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221 Rue Wilson in Colfontaine
"I rented a small house in which I would really like to live absolutely alone but, for the moment, since Pa thought it preferable, and I did as well, that I stay with Denis, I only use it as a studio and as a place of work."
(Vincent Van Gogh, writing to his brother Théo, letter dated 4 March 1879)
It was in March 1879 that Vincent Van Gogh first refers to the house at 81 Rue du Petit Wasmes, which today is Rue Wilson in Colfontaine. Upon his arrival in the Borinage area (Mons is located in the east of this area) a few months earlier, in December 1878, the evangelist Benjamin Vanderhaegen quickly found this house for him. The house belonged to a baker by the name of Jean-Baptiste Denis and was to play an extremely significant role in the artist's career.
It was there that he experienced his "companionship" with miners. He made coal-mining the subject of his first attempts at sketches. It was also in his house that he wrote letters to his brother that were to, like his reading, orientate his life towards an extraordinary artistic destiny. These precious things which allow us to piece together the character of Van Gogh and which are part of history, in conjunction with the fact that the places referred to are still in existence, serve to add to our duty to preserve the house which belonged to Denis, which remains one of the few things that bear witness to the presence of Van Gogh in the Borinage area, and in particular at Wasmes (a former village which is now part of Colfontaine).
Just one year ago, only the façade of the house was in its original condition. The rest of the house necessitated meticulous reconstruction work which is made possible by existing visual source material.
"Nearby the large, gloomy buildings of the Marcasse mine stood alone, isolated in the open field, that night conjuring up the huge bulk of Noah's ark as it must have looked in the terrible pouring rain and the darkness of the Flood, illuminated by a flash of lightning."
(Vincent Van Gogh, writing to his brother Théo, letter dated 19 June 1879)
In general, what remains for us today of Van Gogh, apart of course from his oeuvre, are traces of his career in the form of buildings – the house where he was born in Groot Zundert, the vicarage in Nuenen, the house in Cuesmes, the hospital in Saint-Rémy and the inn at Auvers-sur-Oise. The "Van Gogh Europe" non-profit organisation was set up on 2 February 2012 and its aim is to virtually link the places where the artist lived.
The house at Colfontaine has now just completed this "pilgrimage way". Because, for admirers of Van Gogh, the fact that the artist cites the house which was owned by Denis in his correspondence and at it wrote some of the most significant letters that he wrote in his life, authenticates the unique and irreplaceable character of it and only serves to increase the attractive force of the place for art enthusiasts. The former "Van Gogh residences" thus contribute to the brand image of, and, on a wider scale, to the standing the towns in question and generate a significant amount of visitors every year.
The house will be open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. On weekdays if a booking has been made and for groups only – but not on Mondays and on Wednesday afternoons.
You can also get to the Van Gogh house in Colfontaine with the Pass Van Gogh, that you can buy at visitMons or directly on this website, or via the Mons Card.
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