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Van Gogh DNA

Dutch regional newspapers had a scoop today (24 December 2022): research has solved the mystery whether Vincent van Gogh was the father of the child that one of his models had in 1885. Y-DNA gave the final answer after 137 years: no, he was not.


Vincent van Gogh spent his early years in Noord-Brabant. His father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed church, first in Zundert where Vincent was born in 1853. Later the family lived in Nuenen, where the artist spent some time as well. In November 1885, Vincent left Nuenen. As known, he spent most of his adult life in France.

While living in Nuenen, Van Gogh painted one of his masterpieces “The Potato Eaters”, in April 1885. This painting, in which farmers have their daily meal of potatoes, also features Sien de Groot. It was not the only time Van Gogh painted her: she was the model for one of his works no fewer than 24 times. Who was she?

A son was born

Sien’s official name was Gordina de Groot. She was born in Nuenen on 22 April 1855 as the daughter of Cornelis de Groot and Cornelia van Rooij. At the age of thirty, the unmarried Sien became the mother of a son. She named him Cornelis, after her father. Sien never married. She died at the age of 71 years in Gerwen on 2 February 1927.

Cornelis de Groot was Sien’s only child. He was born in Gerwen on 20 October 1885, shortly before Vincent left Nuenen for Antwerp. His grandmother, Cornelia van Rooij, was the informant of his birth. Witnesses of his birth registration were Johannes Sanders, farmer, and Frans van den Nieuwenhof, secretary of the municipality. From his birth on, Cornelis was the center of gossip and ridicule. His red hair confirmed the suspicion: he was the illegitimate son of Sien and Vincent.

In 1933, at the age of 47, Cornelis married Cornelia van der Aa. He died in 1951.

DNA research

One question remained for decades: was Cornelis indeed the son of the famous painter? This year a Y-DNA test gave the answer. Two great-grandchildren of Sien de Groot took a test. And so did the son of the famous Dutch writer Theo van Gogh, who was a great-grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo van Gogh.

If the first two test takers are descended in the male line from Vincent van Gogh (if he was indeed the father of Cornelis de Groot), then their Y-DNA should match that of the other test taker, who is descended in the male line from Vincent’s brother. Unfortunately, their Y-DNA did not match.

And so the answer is given after all these years. It shows once again how we can use DNA for solving genealogical puzzles.


Once this article was published several genealogists approached me. They all brought up the same concerns as I had: was this research done properly? What if there was a non-paternity event (NPE) in one of the other generations? Were all generations in both lines (Van Gogh and De Groot) checked? I decided to write a letter to the newspaper, which was published on 7 January 2023. I gave my thoughts and asked if more research was done than mentioned in the article.

Letter to the newsletter, written by John Boeren.

Let us wait and see if someone who was involved in the research will come back with that answer. I will let you know!

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