National Geographic : 1997 Oct
KROLLER-MULLER MUSEUM.OTTERLO.THENETHERLANDS irN ~ - : THE BEARERS OF THE BURDEN, EARLY 1881 BORINAGE Back broken by a coal tunnel cave-in 45 years ago, GiovanniRusso (left) rests in his bed room in the Borinage region of Belgium. He fingers a photographof his wife, who prayed to St. Anthony to bring him home safely from the mines. After aban doning religiousstudies, van Gogh moved to this bleak area on the French border to work as an evan gelist among the poor, giving away most of his clothes and spending his nights nursing miners burned in underground explosions. His neighbors called him mad or a saint.His church superiorsdismissed him for lack of eloquence. At 26, jobless, he decided to be come an artist,copying drawings andprints. In one of his early works (above), women bend under sacks of coal as they pass a shrine containing a crucifix. Van Gogh believed the miners' laborand lowly status brought them close to Christ, who bore the sins of a world that despised him. Van Gogh saw his work as an artist in a similarlight. "I consciously choose the dog'spath through life," he wrote to Theo. "I shall be poor; I shall be a painter;I want to remain human."