"Van Gogh and Jo" comes to Fairfield University

"Van Gogh and Jo" comes to Fairfield University

"Van Gogh and Jo," a one-woman show considering the relationship between Vincent van Gogh and his sister-in-law, Johanna, the woman many credit with revealing the master artist to the world, comes to the Thomas A. Walsh Art Gallery at Fairfield University on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 6 p.m. The gallery is located in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

The 50-minute performance draws on some of the most eloquent letters shared between van Gogh, his brother and best friend, Theo, and his sister-in-law. It features reproductions of paintings related to the story and is followed by a Q&A session.

Norwalk actress/writer Muriel Nussbaum said she conceived the performance because she wanted more people to understand Johanna van Gogh's crucial role in the artist's life and legacy. Most art lovers know van Gogh had a close relationship with his brother, Theo, but few even know Theo's wife existed.

"Discovering Johanna has been a fascinating research project," said Nussbaum, who traveled to Amsterdam to study her subjects. "Very few people know about her."

Born Johanna Bonger in 1862, Johanna was a good student and spent time as an English teacher in girls schools. In 1889, she married Theo van Gogh, a friend of her brother's. The marriage was tragically short: Theo died just six months after his brother's suicide in 1890, leaving Johanna with a young son.

Johanna had little money and took in boarders to pay for the necessities. But she did have Vincent's paintings and an unwavering belief in their worth. When she wasn't doing housework and caring for her son, the young widow spent most of her time convincing other artists and gallery owners to view and exhibit van Gogh's works. By 1892, her diary entries show she was succeeding in her mission.

"Tomorrow night there is... the exhibition of Vincent's drawings - I have great expectations of it - it is a feeling of indescribable triumph - when I think that it has come at last - the appreciation - the thinking it beautiful," she wrote. "I must go there to hear what people say, what attitude they will assume - those who used to laugh at Vincent and poke fun at him."

Later in her life, Johanna took on the arduous task of cataloging and translating van Gogh's famous letters, many of which bore no date. At the time of her death in 1925, she had translated 526 into English.

A member of the Theatre Artists' Workshop, Nussbaum enjoys bringing historical figures to life. She toured the United States in two original one-woman shows, one as 19th-century journalist Nellie Bly, and the other as Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah. She performed each at the Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Nussbaum has also played leading roles and directed plays in regional theaters in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana and was artistic director of the Maxwell Anderson Playwrights Series in Greenwich.

Nussbaum's performances have captivated audience members, who often write to her after the show.

"Muriel Nussbaum has that uncanny ability to personally connect with each and every person in the audience, drawing them into her confidence and making them a part of her marvelously theatrical world," wrote one fan.

Tickets are $5. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396. For more information, visit www.quickcenter.com.

Posted On: 09-21-2005 10:09 AM

Volume: 38 Number: 37