After failing to raise enough money to provide for her enormous family by cleaning houses or by sewing, Clasina Maria Hoornik(or Sien, as she was commonly known) turned to prostitution.
Nevertheless, when she was left alone,pregnant and penniless, she was mercifully taken home by the post impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. He was also facing pecuniary problems, but his fair nature couldn’t allow him to leave her alone on the streets. They inhabited the same house for a while, time in which she posed for him. At the time Vincent showed great interest in portraying peasants and poverty in general, so he happily engaged himself with drawing her sorrow.
They were really close, so close that he ended up hospitalized in 1882 with gonorrhea. However, to comfort her, he left the hospital in a heartbeat when she gave birth to her second child, regardless of the doctor’s disapproval.
Van Gogh considered marrying the sorrowful Sien, but his family strongly disapproved. He consequently lost the support and goodwill of his relatives(except for his brother, Theo, who still supported him). Giving in to the pressure, he left The Hague for Drenthe lest he could dedicate himself to painting. Sien returned to her seamstress job and possibly to her prostitute one. She died 14 years after the artist, by the same means, meaning through suicide. She threw herself in a river precisely in the way she had foreseen to Van Gogh many years before “Yes, I’m a whore … it’s bound to end up with me jumping into the water.”.
This is a significant episode in the artist’ life because it made a great impact on his way of drawing, and it helped build up his character. He helped the poor woman when he himself was in need of help and lacking the luxury of money.
The memory of this dismal and gloomy life is felt today grace to Van Gogh’s few drawings of her. He depicts perfectly the state in which she was at 32 years old: lonely, poor, homeless and pregnant. Sadly this image can easily describe the state in which some women still are today, in the 21 century.