Olivia Weinberg in More Intelligent Life:
Mons is a city steeped in history. Located in the east of the Borinage, an area in the Walloon province of Hainaut in Belgium, it was a military camp for the Romans, a thriving hub during the Industrial Revolution and the site of the first major battle fought by the British and the Germans in 1914. Now, 101 years later, it is back in the firing line—as the European Capital of Culture. Mons won the title on its own merits, and then someone realised that 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the death of Vincent van Gogh. So he kicks off the programme for the year—but don’t expect an explosive blockbuster. “Van Gogh in the Borinage” homes in on the roots of his art, tracing the back-story behind the narrative we know. In 1878, aged 25, Van Gogh moved to Cuesmes, a coal-mining village in the Borinage blackened by a blanket of soot and a smoky haze. He was an evangelical preacher, desperate to become a respected clergyman, but he struggled to connect with the world around him and empathised instead with peasants and miners, some of whom he befriended and began to draw.
To train himself, he copied two artists whose style and subject he admired, Jules Breton and Jean-François Millet. “The Diggers” (above) and “The Sower”, both after Millet, show early signs of raw talent and deep emotional intelligence. Throughout his career, Van Gogh would return to simple, rustic scenes and the daily lives of working people, only with thicker impasto and brighter, more intense colour.