Insensitive and Inefficient

The Illusion of Rapid Antigen Tests

Germany is hoping that rapid antigen tests will help navigate the country out of the third coronavirus wave currently gripping the country. But they aren't up to the task. Other strategies could prove more effective.

By Rafaela von Bredow und Veronika Hackenbroch

A still from a video advertising the efficacy of rapid antigen tests in schools Foto: Augsburger Puppenkiste / youtube


A middle-aged couple is leaning against a high table outside a gardening store in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin, both of them making strange, throaty noises. "Should we ask someone?" 

The woman seems annoyed.

She and her husband are there to buy a few plants, but before they can begin examining the greenery on this spring weekend, they must first take a rapid antigen test to see if they are infected with SARS-CoV-2. The test is from the Chinese company Hygisun, available for 5 euros to those who can't otherwise present a certified corona test at the entrance.

The instruction leaflet, plastic funnels and pipettes are piled on the table in front of the couple. 

On the instructions, printed in tiny font, is a picture of a red, wide-open mouth. 

Beneath the image, it says: "Cough deeply. Make a noise like 'kuuua.'" 

And then: "Collect 2 ml of saliva from deep in your throat."

"Kuuua? What's that?" the man asks.

Surrounding the couple are other perplexed, coughing and spitting customers, all gathered at the entrance to the gardening store. 

The small, plastic test kit is their ticket for entry – their hope for a bit of gardening diversion on another shutdown-weekend in Germany.

People across the country currently find themselves confronted with similar riddles. 

Schoolchildren are shoving cotton swabs up their noses, daycares are handing out test "lollipops," while factories are asking their workers to take swabs of their mucous membrane before their shift. 

In professional testing centers, medical workers are performing tests on those who want one.

There is great hope that the rapid tests might allow the country to return to some semblance of normalcy before vaccinations make significant headway. 

The hope is that the test can help ward off one of the most dangerous aspects of SARS-CoV-2: that people might unknowingly have contracted the virus and begin spreading it to others. 

The rapid tests promise that they can identify infections within 15 minutes – thus putting the brakes on the pandemic.

Numerous German state governments are relying on the small plastic kits. 

And the federal government's strategy for reopening the country depends heavily on testing, hoping to keep schools open up to an incidence rate of 200. 

In most states, there is already a de facto testing requirement for schools and many companies are planning on testing more frequently in the future as well.

Yet the antigen tests aren't actually suitable for screening in schools, companies or the population at large. 

It turns out that they are actually quite bad at fulfilling the hopes that have been pinned on them. 

On average, they are only able to identify 58 percent of asymptomatic infections, according to a survey performed by Cochrane Collaboration, which analyzed studies focusing on the most common rapid antigen tests on the market. 

They only considered those tests where the sample was taken professionally. 

And only tests on adults.

Among children, the shortcomings are even more pronounced. 

Around three-quarters of infected schoolchildren aged 14 and younger were missed by the twice-a-week tests, according to an estimate resulting from the third iteration of a monitoring study in Austrian schools, as Michael Wagner, a microbiologist at the University of Vienna and co-head of the study, told DER SPIEGEL two weeks ago. Wagner estimates that "around 40 percent of them are infectious."


Berlin-based virologist Christian Drosten also warned this week of the tests' deficiencies, saying on his Tuesday podcast, aired by the German public broadcaster NDR, that "three of eight infectious days are overlooked."

Thorsten Lehr, of Saarland University, agrees, saying: "Rapid tests will certainly not lead us out of the pandemic." 

As such, the researcher says, they should not be seen as "the key to more freedom."

Virologist Oliver Keppler, from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), is even more dismissive of the idea of using rapid antigen tests as an effective tool in the fight against the pandemic. 

"It's lunacy," he says, "and in no way evidence based." 

The tests, Keppler says, "were propagated with lots of optimistic rhetoric." 

But there is a deep divide between the hopes that have been invested in them and the reality they deliver.

That can be seen in Austria. 

On Feb. 8, schools and shops in the country were opened, with a rapid test requirement being introduced in some areas. 

"Nevertheless, the incidence rate has continuously risen," says Michael Wagner. 

Oliver Keppler adds: "If you want to be really negative, you could even ask if the incidence has risen precisely because of these tests – because everyone feels so safe."

Nevertheless, rapid testing is now being expanded to companies in Germany. 

Workers must now be offered at least one rapid antigen test per week. 

Numerous models for opening up ("test and shop") also depend heavily on the antigen tests. 

Many experts, though, believe such models are destined to fail for as long as the case numbers remain as high as they currently are.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's leading institution for disease control, issued a warning early on about the unreliability of the tests, reporting in a January issue of its weekly Epidemiological Bulletin that a rapid test used frequently in Germany only identified 39 percent of asymptomatic infections at the emergency room of a large hospital. 

Oliver Keppler and his colleagues within the research network B-FAST have composed position papers, outlined concepts and sent emails. 

"It's not as if we scientists haven't informed political policymakers of this problem," Keppler says. 

"But at some point, apparently nobody wanted to listen to us anymore."

The problems with the rapid tests begin with their approval. 

Test manufacturers do not have to prove that their products are also able to detect variants. 

And if the tests are only able to identify a single part of the virus, "they would no longer be able to identify an infection" in the case of a mutation, "despite the spread of a new variant," says Wagner. 

"We would suddenly be blind without knowing it."

Beyond that, the manufacturer's own specifications alone are sufficient for approval. 

"And they sometimes tell tall tales about the sensitivity of their product," says Keppler, "which they frequently just sell as intermediaries." 

Claims, for example, that they identify far more than 90 percent of infections. 

In reality, as shown by the Cochrane study, most tests don't even meet the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which demands that the tests identify at least eight out of 10 infections.

Famous German television personality Günther Jauch experienced last week just how easily rapid antigen tests can miss a SARS-CoV-2 infection, even in people exhibiting symptoms. 

Jauch was already suffering from a headache and achy joints when his rapid test showed that he was negative. 

But he felt even worse the next day, and a PCR test finally gave him his diagnosis: COVID-19.

Placing too much trust in the rapid tests could even result in superspreader events. 

If federal and state governments place their trust in the tests, the population is likely to trust them too. 

And how are schoolchildren who tested negative at school supposed to know that they could still be carrying the virus?

Not only that, but the rapid tests frequently indicate an infection when there isn't one. 

If estimates that around one in every 200 people is infected with SARS-CoV-2 are accurate, then – according to calculations by the Cochrane Collaboration for a specific rapid test brand – that would mean that almost three-quarters of the positive test results among asymptomatic people were wrong. 

That value will become even worse when case numbers begin coming down.

According to a recent report in the Guardian, the British government is thus considering a radical reduction in the huge number of rapid tests that are currently being performed as part of the country's opening.

The problem with the high rate of false positives will become particularly apparent in schools. 

If 11 million students and teachers are regularly tested, then tens of thousands of girls, boys and teachers who have no infection whatsoever will be sent into quarantine until they are able to produce a negative PCR test two days later.

And what about a child whose morning test at school shows an infection? 

"Is the child supposed to raise their hand and say, teacher, there's something here?" wonders Wagner, whose study involves PCR tests being performed on students and teachers. 

"Or is their too much pressure to test negative?"

