The true story of how this captivated my pen and heart. Jo used determination and compassion to save Vincent van Gogh’s paintings.
A Girlfriend Trip...
It was on a girlfriend trip to Amsterdam—a four-day/no-sleep dash across the Atlantic and back—that I first heard about Jo van Gogh Bonger.
My girlfriends and I were all ambitious work junkies. This trip would force us to break from jobs and kids and we were making the most of it: windmills (of course), the tulip market, a trip into Belgium for chocolate, a sobering Anne Frank tour, a boat ride of Amsterdam’s canals. Plus, a visit to the Van Gogh Museum.
As it would turn out, a life-changing visit.
It was after two absorbing hours touring Vincent’s life and works, that I read a brief caption about Jo and how she had saved her brother-in-law--Vincent’s--paintings. She was married to Theo, Vincent’s brother. When Theo died six months after Vincent’s suicide, Jo inherited all of Vincent’s artwork. Some 900 paintings and drawings.
But the inheritance was nearly worthless - Vincent was barely known in 1891. Because of this, for fifteen years Jo labored to promote Vincent’s work, ultimately saving it from oblivion.
Standing in that Van Gogh Museum, staring at a postage-stamp size photo of Jo I wondered, why did she do it? What passion drove her?
Like a fishhook, this moment barbed my thought.
A few years later, when I decided to un-retire, it was time to tell her story.
So, I’ve been writing and researching and imagining an historical fiction novel about Jo. My book is inspired by her true story. I’ve gathered up bits about early 20th century life, traveled to the homes she once lived in, and poured through the same letters Jo read.
It’s a story of courage and despair, betrayal, and hope. It takes place both in the 20th century glamor of Paris and low country towns in the Netherlands. Along the way, Jo confronts headwinds of arrogance and ignorance. Her courage and sacrifice save one of the world’s greatest artists from being lost forever.
Jo’s story is not widely known. It’s her time now.
...Inspires the book
In the Van Gogh Museum with kickass girlfriends in 2016. Little did I know the visit would spark my book.
Writing on the sofa in daylight beats my dark basement office any day!