Van Gogh drew, and painted with watercolours while at school, but only a few examples survive and the authorship of some has been challenged. When he took up art as an adult, he began at an elementary level. In early 1882, his uncle, Cornelis Marinus, owner of a well-known gallery of contemporary art in Amsterdam, asked for drawings of The Hague. Van Gogh's work did not live up to expectations. Marinus offered a second commission, specifying the subject matter in detail, but was again disappointed with the result. Van Gogh persevered; he experimented with lighting in his studio using variable shutters, and with different drawing materials. For more than a year he worked on single figures – highly elaborate studies in black and white,[note 11] which at the time gained him only criticism. Later, they were recognised as early masterpieces.
The piece comes back and looks horrible. The fabric was torn and stapled back together unevenly. We called Art Van to complain and were promised to be contacted by the manager. In the meantime we moved and didn't get a chance to call manager back. We called back and were told manager would contact us. Nothing. I finally called the manager, Kathy Smith, today and received the worst treatment I've ever experienced from a store. Right away she had a chip on her should and said because it's been 8 months since original purchase, we couldn't get a replacement and basically it wasn't her problem. I wasn't rude and didn't say anything to anger her but she acted like I was trying to steal from her. I explained that if we could not get the piece replaced (which is ridiculous by itself), could we get a decent discount on the purchase of two new pieces? We need to get the reverse pieces for the new house and were hoping after all the inconvenience, that they could work with us since the original piece looks terrible from being serviced.
Poverty may have pushed Sien back into prostitution; the home became less happy and Van Gogh may have felt family life was irreconcilable with his artistic development. Sien gave her daughter to her mother, and baby Willem to her brother. Willem remembered visiting Rotterdam when he was about 12, when an uncle tried to persuade Sien to marry to legitimise the child. He believed Van Gogh was his father, but the timing of his birth makes this unlikely. Sien drowned herself in the River Scheldt in 1904.
In 1892 Émile Bernard organised a small solo show of Van Gogh's paintings in Paris, and Julien Tanguy exhibited his Van Gogh paintings with several consigned from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. In April 1894 the Durand-Rue Gallery in Paris agreed to take 10 paintings on consignment from Van Gogh's estate. In 1896, the Fauvist painter Henri Matisse, then an unknown art student, visited John Peter Russell on Belle Île off Brittany. Russell had been a close friend of Van Gogh; he introduced Matisse to the Dutchman's work, and gave him a Van Gogh drawing. Influenced by Van Gogh, Matisse abandoned his earth-coloured palette for bright colours.