"The problem with the rapid tests in schools is primarily how they are carried out," says Eva Rehfuess, professor for public health at LMU. 

Her daughter, the researcher says, has told her something that many other parents have no doubt heard as well: "When children take samples from their noses, many are often start sneezing." 

Rehfuess says she wonders if it is really a good idea for schoolchildren to all test together in the classroom. 

"From my perspective: No!"

Researchers are also concerned that if the samples aren't treated with the necessary care, then the tests themselves could provide the virus with an excellent opportunity to find a new host – if, for example, the swabs aren't immediately disposed of in the proper way. In such instances, the testing events, which are actually supposed to slow down the pandemic, could turn into regular superspreader events.

And the quality of the results depends strongly on the quality of the samples taken, says virologist Keppler, something he sees every day in the clinic. 

"We get completely different results depending on whether nurse Raimund or nurse Hildegard took the samples – and they are both competent professionals." 

Keppler says he simply doesn't understand how this job can be completely turned over to laypersons. 

With such an approach, he says, "we should completely forget about required mass testing with rapid antigen tests.

A famous puppet theater in Augsburg even made a video illustrating how to carry out rapid tests.

A famous puppet theater in Augsburg even made a video illustrating how to carry out rapid tests Foto: Augsburger Puppenkiste / youtube


Still, it remains clear that coronavirus testing programs are necessary to slow the resurgence of case numbers following the lockdown. 

But to ensure that such programs are effective, they have to be designed completely differently than is currently the case in Germany. 

"With the rapid tests, we are only able to catch the big fish out of the lake that we are particularly afraid of when we go swimming," says Michael Wagner from the University of Vienna. 

"The small ones stay in the lake and keep growing, so we have to keep catching them. With PCR tests, we catch all of them, and can go swimming with no worries."

That means that the following things are necessary for a good testing program:

Highly sensitive testing procedures. 

PCR tests, for example, are more than 1,000 times more sensitive than antigen tests, which means that infected people can be identified and isolated before they can infect others.

Systematic, regularly performed testing. 

Instead of tests performed by people who don't know what they are doing in front of the gardening store, a system of regular tests performed several times a week in schools and companies should be introduced. 

That, too, would contribute to identifying infections early on. 

It would also allow for the discovery of infection clusters in families that might not otherwise test themselves.

Easy testing. 

Tests should be painless, using gargling, for example, to ensure that people are more accepting of the practice.

Contact tracing in the case of positive test results. 

It's the only way to prevent further infections.

A broad consensus has developed in Germany and Austria for how mass testing might look, including cleverly designed PCR testing regimes and innovative new ideas for mass screening. 

"The rapid tests were good as a kind of transitory technology," says Wagner. 

Together with colleagues from other universities, he has developed a concept for screenings at schools and presented it to the Austrian government. 

It calls for gargling PCR tests that can be performed at home. 

"It involves gargling a salt solution for half a minute before breakfast and bringing the sample to school, where it will be collected. 

The whole thing is then performed three times a week," he says. 

Ten model schools have been chosen to test the concept and they are to start following the current lockdown.

A large monitoring program has now also started in Vienna after months of preparation. 

Since the end of March, everyone living or working in the Austrian capital has had the possibility to be tested at no cost with a PCR gargle test. 

Each week, 1.2 million test kits for the collection of samples are handed out. 

The gargle samples can be handed in at any REWE supermarket. 

The results are available within 24 hours.

Model calculations show that if 150,000 Viennese households hand in samples each day – capacity is 200,000 per day – then it should be enough to either prevent a new rise in case numbers or to significantly slow that rise. 

It is apparently especially effective if all households with children participate.

Johannes Zuber, from the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology at the University of Vienna, and Julius Brennecke, from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, were both instrumental in designing the program. 

"We do it alongside our research projects," Zuber says, adding that they are convinced "that with such a monitoring program, it could really be possible to control the pandemic, if people participate. 

This one, and the next."

At the Vienna Biocenter, they claim, the reliance on a gargle test program among the 1,500 employees has resulted in 93 positive cases, but not a single transmission on campus. 

But they have much larger aspirations: that of testing all of Austria, all of Germany or even all of Europe twice a week for SARS-CoV-2 using PCR tests.

"We got the idea from the northern Italian village of Vo," says Brennecke. 

In February 2020, the town, with a population of 3,400 people, was one of the very first in Europe to be sealed off due to the novel coronavirus. 

But in contrast to the rest of the country, all Vo residents were quickly tested using PCR tests and those who tested positive, even absent symptoms, were isolated. 

That enabled Vo to get the virus under control.

"It is a potentially excellent technology because it is quick, sensitive and scalable."

Oliver Keppler, virologist from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

The problem in Germany doesn't just come from political reliance on the less sensitive antigen tests on the path to opening back up, Zuber believes. 

Rather, he says, the opportunities presented by large-scale corona monitoring programs are "talked to death," because people only see the potential problems with the programs.

For example, when it comes to test capacity. 

Many ideas are, in fact, rejected in Germany with the argument that there is insufficient PCR testing capacity. 

But if several samples are analyzed together, a practice known as "pooling," with individual analyses only being carried out if the pool tests positive, then test capacity immediately becomes several times greater – with no significant sacrifice of accuracy.

And there is also a third testing method, the LAMP test, which is almost as sensitive as the PCR test and vastly more sensitive than antigen tests. 

The procedure has the significant advantage that large testing capacities can be developed relatively quickly and affordably.

"It is a potentially excellent technology because it is quick, sensitive and scalable," says Oliver Keppler. 

The procedure doesn't yet have a CE marking – indicating approval in the EU – and isn't yet commercially available for that reason. 

But it has proven its efficacy in research projects, such as the Virus Finder Study in Heidelberg. 

In that analysis, test kits for gargle samples were distributed to 28,000 randomly selected households in the region. 

Participants sent their gargle samples back to the researchers, who then examined them for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus using the LAMP test.

The goal was to arrive at a more precise assessment of the number of symptomatic and asymptomatic infections in order to react more quickly to the possibility of hospitals being overrun. 

Around 0.4 percent of the samples were positive.

"What we definitely showed, is that such a large-scale testing project is logistically workable," says project leader Andreas Deckert. 

The LAMP method, he says, proved itself. He believes that if samples are pooled, the technique could surely be used to develop greater testing capacity.

"It is important to test as many people as possible as often as possible," says Deckert's colleague Simon Anders. 

"And to do that, we have to make testing as simple and as comfortable as possible: gargling instead of swabs, mail-in tests or self-tests instead of having to go to testing centers."

"It sometimes seems to me that we are a bit afraid of creative approaches," Deckert says. 

To motivate people to get tested, he suggests, all those tested could perhaps be included in a kind of lottery, for example.

Michael Wagner from Vienna estimates that it would take metropolitan regions around three months to develop the infrastructure for pooled PCR tests. 

His Munich-based colleague Keppler believes that the opportunity to do so could soon present itself. 

"It could very well be that we will have to go into lockdown soon. 

Then we would have a few weeks to get PCR pool testing under way."

Losing the war

The war against money-laundering is being lost

The global system for financial crime is hugely expensive and largely ineffective


Yet another bank is preparing to face the music over alleged failings in its efforts to curb flows of dirty money. 

