A small side road in Stockwell is the unlikely spot for an artistic great, the home, for a while of Vincent Van Gogh.
Born in the Netherlands, Vincent was always interested in art as a child, but was never expected to be an artist. He trained though as an art dealer, and in 1873 he ended up in London, working for a relative who owned an art dealership. He was modestly successful as a dealer, and a lot of surviving letters clearly show that he loved living in London.
He took lodgings in a room in a house in Stockwell, which was also used as a small school and lived there for a couple of years. However, he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter who was already engaged and his scandalised parents packed him off to Paris.
Later he moved back to England for a short time, but never to the house he loved in Stockwell.
Then a mystery — there were no surviving letters with the address of the London house, and while later scholars knew he lived somewhere around here, the exact address was unknown. Until a drawing of the house was found in 1973, and along with descriptions of other areas, the address was pinned down to 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell.
That same year, the house gained a Blue Plaque, and as with so many blue plaque houses was now just a normal house lived in by the owner.
In recent years though the house decayed rather badly until the year of the London Olympics, when the house came up for sale and bordering on dereliction, it was purchased at auction by James Wang and Alice Childs.
The aim was to reopen the building but not quite a museum and not quite a private house, but an exciting new fusion of the two.
They spent a lot of time and money conserving the house, and restoring it to a style similar to that would have been familiar to Vincent when he lived here, but also ensuring that it has modern facilities. That means a much better bathroom (hot running water!), and a much larger back kitchen than the house would have had originally.
What’s been created is a house that can be visited, but also a home for artists to live in. And there aren’t going to be many artists who would not jump at the chance to spend time not just living in the house that Vincent lived in, but to sleep in his bedroom. To be surrounded by the atmosphere of an artistic master has to have an effect on any artist today.
The house is easy to spot with its blue plaque outside, and to go inside is to enter the past, as the ground floor entry is a narrow hall and a modest-sized ground floor that was once a school classroom. Today it’s the main museum space, with a number of objects on display from old news cuttings to original documents and loads of books.
Dotted around the house is the art created by the artists who have been invited to live in Van Gogh’s bedroom – from paintings hanging on walls to a colour decoration on the staircase. The displays will change regularly as different artists are invited to stay in the house.
Upstairs, two bedrooms, one once occupied by Vincent and probably the smaller by his sister, and now the rooms used by the artists in residence.
The owners of the house don’t live here, they spent a substantial sum buying the house and restoring it so that it can be opened to the public. It’s a gift to the artistic community of London.
They opened the house just before the pandemic closed it, and reopened a few weeks ago.
If you want to see a house that’s deeply enriched by the life of an artist that lived there for decades, then this is not that house as Vincent wasn’t an artist at the time he lived here, but if you want to visit a sensitively restored house that’s also now an exhibition art gallery and the only London link with the man, then the house is perfect.
The Van Gogh House is a short walk from Stockwell tube station, and you really should approach the house via Van Gogh Walk.