Van Gogh, VincentSorrow

Pencil, pen and ink drawing by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

The thirty-two year old pregnant woman depicted here is Clasina Maria Hoornik, familiarly known as ‘Sien’.
Sien, born 22 February 1850, was the eldest of eleven children brought up in Geest, a then very poor district of The Hague. She became a seamstress, supplementing her income with prostitution. She was coarse, smoked cigars and was addicted to alcohol.
In January 1882 Van Gogh met Sien wandering the streets of The Hague with her five year old daughter Maria Wilhelmina. She was destitute and pregnant. Out of pity and what he felt his duty, he cared for her and she became his model. She never had any real feelings for Van Gogh, seeing their partnership as a convenient way out of her difficult situation.
In July 1882 Sien gave birth to a son, Willem, after which they moved into an apartment with a studio. Van Gogh was happy with arrangement, however by 1883 Sien had started drinking again and returned to prostitution. Their relationship gradually deteriorated and Van Gogh found it increasingly difficult to look after them, and left in order to concentrate on his career.
Sien’s life did not improve. In 1901 she married Arnoldus Franciscus Wijk, not for love but to legitimise her children. By 1904 life had become so intolerable for her that she drowned herslf in the Schelde River.