In the coming weeks NatWest, one of Britain’s largest lenders, is set to appear in court in London to respond to charges that it failed to properly scrutinise a gold-dealing client that deposited £365m ($502m) with the bank—£264m of it in cash.

NatWest (which has said it is co-operating with investigators) is the latest lender to be accused of falling short in the fight against dirty money. 

Last year global banks were hit with $10.4bn in fines for money-laundering violations, an increase of more than 80% on 2019, according to Fenergo, a compliance-software firm. 

In January Capital One, an American bank, was fined $390m for failing to report thousands of fishy transactions. 

Danske Bank is still dealing with the fallout of a scandal that erupted in 2018. 

Over $200bn of potentially dirty money was washed through the Danish lender’s Estonian branch while executives missed or ignored a sea of red flags.

These cases imply that banks remain the Achilles heel in the global war on money-laundering, despite the reams of regulations aimed at turning them into frontline soldiers in that conflict. 

However, closer examination suggests that the global anti-money-laundering (aml) system has serious structural flaws, largely because governments have outsourced to the private sector much of the policing they should have been doing themselves.

A study published last year by Ronald Pol, a financial-crime expert, concluded that the global aml system could be “the world’s least effective policy experiment”, and that compliance costs for banks and other businesses could be more than 100 times higher than the amount of laundered loot seized. 

A report based on a survey of professionals, published last year by LexisNexis, an analytics firm, found that worldwide spending on aml and sanctions compliance by financial institutions (including fund managers, insurers and others, as well as banks) exceeds $180bn a year.

Money-laundering was not even a crime across much of the world until the 1980s. 

Since then countries from Afghanistan to Zambia have been arm-twisted, particularly by America, into passing laws. 

The effort intensified after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the passage of America’s Patriot Act, which targeted money trails financing terrorism and other crime.

aml compliance has since become a huge part of what banks do and created large new bureaucracies. 

It is not unusual for firms such as hsbc or JPMorgan Chase to have 3,000-5,000 specialists focused on fighting financial crime, and more than 20,000 overall in risk and compliance.

The aml push has succeeded in stamping out the most pernicious practices, such as using shell banks (those with no real customers) in sunny places to launder suitcases stuffed with drug money. 

But criminals have not been forced to get particularly creative: it is not much more difficult today than it was 20 years ago to rinse dirty money by setting up a shell company, disguising the loot flowing through it as legitimate revenue and persuading an established bank to process it.

As a result, the numbers tell of a war being lost. 

The “Global Threat Assessment”, a report by John Cusack, an ex-chair of the Wolfsberg Group, an association of banks that helps develop aml standards, estimates that $5.8trn-worth of financial crime was perpetrated in 2018—equivalent to 6.7% of global gdp.

Statistics on how much is intercepted by authorities are patchy. 

A decade-old estimate by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put it at just 0.2% of the total. 

In 2016 Europol estimated the confiscation rate in Europe to be a higher but still paltry 1.1%.

Some experts think the success rate may have fallen in recent years, in part because of the rise of “trade-based money-laundering”—which moves dodgy money into the legitimate economy by playing tricks with paperwork for cross-border trade. 

The covid-19 pandemic, too, has boosted opportunities for financial ne’er-do-wells. 

Criminals have set up shell companies to exploit vast, poorly policed government-aid schemes. 

In Britain, the authorities have received more than 50,000 reports of potential misuse of its “Bounce Back Loans” and furlough schemes.

Shell shock

The Financial Action Task Force (fatf), the intergovernmental body that sets global aml standards, admits to problems with the system. 

Last October its president, Marcus Pleyer, accused the “vast majority” of countries of failing to tackle money-laundering. 

Some countries have been able to achieve solid marks in the organisation’s assessments by passing nice-looking aml laws, only to water them down later or fail to implement key provisions. 

One offender is the United Arab Emirates, where weak enforcement has helped Dubai become a haven for corrupt capital. 

But America and Britain also look to game the fatf process, albeit less egregiously.

Global efforts to stamp out money-laundering have, if anything, waned over the past five years, says Robert Barrington of the University of Sussex. 

In 2016 David Cameron, Britain’s then prime minister, hosted a global anti-corruption summit, and other governments queued up to back the cause. But it proved a false dawn. 

Britain became distracted by Brexit. 

In America, President Donald Trump showed scant leadership on the issue. 

China and Russia have stymied attempts to co-ordinate action against corruption.

Three big problems hobble the fight against financial crime: a lack of transparency; a lack of collaboration; and a lack of resources. 

Start with transparency. 

Investigators often struggle to identify the real, “beneficial”, owners of shell companies, who often hide behind legal nominees.

Some progress has been made in increasing visibility. 

Britain launched a public register of company owners in 2016, spurring several others to follow suit. 

Britain’s offshore satellites, such as the British Virgin Islands and Jersey, have been pressed into setting up registers or strengthening existing ones. 

America recently passed a law requiring ownership data on firms registered at state level, including in Delaware’s incorporation factories, to be held in a federal register.

However, many countries still eschew registers, and those that have them have faced problems. 

In Britain criminals have been willing to risk filing false information, or none at all, given the modest penalties for doing so. 

Hong Kong, meanwhile, plans to scale back the details company owners must disclose on its register.

The fatf is seeking to toughen its standard on beneficial-ownership transparency; the current version says merely that “competent authorities” should have access to such information “in a timely fashion”. 

But getting its 39 core members—from America and the eu to China and Russia—to agree on a new text will be difficult.

The second problem, lack of collaboration, hobbles governments’ work with each other, and with banks on the front line. 

The big money-laundering schemes are sophisticated and transnational, while anti-laundering efforts remain balkanised. 

Information-sharing between governments is improving, thanks to co-operation among “financial-intelligence units”, national centres that collect data on suspicious transactions. 

But the “mutual legal assistance” system, which countries investigating crimes use to request information from each other, is clunky.

As for data flowing to and from banks, the benefits of sharing are indisputable. 

“The value of information coming from a network of banks is thousands of times higher than the information any one bank has, because you can see not just where the money came from, but where it went, and where it went from there, and so on,” says the head of a large international bank. 

Unfortunately, the level of collaboration is “terrible”. 

America does best, thanks to the Patriot Act, but even there information-sharing is “on a tiny scale”. 

Anything more requires a warrant from a judge, “which is hard if you don’t know what the crime is yet”. 

Britain is in second place, he says, with “about 30%” of the data-sharing done in America. 

And in third place? 

“No one.”

A daunting obstacle to sharing information is data-privacy laws, which in many places prevent banks from passing information to authorities, particularly foreign ones. 

Some big banks have lobbied for exceptions to be made for aml, but “governments don’t see it as a legislative priority”, says an executive at another bank.

The third difficulty, a dearth of resources, stems from the fact that white-collar crime is less visible than violent crime. 

Spending on curbing the latter goes down better with the public. 

In Britain, fraud makes up more than a third of reported crime, yet gets less than 1% of police resources in terms of officers. 

Banks can spend all they like on aml, but the criminals won’t end up in court if governments fail to invest in policing and prosecution.


Many crime-fighting agencies lack the funding to properly analyse the torrent of “suspicious-activity reports” (sars) banks file when they spot potentially dodgy transactions. sars are a cornerstone of the system. 

But banks file too many low-quality or unnecessary reports because they are incentivised to cover their backs rather than to apply sensible risk criteria. 

