Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853 at Groot Zundert, a little village in the Dutch province of Brabant, not far from the border between Holland and Belgium. More than three hundred years before, Brueghel, the first in time of the great Dutch masters, had seen the light near that same frontier, and so the earliest name and the latest in the story of their noble art both attach to the same narrow strip of territory. Both painters travelled far, to lands that led their own in the art-achievement of their day; both belong essentially to their own soil.
The van Gogh family had, for centuries, given men of note to Holland, especially as clergymen and in commerce; in the nineteenth century several members of the family were art dealers. The father of the painter was the pastor of Zundert, himself the son of a highly respected preacher. Three uncles of the painter-his father's brothers, were successful in the art business, one of them being a partner in the great Paris firm of Goupil, which had a branch in Holland, as it later had in America.
Naturally enough, when Vincent and then his brother Theo, four years younger, wanted to go into commercial life, they entered the employ of the Goupil house at the Hague, where they were made familiar with the painting of many Dutch and French artists of their time. The firm was typical of the more conventional aspects of the period and offered a "solid" and saleable type of picture to its international clientele. So that van Gogh's earlier association with art, fostered by the deep respect he had for his family and its business, gave no hint of the rôle of "modernist" that was to fall to him later on. Instead we find him talking with blissful seriousness of men whom the world has entirely forgotten today and whom one cannot imagine as ever enjoying a revival of interest. With them, in his mind, though already on a far higher plane, were the greater moderns who had achieved success, men like Corot and Millet, and then the old masters he knew from the museums of his native land as, later, from the great galleries of Paris and London, when he came to reside in those cities.