Utterly convinced of his messianic vocation and further influenced by his readings, van Gogh found what he sensed would be the ideal place for his mission of evangelization: the Borinage.

First, He arrived in Pâturages in December 1878. A few weeks later he decided to settle in Wasmes where he was appointed as a preacher for a 6-month trial period in February 1879. After his employment was terminated - mainly because of his poor rhetorical skills - van Gogh decided to settle in Cuesmes in August 1879, to volunteer as a preacher.
He was first housed by an evangelist teacher named Edouard Joseph Francq, 5 Rue du Pavillon. 7 Months later he moved in with the family of the foreman of the coalmines, Charles Decrucq, 3 rue du pavillon, in the house now known as the “maison van Gogh”. There, he rented a room until October 1880.
His contract not being renewed by the Flemish college of evangelists in Brussels was perceived by his family as yet another failure. Worried for his future, they advised him to seek another vocation. Deeply hurt by the remark, van gogh ceased all correspondence with them for nearly a year. During this period, he faced a deep identity crisis as he didn’t know what to make of his life or how to regain his family’s trust. 

The lack of correspondence over this period makes it difficult to know exactly how he spent his time. However drawing seems to have taken up the greater part of his days. His subjects of inspiration were the people around him – including the Decrucq family – or the surroundings, as can be seen in one of the few drawings remaining from that time: l’usine de coke, la Gagane à Flénu, dated summer 1879.

In June 1880, van Gogh reluctantly resumed his correspondence with his brother Theo to thank him for his financial support, tell him about the impasse he was in, and ask him how he could make himself useful. In a letter dated August 1880, Van gogh wrote about his intention to become an artist. At that time, he practiced drawing relentlessly to aquire the skills of the trade, aided in this endeavour by Armand-Theophile Cassagne’s “Guide de l’alphabet du dessin” (the ABC of drawing), which he studied assiduously. His brother Theo encouraged him to persevere in this way and regularly sent him copies of engravings and works from artists he admired, such as Jean-François Millet, or painters’ handbooks, such as Charles Barques’s exercices au fusain (charcoal drawing exercises) and cours de dessin (drawing courses).

Very soon, the room van Gogh was renting from the Decrucqs started to feel a bit cramped. He therefore left the Borinage for Brussels in November 1880 in order to surround himself with other artists and to pursue his artistic training, in the hope of correcting his technical deficiencies.

The Borinage is not only the place where van Gogh the artist was born, but also where he deepened his artistic thoughts.