Globally they file millions of sars a year; in America alone, about 1.2m were submitted by deposit-takers last year (see chart).

Red-tape revolution

If the aml system is to be fit for purpose, then governments must work harder together. 

“Blaming banks for not ‘properly’ implementing [aml] laws is a convenient fiction,” Mr Pol’s report concluded. 

It also gives an unfair pass to the non-bank actors that enable corruption. 

While fines for banks with poor aml controls have risen relentlessly, lawyers who set up dodgy shell companies, accountants who sign off on their fishy filings and the like have been getting away with slaps on the wrist. 

Britain’s revenues and customs agency, for instance, supervises more than 30,000 accountants, estate agents and other businesses for money-laundering purposes; in the 2019-20 financial year it issued just 31 fines, averaging £290,000. 

Governments also need to get to grips with the aml implications of cryptocurrencies, and the firms and exchanges that hawk them.

Activists who campaign to fix the cracks in the global aml architecture are pinning much hope on the Biden administration, which has said that it views the fight against corruption as a national-security issue and therefore a priority. 

Whether it can work more profitably than its predecessor with Europe, which is overhauling aml oversight in the wake of the Danske debacle, remains to be seen. 

Hopes that China can be persuaded to co-operate are not high. 

Either way, bankers should probably brace for another beating.

As Scrutiny of Cryptocurrency Grows, the Industry Turns to K Street

Companies behind digital currencies are rushing to hire well-connected lobbyists, lawyers and consultants as the battle over how to regulate them intensifies.

By Eric Lipton 

           Dalbert B. Vilarino


WASHINGTON — When federal regulators late last year accused one of the world’s most popular cryptocurrency platforms of illegally selling $1.38 billion worth of digital money to investors, it was a pivotal moment in efforts to crack down on a fast-growing market — and in the still-nascent industry’s willingness to dive deeply into the Washington influence game.

The company, Ripple Labs, has enlisted lobbyists, lawyers and other well-connected advocates to make its case to the Securities and Exchange Commission and beyond in one of the first big legal battles over what limits and requirements the government should set for trading and using digital currency.

Ripple has hired two lobbying firms in the past three months. 

It has retained a consulting firm staffed with former aides to both Hillary Clinton and former President Donald J. Trump to help it develop strategy in Washington. 

And to defend itself against the S.E.C., it hired Mary Jo White, a former chairwoman of the commission during the Obama administration.

Ripple is just one of a long list of cryptocurrency companies scrambling for influence in Washington as the Biden administration begins setting policy that could shape the course of a potentially revolutionary industry that is rapidly moving into the mainstream and drawing intensifying attention from financial regulators, law enforcement officials and lawmakers.

“There is a tectonic shift underway,” Perianne Boring, the president of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a cryptocurrency lobbying group, told other industry lobbyists, executives and two House lawmakers who serve as industry champions, during a virtual gathering last month. 

“If we don’t start planning and taking action soon, we have everything to risk.”

So far, cryptocurrency has been a highly volatile investment, but it is already starting to alter the way individuals, companies and even some central banks do business.

Firms like Ripple, which is based in San Francisco, run cryptocurrency platforms that allow customers to make nearly instant global payments through a system that operates largely outside government monetary networks.

A technician at a cryptocurrency mining site in Canada. Cryptocurrency has started to alter the way some companies, individuals and even some central banks do business.Credit...Lars Hagberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Globally, the value of all outstanding cryptocurrency has jumped to about $2.4 trillion — or more than the approximately $1.2 trillion of United States currency in circulation worldwide — from about $200 billion two years ago. 

This is from an industry that was born only a dozen years ago, when the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was introduced.

As the stakes have grown, so has the recognition that the industry’s future — at least in the United States — will be shaped in Washington, prompting the rush to scoop up well-connected advocates.

The board of advisers at the digital chamber is stuffed with former federal regulators, including a former member of Congress and a recent chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, J. Christopher Giancarlo, who was named to the board of BlockFi, a financial services company that tries to link cryptocurrencies with traditional wealth managers.

Max Baucus, the Democratic former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Jim Messina, a former top Obama adviser, also have recently been named to senior industry posts.

Lobbying disclosure records show that at least 65 contracts as of early 2021 addressed industry matters such as digital currency, cryptocurrency or blockchain, up from about 20 in 2019.

Some of the biggest spenders on lobbying include Ripple, Coinbase — the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States — and trade groups like the Blockchain Association.

The lobbying burst is one of several recent signs nationwide that the industry is becoming a bigger presence in the economy. 

FTX, the cryptocurrency trading firm, is spending $135 million to secure the naming rights to the home arena of the Miami Heat.

The billionaire Elon Musk, who hosted “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, was asked about Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency featuring the face of a Shiba Inu dog that was created as a joke but has recently surged in value. 

“It’s the future of currency. It’s an unstoppable financial vehicle that’s going to take over the world,” Mr. Musk said, before adding, “Yeah, it’s a hustle.” 

The price of Dogecoin plunged nearly 35 percent in the hours after the show aired.

With the industry’s hires of recent government officials, claims of conflicts of interest are already starting to emerge.

Jay Clayton, who was the S.E.C. chairman until December, is now a paid adviser to the hedge fund One River Digital Asset Management, which invests hundreds of millions in Bitcoin and Ether, two cryptocurrencies, for its clients. Mr. Clayton declined to comment.

The day before Mr. Clayton resigned from the S.E.C., the agency filed a lawsuit against Ripple Labs, which competes with Bitcoin, alleging that the company had improperly raised $1.3 billion from investors through what the agency claimed was effectively an illegal stock offering.

Binance.US, which runs a cryptocurrency exchange, this month hired as its chief executive Brian P. Brooks, who until January served as the acting head of the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, which helps regulate banks.

The day before he stepped down, the agency granted a conditional charter to Anchorage Digital Bank, making it the country’s first national cryptocurrency bank. 

A spokeswoman for Mr. Brooks said Binance was not a bank, so there was no conflict.

Ripple’s new lobbying firms include one that was recently set up by K. Michael Conaway, a Republican who until this year served as a House member from Texas and helped push pro-cryptocurrency legislation last year. 

Mr. Conaway is banned from lobbying his former colleagues for a year.

K. Michael Conaway, who set up a lobbying firm hired by Ripple Labs, pushed pro-cryptocurrency legislation when he served as a Republican House member from Texas.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times


So Ripple has enlisted Mr. Conaway’s former chief of staff, who is also a partner at the lobbying firm but is no longer subject to the revolving-door ban, to lobby on bills pending in Congress.

Among the other firms working for Ripple is Teneo — led by Declan Kelly, a former aide to Mrs. Clinton — which has assigned Tony Sayegh, a senior Treasury Department official during the Trump administration, to help shape its communications strategy in Washington.

So far, the industry has not become a big player in campaign contributions, although there are major exceptions, like Sam Bankman-Fried, the 29-year-old billionaire founder of FTX, who donated $5 million in October to a political action committee that backed President Biden. 

(Mr. Bankman-Fried said in an interview that his donation was not an attempt to influence industry regulation, but that he does want to participate in the discussion.)

The cryptocurrency industry has a long list of lobbying goals, detailed in an eight-page letter sent to Mr. Biden in March that called for the government to settle on a clear set of policies with a “light-touch regulatory approach.”

