summer of 1882. The building’s disappeared - either due to bombardment in World War II or urban renewal, I’m not sure. In its place a new block of apartments, white front door, green woodwork, red brick. Washing hung out to dry on some of the balconies. A plaque on the wall, his face, the beard and bony forehead, sunflowers, brushes and a text that explains Van Gogh lived and worked here from 1882 to 1883. 

Van Gogh made a picture from the view of his window, Carpenter’s Yard and Laundry. I look around at the railway, the cars, the skyscrapers. The grass looks unnaturally green. So do the trees.

None of it looks anything like it did in the painting. About the interior of his studio, Van Gogh wrote to Theo:

A room and alcove, the light is bright enough, for the window is large (twice as large as an ordinary window), and it’s more or less facing south. I’ve bought furniture in true ‘village constable style’, as you call it, but I think that mine resembles it much more than yours, although it was you who coined the phrase. (I have real kitchen chairs, for example, and a really sturdy kitchen table.)3

Needless to say (but I’m going to anyway): nothing’s left of this either. 

Except the words. And the picture, of course. The work.

I want to be like Van Gogh. I don’t want to be anything like him. 

Comments? Questions? Do drop me a line: 
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© Viola van de Sandt, 2021.