Before he was an artist, Vincent van Gogh was an evangelist. It is not the best-documented period of his well-examined life, but in many ways it was the turning point in his career.

At age 25, hoping to become a preacher like his father, van Gogh volunteered to become pastor to a poor mining village in southwestern Belgium, in an area known as the Borinage. When he left two years later, at the age of 27, he was no longer a pastor but an aspiring artist.

The transformation, and the enduring influence of this period during his life, is the subject of “Van Gogh in the Borinage: The Birth of an Artist (1879-1880)” at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Mons, Belgium, through May 17.

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