The regulatory questions relate to at least two key parts of the cryptocurrency industry: so-called tokens, which are the currencies themselves, like Bitcoin, and platforms like Ripple that allow rapid money transfers with these cryptocurrencies, or the buying and selling of them, like Coinbase.

But considerable tension remains over existing federal rules, with public sparring among rival companies like Coinbase and Binance, a sign of how hard it will be to reach consensus on any new regulations.

Industry leaders are at least somewhat hopeful that it will have more support from the Biden administration than it did from the Trump administration, pointing out, for example, that Gary Gensler, the new S.E.C. chairman, taught courses about blockchain technology at M.I.T.

At his confirmation hearing in March, Mr. Gensler said cryptocurrencies had brought new thinking to the world of payments and financial inclusion. 

However, he indicated that he would strike a balance between encouraging new financial technology to flourish and protecting investors.

The cryptocurrency industry is less optimistic about Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who expressed deep concern this year about Bitcoin.

“It is a highly speculative asset, and I think people should beware, it can be extremely volatile,” Ms. Yellen said at a New York Times DealBook event in February. 

“And I do worry about potential losses that investors in it could suffer.”

Watching Coinbase’s I.P.O. from Times Square in New York last month. Some of the biggest spenders on lobbying include Ripple, Coinbase and trade groups like the Blockchain Association.Credit...Gabby Jones for The New York Times


One sign of the industry’s growing clout in Washington came during the closing days of the Trump administration, when the Treasury Department proposed a rule to curb the use of cryptocurrencies for money laundering by requiring companies handling certain transactions over $3,000 to know the names and addresses of the customer and the recipient.

Even before Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the proposed rule in December, he was targeted in industry appeals to delay or abandon the idea.

“In the early days of the internet, there were people who called for it to be regulated like the phone companies,” Brian Armstrong, the chief executive of Coinbase, wrote on Twitter in November, adding that he had sent a letter to Treasury to object. “Thank goodness they didn’t.”

Thousands of such comments have been sent to Treasury.

Among those raising concerns was Sigal Mandelker, who until late 2019 was the top Treasury official overseeing the financial crimes agency that proposed the tighter rule, after her departure.

She now works for Ribbit Capital, which is an investor in Coinbase and other cryptocurrency industry players and joined the chorus objecting to Treasury’s plan. Ms. Mandelker did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Mnuchin backed down and pushed off final action to the Biden administration, which has extended the comment period and is considering how to proceed.

The Ripple enforcement case brought by the S.E.C. in December centers on whether a digital asset the company sold, called XRP, should be defined as a security or a commodity, a major distinction in terms of regulation.

Ripple asserts that XRP is effectively a currency, and like any currency or commodity can be bought and sold without S.E.C. intervention. 

But the agency argues that each sale of XRP is like a stock or bond trade, meaning a buyer is effectively acquiring a stake in Ripple when purchasing the asset. 

As a result, the S.E.C. argues that Ripple should have registered with the agency and provided extensive public disclosures like those required with stock or bond offerings.

The S.E.C. filed a lawsuit against Ripple, which competes with Bitcoin, alleging that the company had improperly raised $1.3 billion from investors.Credit...Ting Shen for The New York Times


Ripple, which in 2019 became one of the first cryptocurrency companies to open a lobbying office in Washington, has aggressively pushed back, successfully asking a federal judge to force the S.E.C. to turn over what the agency considers confidential internal documents.

Stuart Alderoty, Ripple’s general counsel, said that in the absence of clear cryptocurrency rules, the federal government was effectively creating regulatory policy via enforcement, an approach that is confusing and harmful to investors and the industry.

“If you have a responsible player in the industry, they are going to be engaging with policymakers,” he said.

The S.E.C. case against Ripple has helped persuade industry players on the sidelines to get involved.

“The industry needs to accept that good legislation and regulation is what is required, not no regulation,” said John E. Deaton, a lawyer who has moved to intervene in the enforcement action against Ripple. 

“Because right now it is like the Wild, Wild West, and you have different federal agencies fighting over which one has jurisdiction.”

The House this month passed a bill backed by industry lobbyists to create a working group of federal regulators, industry executives, investor protection groups and others to examine possible frameworks for a regulatory system.

“We need to get the big prize done,” Representative Darren Soto, Democrat of Florida and a member of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, a group of lawmakers working with the industry to help promote cryptocurrencies, told the industry conference last month. 

“Which is the statutes and jurisdiction and definitions to create that certainty, to really let blockchain and cryptocurrency flow and improve in the United States.”


Alan Rappeport and Ephrat Livni contributed reporting.

Eric Lipton is a Washington-based investigative reporter. A three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he previously worked at The Washington Post and The Hartford Courant. @EricLiptonNYT

The Woman Who Made van Gogh

Neglected by art history for decades, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, the painter’s sister-in-law, is finally being recognized as the force who opened the world’s eyes to his genius.

By Russell Shorto

Jo Bonger, at about 21.Credit...F. W. Deutmann, Zwolle. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


In 1885, a 22-year-old Dutch woman named Johanna Bonger met Theo van Gogh, the younger brother of the artist, who was then making a name for himself as an art dealer in Paris. 

History knows Theo as the steadier of the van Gogh brothers, the archetypal emotional anchor, who selflessly managed Vincent’s erratic path through life, but he had his share of impetuosity. 

He asked her to marry him after only two meetings.

Jo, as she called herself, was raised in a sober, middle-class family. 

Her father, the editor of a shipping newspaper that reported on things like the trade in coffee and spices from the Far East, imposed a code of propriety and emotional aloofness on his children. 

There is a Dutch maxim, “The tallest nail gets hammered down,” that the Bonger family seems to have taken as gospel. 

Jo had set herself up in a safely unexciting career as an English teacher in Amsterdam. 

She wasn’t inclined to impulsiveness. 

Besides, she was already dating somebody. 

She said no.

But Theo persisted. 

He was attractive in a soulful kind of way — a thinner, paler version of his brother. 

Beyond that, she had a taste for culture, a desire to be in the company of artists and intellectuals, which he could certainly provide. 

Eventually he won her over. 

In 1888, a year and a half after his proposal, she agreed to marry him. 

After that, a new life opened up for her. 

It was Paris in the belle epoque: art, theater, intellectuals, the streets of their Pigalle neighborhood raucous with cafes and brothels. 

Theo was not just any art dealer. 

He was at the forefront, specializing in the breed of young artists who were defying the stony realism imposed by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. 

Most dealers wouldn’t touch the Impressionists, but they were Theo van Gogh’s clients and heroes. 

And here they came, Gauguin and Pissarro and Toulouse-Lautrec, the young men of the avant-garde, marching through her life with the exotic ferocity of zoo creatures.

Jo realized that she was in the midst of a movement, that she was witnessing a change in the direction of things. 

At home, too, she was feeling fully alive. 

On their marriage night, which she described as “blissful,” her husband thrilled her by whispering into her ear, “Wouldn’t you like to have a baby, my baby?” 

She was powerfully in love: with Theo, with Paris, with life.

Theo talked incessantly — of their future, and also of things like pigment and color and light, encouraging her to develop a new way of seeing. 

But one subject dominated. 

