Maybe I identified with Theo van Gogh more than I knew. Theo fueled his younger brother Vincent's dreams with cash, moral support and encouragement for years. His only pay-off would have been to see Vincent's eventual success, but it was not to be. Theo himself died a mere 6 months after Vincent committed suicide, a fact I became aware of as I stood in front of a wall-sized image of their side-by-side graves in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last year. There, I myself was side-by-side with my younger sibling, fueling the first of her many travel dreams.
And it was with this first excursion abroad with my sister that my inadvertent appreciation for van Gogh began. Oddly enough, we'd read a book of letters between the brothers van Gogh years ago and joked that I was Theo to my sister's Vincent. I was the one with the risk-free job that paid more than the bills, while she was the one chasing her dreams with her abilities, at the cost of financial independence. At one time, such a trip might have been impossible for her, but her desire to see Dutch art, and van Goghs in particular, coupled with my penchant for travel for what would become our first and second art-packed trips to Europe.
And the things I have done to see van Gogh's art. They go above and beyond just crossing the pond in a Boeing. I've been to Auvers-sur-Oise (via two trains) and walked miles in a blanket of rain and dreary grayness as we followed a trail of paintings on a map and matched them to their real life landscapes. I've taken two trains to a bus to a 20 minute walk to a 10 minute bike ride to a museum in the middle of Dutch no where to see the largest collection of Van Gogh's work anywhere. Yes, it has even more than the museums in the center of Amsterdam proper.
I've stood at the graveside of Vincent and Theo a year after seeing that same wall-sized image in Amsterdam. On that overcast and damp April morning, I noted solemnly that their graves were much more ordinary than that image. They themselves were resting among the common folk of Auvers rather than the rock stars, poets, artists and writers in Pere Lachaise or Montmartre. That man to their left could very well have been a cook, a gardener or a normal joe. The woman on the right a nurse or a maid. In death they all became equals, the difference being the mass of ivy over the van Gogh plot and the random paintbrush or solitary flower laid on Vincent's side in his honor.
I wish now I'd left something for Theo. Because after 34 years of being an older sibling, the "responsible one" encouraging the dreams of the younger, I believe credit is due for him as well. Unfortunate as it is that neither lived to enjoy the many fruits of Vincent's success and Theo's many sacrifices, I've been blessed to see many, many more van Goghs than the average non-fan. From New York to Paris to Amsterdam and Vienna, this is one of the many benefits of believing in my sister's dream.