A Vancouver man believes he may be a direct descendant of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, artist Van Willem Romeijn, 49, maintained that van Gogh had an illegitimate son named Willem in 1882. Romeijn contends that Willem is his great-grandfather, which would make van Gogh his great-great-grandfather.
“When I saw Vincent’s picture for the very first time, it was like a heart attack—because it was like looking at myself in a book,” Romeijn said.
Van Gogh is widely thought to have never had children, though a popular book published in the late 1970s hinted otherwise. Romeijn said that he has sent dozens of e-mails to the van Gogh–family–created Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, asking for an opportunity to have his DNA compared with that of the artist’s known relatives. (His brother Theo van Gogh had a son, who founded the museum, and his descendants are alive today.)
“I believe there is a strong possibility that I’m a descendant of Vincent, and I would like to present myself [to the museum],” Romeijn said.
He added that he is willing to sign a legal document waiving any financial claims to van Gogh’s estate. Like van Gogh, Romeijn said he is a self-taught painter. His paintings are available on-line at www.vancouvervangogh.ca/. The Van Gogh Museum did not reply to a message from the Straight by deadline.
Scottish journalist Kenneth Wilkie’s book The Van Gogh Assignment (Paddington Press, 1978) suggests that van Gogh could have been the father of Willem, who was born to a prostitute named Clasina Maria Hoornik. Wilkie writes in the book that van Gogh was attracted to Hoornik, also known as Sien, “because she could satisfy his sensual needs”. The artist lived with her in the early 1880s.
The book notes that while van Gogh was in hospital being treated for gonorrhea, Hoornik gave birth to Willem, on July 2, 1882. Citing one of van Gogh’s letters, Wilkie reports that as soon as the artist was released from hospital, he visited Hoornik and the baby and was overcome with emotion. In subsequent letters, Wilkie notes, van Gogh pleaded with his brother Theo, who was his financial backer, for permission to marry Hoornik.
Van Gogh eventually left Hoornik, according to an art historian quoted in The Van Gogh Assignment. And she turned the baby over to her brother, Pieter Anthonie Hoornik.
Wilkie’s book cites evidence that baby Willem adopted the surname van Wijk after his mother married a sailor by that name. Wilkie declined the Straight’s request for an interview.
Romeijn’s father, Willem Romeijn, moved to New Brunswick from Holland in the late 1950s. Romeijn said that his father died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in a garage a few months after he was born, and that the death was ruled “accidental”.
So what’s the connection to van Gogh? Romeijn claimed that his father was the son of Pieter Romeijn, who was born out of wedlock in 1900. Romeijn said he believes there is a strong possibility that Pieter was the illegitimate son of Willem, who himself might have been the illegitimate son of van Gogh.
Romeijn noted that his great-grandfather Pieter shared the same first name as Willem van Wijk’s uncle Pieter Anthonie Hoornik, who raised him. “The only father Willem knew was Pieter—Pieter Hoornik,” Romeijn said.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.