From their first meeting, he regaled Jo with accounts of his brother’s tortured genius. 

Their apartment was crammed with Vincent’s paintings, and new crates arrived all the time. 

Vincent, who spent much of his brief career in motion, in France, Belgium, England, the Netherlands, was churning out canvases at a fanatical pace, sometimes one a day — olive trees, wheat fields, peasants under a Provençal sun, yellow skies, peach blossoms, gnarled trunks, clods of soil like the tops of waves, poplar trees like tongues of flame — and shipping them to Theo in hopes he would find a market for them. 

Theo had little success attracting buyers, but Vincent’s works, three-dimensionally thick with their violent daubs of oil paint, became the source material for Jo’s education in modern art.

When, a little more than nine months after their wedding night, Jo gave birth to a son, she agreed to the name Theo proffered. 

They would call the boy Vincent.

Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s brother, at age 32.Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


As much as he looked up to his brother, Theo also fretted constantly about him. 

Vincent’s mental state had already deteriorated by the time Jo came on the scene. 

He had slept outside in winter to mortify his flesh, gorged on alcohol, coffee and tobacco to heighten or numb his senses, become riddled with gonorrhea, stopped bathing, let his teeth rot. 

He had distanced himself from artists and others who might have helped his career. 

Just before Christmas in 1888, while Theo and Jo were announcing their engagement, Vincent was in Arles cutting off his ear following a series of rows with his housemate Paul Gauguin.

One day a canvas arrived that showed a shift in style. 

Vincent had been fascinated by the night sky in Arles. 

He tried to put it into words for Theo: “In the blue depth the stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires.” 

He became fixated on the idea of painting such a sky. 

He read Walt Whitman, whose work was especially popular in France, and interpreted the poet as equating “the great starry firmament” with “God and eternity.”

Vincent sent the finished painting to Theo and Jo with a note explaining that it was an “exaggeration.” 

“The Starry Night” continued his progression away from realism; the brush strokes were like troughs made by someone who was digging for something deeper. 

Theo found it disturbing — he could sense his brother drifting away, and he knew buyers weren’t likely to understand it. 

He wrote back: “I consider that you’re strongest when you’re doing real things.” 

But he enclosed another 150 francs for expenses.

Then, in the spring of 1890, news: Vincent was coming to Paris. 

Jo expected an enfeebled mental patient. 

Instead, she was confronted by the physical embodiment of the spirit that animated the canvases that covered their walls. 

“Before me was a sturdy, broad-shouldered man with a healthy color, a cheerful look in his eyes and something very resolute in his appearance,” she wrote in her journal. 

“ ‘He looks much stronger than Theo,’ was my first thought.” 

He charged out into the arrondissement to buy olives he loved and came back insisting that they taste them. 

He stood before the canvases he had sent and studied each with great intensity. 

Theo led him to the room where the baby lay sleeping, and Jo watched as the brothers gazed into the crib. 

“They both had tears in their eyes,” she wrote.

What happened next was like two blows of a hammer. 

Theo had arranged for Vincent to stay in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise to the north of Paris, in the care of Dr. Paul Gachet, whose homeopathic approach he hoped would help his brother’s condition. 

Weeks later came news that Vincent had shot himself (some biographers dispute the notion that his wound was self-inflicted). 

Theo arrived in the village in time to watch his brother die. 

Theo was devastated. 

He had supported his brother financially and emotionally through his brief, 10-year career, an effort to produce, as Vincent once wrote him, “something serious, something fresh — something with soul in it,” art that would reveal nothing less than “what there is in the heart of ... a nobody.” 

Less than three months after Vincent’s death, Theo suffered a complete physical collapse, the latter stages of syphilis he had contracted from earlier visits to brothels. 

He began hallucinating. 

His agony was tremendous and ghoulish. 

He died in January 1891.

Twenty-one months after her marriage, Jo was alone, stunned at the fecund dose of life she had just experienced, and at what was left to her from that life: approximately 400 paintings and several hundred drawings by her brother-in-law.

The brothers’ dying so young, Vincent at 37 and Theo at 33, and without the artist having achieved renown — Theo had managed to sell only a few of his paintings — would seem to have ensured that Vincent van Gogh’s work would subsist eternally in a netherworld of obscurity. 

Instead, his name, art and story merged to form the basis of an industry that stormed the globe, arguably surpassing the fame of any other artist in history. 

That happened in large part thanks to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. 

She was small in stature and riddled with self-doubt, had no background in art or business and faced an art world that was a thoroughly male preserve. 

Her full story has only recently been uncovered. 

It is only now that we know how van Gogh became van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh, in the only known photo of him, at 19.Credit...Jacobus Marinus Wilhelmus de Louw. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


Long before Covid-19, Hans Luijten was in the habit of likening Vincent van Gogh to a virus. 

“If that virus comes into your life, it never goes away,” he said in his bright, modern Amsterdam apartment when we first spoke in April 2020, and added with a note of warning in his voice: “There’s no vaccine for it.” 

Luijten is 60, slim, with wire-rimmed glasses, floating tufts of gray hair and a strong penchant for American roots music: gospel, Dolly Parton, Justin Townes Earle. 

He was born in the southern part of the Netherlands, near the Belgian border. 

Both his parents made shoes for a living — his father in a factory, his mother with a sewing machine in their home — which gave him a respect for hard work and an eye for footwear: “I can’t meet a person without looking down at the feet.”

Despite the fact that there wasn’t a single book in the family house, his parents encouraged Luijten and his brother to follow their highbrow dreams, which turned out to parallel each other. 

Ger Luijten, five years Hans’s senior, studied art history and is now director of Fondation Custodia, an art museum in Paris. 

Hans majored in Dutch literature and minored in art history. 

After getting his doctorate, he heard that the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam wanted to develop a new critical edition of the 902 letters in the Vincent van Gogh correspondence, including those that he and Theo exchanged. 

In 1994 he was hired as a researcher and spent the next 15 years on that work.

In the process, Luijten developed a particular affinity for the artist. 

He can speak fluently about the paintings, but it’s in Vincent’s letters that he found another layer of insight. 

“He worked them very carefully. 

If you read the published letters, he might say, ‘The deep gray sky. ... ’ 

But if you look at the handwritten letter, you see he added ‘gray’ and then ‘deep.’ 

Like he was adding brush strokes. 

You can see in both his art and writing that he looked at the world as if everything was alive and aware. 

He treated a tree the same as a human being.”

Luijten is a dogged researcher, the kind who will hunt down slips of paper moldering in archives from Paris to New York, who derives meaning not just from what words in a document say but also from how they are written: “You can see emotion in Van Gogh’s handwriting: doubt, anger. 

I could tell when he had been drinking, because he started with huge letters, and they would become smaller and smaller as he got to the bottom of the page.”

The end result of this exhaustive research project, which went on far longer than Vincent’s career did, is “Vincent van Gogh: The Letters.” 

It runs to six volumes and more than 2,000 pages and was published in 2009. 

An online edition features the original Dutch or French together with an English translation, annotations, facsimiles of the original letters and images of artworks discussed. 

Leo Jansen, who toiled alongside Luijten for all of those 15 years and who now works at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands, told me that as they neared the end of the van Gogh project, he sensed that Luijten was beginning to formulate a new idea. 

