Jo, in the meantime, continued to consider that the letters to Theo — during which Vincent got here by means of as a romantic determine, a tragic determine — would open up his soul to America and past. Having the letters revealed in English was her final nice goal.
It proved to be a race in opposition to time. Her well being was failing — she had Parkinson’s illness — and the writer she had contracted with, Alfred Knopf, wished to provide solely an abridged version, to which she wouldn’t agree. She returned to Europe and lived her final years in a spacious condo on Amsterdam’s stately Koninginneweg and in a rustic home in Laren. Her son, Vincent, and his spouse, Josina, moved near her, and Jo discovered happiness within the hour she spent every day along with her grandchildren. In any other case, she stored remarkably fixated on her life’s mission: delivery canvases to at least one exhibition after one other, wrangling with the writer, all of the whereas dealing with the ache and different signs of her sickness.
If something, her obsession appears to have grown as she neared the top of her life. She bought right into a friendship-ending argument over a modest sum of money with Paul Cassirer, a German seller who had labored intently along with her to advertise van Gogh. When a romanticized novel concerning the van Gogh brothers appeared in German in 1921, she discovered the factual liberties it took deeply upsetting. Requests for work for attainable exhibitions stored coming at a livid tempo — Paris, Frankfurt, London, Cleveland, Detroit — and she or he remained intently concerned, till she not may. She died in 1925 at age 63.
The primary English-language version of the letters, by Constable & Firm in London and Houghton Mifflin in the US, appeared two years later, in 1927. It contained an introduction by Jo, during which she furthered the parable of the struggling artist and highlighted her husband’s position as nicely: “It was all the time Theo alone who understood him and supported him.” Seven years later, Irving Stone revealed his best-selling novel “Lust for Life,” based mostly closely on the letters, concerning the relationship between the van Gogh brothers. It in flip grew to become the supply materials for the 1956 film starring Kirk Douglas. By then, the parable was ingrained. No much less a determine than Pablo Picasso referred to van Gogh’s life — “primarily solitary and tragic” — as “the archetype of our occasions.”
There was one different homage Jo paid to her brother-in-law and her husband, probably essentially the most outstanding of all. Late in her life, whereas she was translating the letters into English, she organized to have Theo’s stays disinterred from the Dutch cemetery the place he had been laid to relaxation and reburied in Auvers-sur-Oise, subsequent to Vincent. As with the Amsterdam exhibition, she undertook the operation like a common, overseeing each element, right down to commissioning matching gravestones. Hans Luijten advised me he discovered it a hanging manifestation of her single-minded devotion. “She wished to have them aspect by aspect endlessly,” Luijten stated.
A spouse’s digging up her husband’s stays is such a startling picture it yanks one again to the central query of Jo’s life: her motivation. Why, lastly, did she fasten herself to this trigger and carry it throughout the size of her life? Definitely her perception in Vincent’s genius and her want to honor Theo’s needs have been robust. And Luijten famous to me that in selling van Gogh’s artwork, she believed she was additionally furthering her socialistic political opinions.
However folks act from smaller, less complicated motivations as nicely. Jo’s 21 months with Theo have been essentially the most intense of her life. She skilled Paris, pleasure, a revolution in coloration and tradition. With Theo’s assist she vaulted out of her cautious, standard world and gave herself over to ardour. Shifting as we speak by means of the museum that homes all of the work Jo couldn’t bear to half with, one other notion surfaces: that, in devoting herself totally to Vincent van Gogh, in promoting him to the world, she was protecting alive that second of her youth, and permitting the remainder of us to really feel it.