Vincent van Gogh began working for The Hague’s branch of Goupil & Cie on July 30, 1869 as a junior apprentice, working under the management of H.G. Tersteeg. Goupil & Cie was an international print publishing firm and art dealer which also exhibited contemporary art. It was a dominant force in the French art market of the 19th century. The firm was founded by Henry Rittner in 1829, as Rittner & Co., Goupil’s name was added in 1831 when the gallery became Rittner & Goupil. It was later named Goupil & Vibert in 1841, and then finally Goupil & Cie in 1846.
The internationally renowned gallery began in Paris and gradually opened branches in London, Brussels, The Hague, Berlin, Vienna, New York and Australia. The Hague location was opened thanks to the influence of Vincent van Gogh’s uncle Cent who was also an art dealer. Cent had created a name for himself as a successful art dealer and he realized that he would soon be in competition with Adolphe Goupil or be in partnership with him. In February 1861, the men met in the Paris headquarters and formed a partnership. By the end of the year, Goupil & Cie opened in The Hague. Cent put his brother Hein in the management position and moved with his wife to Paris.
Vincent had three uncles who were art dealers, Kendrick van Gogh, Cornelis van Gogh (Uncle Cor), and Vincent (Uncle Cent). Vincent’s younger brother, Theo became an art dealer for Goupil’s Brussels branch in 1873 and by 1880 he was the director for the Paris branch. When Theo started his job Vincent wrote to him excitedly saying,
“I am very happy that you work in the same firm. It is such a splendid house; the more one works there, the more ambition it gives you.”
Vincent van Gogh was relatively successful as an art dealer and stayed with the company for a number of years. In 1873, Van Gogh transferred to the London branch of Goupil & Cie where he was exposed to the culture and art of England. However, the London branch was only a warehouse with no showroom and Van Gogh’s relationship with those he worked with became strained. In May 1875, he transferred to the Paris branch. Unfortunately the move didn’t improve Van Gogh’s outlook on his life or work, he no longer found being an art dealer appealing and he engrossed himself in Bible reading. In late March of 1876, Van Gogh left Goupil’s, or perhaps was laid off.
In a letter to a Reverend in June of 1876, Van Gogh explained his work history:
“My father is a clergyman in a village in Holland. I went to school when I was 11, staying on until I was 16. I then had to choose a profession and did not know which to choose. Through the kind offices of one of my uncles, a partner in the firm of Goupil & Cie, art dealers and publishers of engravings, I obtained a position in his business in The Hague. I was employed in this business for 3 years. From there I went to London to learn English and, after 2 years, moved on to Paris. Various circumstances have, however, compelled me to leave Messrs. G. & Cie., and for the past two months I have been teaching at Mr. Stokes’s school in Ramsgate. But since my aim is a position in connection with the church, I must look elsewhere.”
Working at Goupil exposed Van Gogh to a number of different artists and allowed him to learn a great deal about art. After leaving Goupil, Van Gogh went on to pursue a career in the clergy and then reluctantly decided to become a painter. To learn more about Van Gogh’s life view his biography.