“I think Hans realized that, while we were at last delivering Vincent’s letters, that project was only just a start, because Vincent wasn’t even known at the end of his life.”

Which raised a question that had never been completely answered: How exactly did the tortured genius, who alienated dealers and otherwise thwarted his own ambition time and again during his career, become a star? 

And not just a star, but one of the most beloved figures in the history of art?

A letter from Vincent to Theo, November 1882.Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


Jo van Gogh-Bonger was previously known to have played a role in building the painter’s reputation, but that role was thought to have been modest — a presumption seemingly based on a combination of sexism and common sense, since she had no background in the art business. 

There were intriguing indications for those interested enough to look. 

In 2003, the Dutch writer Bas Heijne found himself in the Van Gogh Museum’s library and stumbled across some letters, which prompted him to write a play about Jo. 

“I just thought, This woman’s life is a great story,” he says. 

Luijten likewise told me that the letters between the brothers, and those exchanged with other artists and dealers, were littered with clues. 

He searched the museum’s library and archives and found photographs and account books that contained more hints. 

He corresponded with archives in France, Denmark and the United States. 

He began to formulate a thesis: “I started to see that she was the spider in the web. 

She had a strategy.”

There was another source, a potential holy grail, which he believed might advance his thesis but to which researchers had been denied access. 

Luijten knew Jo had kept a diary. 

His interest was piqued in part by the very fact that he hadn’t been able to read it — the van Gogh family had kept it under lock and key since her death in 1925. 

“I don’t think they were unwilling to acknowledge her role,” Luijten told me. 

“I think it was out of modesty.” 

Jo’s son, Vincent, didn’t want the world to know of his mother’s later relationship with another Dutch painter, didn’t want her privacy to be violated. 

The diary remained under embargo until, in 2009, Luijten asked Jo’s grandson, Johan van Gogh, if he could see it, and Johan granted his wish. (Jo’s diaries and other materials are now available via the Van Gogh Museum’s website and library.)

The very first entry in the diary — which turned out to be a collection of simple lined notebooks of the kind used by schoolchildren — intrigued Luijten. 

Jo started it when she was 17, five years before she met Theo. 

A young woman of that era could look forward to only very narrow options in life, yet here she wrote, “I would think it dreadful to have to say at the end of my life, ‘I’ve actually lived for nothing, I have achieved nothing great or noble.’” 

“That, to me, was actually very exciting,” Luijten says. 

It was a clue: She was not content to follow her family’s maxim after all.

In 2009 Luijten began writing a biography of Jo, working in an office in a former schoolhouse opposite the greensward of Amsterdam’s Museum Square. 

It took him 10 years. 

In all, he has devoted 25 years, his entire career, to the lives of these three people. 

The book, “Alles voor Vincent” (“All for Vincent”), was published in 2019. 

Because it’s still available only in Dutch, it is just beginning to percolate into the world of art scholarship. 

“It’s massively important,” says Steven Naifeh, co-author of the best-selling 2011 biography “Van Gogh: The Life” and author of the forthcoming “Van Gogh and the Artists He Loved.” 

“It shows that without Jo there would have been no van Gogh.”

Art historians say Luijten’s biography is a major step in what will be an ongoing reappraisal — not only of the source of van Gogh’s fame but also of the modern notion of what an artist is. 

For that, too, is something Jo helped to invent.

Jo van Gogh-Bonger and her son, Vincent Willem van Gogh, 1890.Credit...Raoul Saisset, Paris. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


Jo was at a loss over what to do with herself after Theo died. 

When a friend from the genteel Dutch village of Bussum suggested she come there and open a boardinghouse, it seemed soothing. 

She would be back in her home country yet at a comfortable distance from her family, which suited her, because she valued her independence. 

Bussum, for all its leafy sedateness, had a lively cultural scene. 

And having income from guests would be important — she would be able to provide for herself and her child.

Before leaving Paris, she corresponded with the artist Émile Bernard, one of the few painters with whom Vincent had had a relationship that was both close and free of discord, to see if he might be able to arrange an exhibition in Paris of her late brother-in-law’s paintings. 

Bernard urged her to leave Vincent’s canvases in Paris, reasoning that the French capital was a better base from which to sell them. 

There was sense in this. 

While Vincent had not generated enough of a following to warrant a one-man show, he had had paintings exhibited in a few group shows just before his death. 

Perhaps, over time, Bernard would be able to sell his work.

Had that happened, Vincent might have developed some renown.

He might have become, say, an Émile Bernard. 

But Jo’s instincts told her to keep the paintings with her. 

She declined his offer. 

This was remarkable in itself, because time and again her diary entries show her to be riddled with insecurities and uncertainty about how to proceed in life: “I’m very bad — ugly as I am, I’m still often vain”; “My outlook on life is utterly and completely wrong at present”; “Life is so difficult and so full of sadness around me and I have so little courage!”

Over the next weeks, dressed in mourning, she settled into her new home. 

She unpacked linens and silverware, met her neighbors and prepared the house for guests, all the while caring for little Vincent. 

She seems to have spent the greatest amount of her settling-in time — months, in fact — deciding precisely where to hang her brother-in-law’s paintings. 

Eventually, virtually every inch of wall space was covered with them. 

“The Potato Eaters,” the large, mostly brown study of peasants at a humble meal that scholars consider Vincent’s first masterpiece, was hung above the fireplace. 

She festooned her bedroom with three canvases depicting orchards in vibrant bloom. 

One of her guests later remarked that “the whole house was filled with Vincents.”

A postcard from around 1900. Jo’s boardinghouse can be seen on the right.Credit...Historische Kring Bussum Archives


Once all was more or less the way she wanted it, she picked up one of the lined notebooks and returned to the diary she began in her teens. 

She set it aside the moment she started her life with Theo; her last entry, from almost exactly three years before, began, “On Thursday morning I go to Paris!” 

During the whole mad period that followed, she was too busy to keep a journal, too swept up in another life. 

Now she was back. “It’s all nothing but a dream!” she wrote from her guesthouse. 

“What lies behind me — my short, blissful marital happiness — that, too, has been a dream! For a year and a half I was the happiest woman on Earth.”

Then, matter-of-factly, she identified the two responsibilities that Theo had given her. 

“As well as the child,” she wrote, “he has left me another task — Vincent’s work — getting it seen and appreciated as much as possible.”

Having no training in how to achieve this, she began with what was at hand. 

In addition to Vincent’s paintings, she had inherited the enormous trove of letters that the brothers had exchanged. 

In Bussum, in the evenings, with her guests taken care of and the baby asleep, she pored over them. 

Nearly all, it turned out, were from Vincent — her husband had carefully kept Vincent’s letters, but Vincent hadn’t been so fastidious with the ones his brother had sent him. 

Details of the artist’s daily life and tribulations — his insomnia, his poverty, his self-doubt — were mixed with accounts of paintings he was working on, techniques he experimented with, what he was reading, descriptions of paintings by other artists he drew inspiration from. 

He often felt the need to put into words what he was trying to achieve with color: “Town violet, star yellow, sky blue-green; the wheat fields have all the tones: old gold, copper, green gold, red gold, yellow gold, green, red and yellow bronze.” 

Repeatedly he sought to explain his objective in capturing what he was looking at: “I tried to reconstruct the thing as it may have been by simplifying and accentuating the proud, unchanging nature of the pines and the cedar bushes against the blue.” 

He described his harrowing mental breakdowns and his fear of future collapses — that “a more violent crisis may destroy my ability to paint forever,” and his notion that, should he experience another episode, he could “go into an asylum or even to the town prison, where there’s usually an isolation cell.”

She did a lot of other reading as well, undertaking what amounted to a self-guided course in art criticism. 

She read the Belgian journal L’Art Moderne, which advocated the idea that art should serve progressive political causes, and took notes. 

She read a book of criticism by the Irish novelist George Moore, jotting down a quote from it that seemed pertinent: “The lot of critics is to be remembered by what they failed to understand.” 

As if to steel herself for her task ahead, she also read a biography of one of her heroes, Mary Ann Evans, the English protofeminist and social critic who wrote novels under the pen name George Eliot. 

She described Evans in her diary as “that great, courageous, intelligent woman whom I’ve loved and revered almost since childhood” and noted that “remembering her is always an incentive to be better.”

A page from Jo’s diary, 1883-1885.Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


She began to circulate in society. 

Some of the people she knew in the area were part of a community of artists, poets and intellectuals who had founded an arts journal called The New Guide. 

As the industrialization of the late 1880s and early 1890s spawned an anarchist movement and rising nationalisms, they were processing the ferment in Western society and sorting through how the arts should respond. 

Jo’s diary gives the impression of her attending their gatherings and not so much participating in conversations as listening while the intellectuals held forth on what was wrong with the art of the classical tradition, which followed prescribed rules and favored idea over emotion and line over color. 

Critics like Joseph Alberdingk Thijm, professor of aesthetics and the history of art at Amsterdam’s State Academy of Visual Arts, held that artists had a moral duty to uphold Christian ideals that undergirded society and to enhance the “representation of nature” in a way that “must be firm, clear, purified.”

By the end of her first year on her own — living with Vincent’s paintings and his words, reading deeply, immersing herself from time to time in these gatherings — Jo had experienced a kind of epiphany: Van Gogh’s letters were part and parcel of the art. 

They were keys to the paintings. 

The letters brought the art and the tragic, intensely lived life together into a single package. 

Jo would have appreciated the view of the French Impressionists she had met in Paris that the notion of following rules on how and what to paint had become impossibly inauthentic, that in a world lacking a central authority an artist had to look within for guidance. 

That was what Monet, Gauguin and the others had done, and the results were to be seen on their canvases. 

Bringing an artist’s biography into the mix was simply another step in the same direction.

The letters also pointed to the audience Vincent had intended. 

Vincent, who once sought a career as a minister and lived among peasants to humble himself, had desperately wanted to make art that reached beyond the cognoscenti and directly into the hearts of common people. 

“No result of my work would be more agreeable to me,” he wrote to Theo, quoting another artist, “than that ordinary working men should hang such prints in their room or workplace.” 

Vincent’s letters and paintings seemed to reinforce Jo’s own longstanding convictions about social justice. 

As a girl, influenced by Sunday sermons, she longed for a life of purpose. 

Just before agreeing to marry Theo, she visited Belgium, and the minister whose family she was staying with took her to see the living conditions of workers at a nearby coal mine. 

The experience shook her, and helped fuel what became a lifelong dedication to causes ranging from workers’ rights to female suffrage. 

She counted herself as one of the “ordinary” people Vincent had written of, and she knew that he had considered himself one as well. 

After consuming her tortured brother-in-law’s words alone in her guesthouse one night during a storm in 1891, with the wind howling outside, she wrote in a letter, “I felt so desolate — that for the first time I understood what he must have felt, in those times when everyone turned away from him.”

Self-portraits by Vincent, all from 1887.Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


She was now ready to act as agent for Vincent van Gogh. 

One of her first moves was to approach an art critic named Jan Veth, who in addition to being the husband of a friend was at the forefront of the New Guide circle. 

Veth was outspoken in his rejection of academic art and in promoting individual expression. 

At first, though, Veth dismissed Vincent’s work outright and belittled Jo’s efforts. 

He himself later admitted that he was initially “repelled by the raw violence of some van Goghs,” and found these paintings “nearly vulgar.” 

His reaction, despite his commitment to the new, gives a sense of the shock that Vincent’s canvases engendered at first sight. 

Another early critic found Vincent’s landscapes “without depth, without atmosphere, without light, the unmixed colors set beside each other without mutually harmonizing,” and complained that the artist was painting out of a desire to be “modern, bizarre, childlike.”

Jo found Veth’s reaction disappointingly conventional. 

He must also have said something disparaging about a woman seeking to enter the art world, because she complained to her diary after an encounter with him: “We women are for the most part what men want us to be.” 

But she realized his importance as a critic and believed that his openness to new ideas meant that she could persuade him to appreciate the paintings, telling her diary, “I won’t rest until he likes them.”

She pressed an envelope full of Vincent’s letters on Veth, encouraging him to use them, as she had, as a means to illuminate the paintings. 

She didn’t try to come across like an art critic but instead poured her heart out to the man, trying to guide him toward the shift in thinking that she felt was needed to perceive a new mode of artistic expression. 

She explained to Veth that she had begun reading the correspondence between the brothers in order to be closer to her dead husband, but then Vincent stole his way into her. 

“I read the letters — not only with my head — I was deep into them with my whole soul,” she wrote to Veth. 

“I read them and reread them until the whole figure of Vincent was clear before me.” 

She told him that she wished she could “make you feel the influence that Vincent has had on my life. ... I’ve found serenity.”

Her timing was good. 

The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga later characterized the “change of spirit that began to be felt in art and literature around 1890” as a swirl of ideas that coalesced around two poles: “that of socialism and that of mysticism.” 

Jo saw that Vincent’s art straddled both. 

Jan Veth was among those trying to process a shift from Impressionism to something new, an art that applied individualism to social and even spiritual questions. 

He listened to Jo and came around. He wrote one of the first appreciations of the artist, saying that he now saw “the astonishing clairvoyance of great humility” and characterized Vincent as an artist who “seeks the raw root of things.” 

In particular, Jo’s effort to bring her brother-in-law’s life to bear on his art seems to have worked with Veth. 

“Once having grasped his beauty, I can accept the whole man,” the critic wrote.

Something similar happened when Jo approached an influential artist named Richard Roland Holst to ask him to help promote Vincent. 

She must have pestered him relentlessly, because Roland Holst wrote to a friend, “Mrs. van Gogh is a charming woman, but it irritates me when someone fanatically raves about something they don’t understand.” 

But he came around, too, and assisted Jo with one of the first solo exhibitions of Vincent’s art, in Amsterdam in December 1892.

Veth and Roland Holst complained at first about Jo’s amateur enthusiasm. 

Each man found it unprofessional to look at the paintings with the artist’s life story in mind. 

Such an approach, Roland Holst huffed, “is not of a purely art-critical nature.” 

It’s not clear from her diary how consciously Jo used her lay status or her position as a woman to her advantage with these men of power, but somehow she got them to drop their guard and simply look and feel along with her. 

When Jo asked Roland Holst to make a cover illustration for the catalog of Vincent’s first exhibit in Amsterdam, he crafted a lithograph of a wilting sunflower against a black background, with the word “Vincent” beneath and a halo above the sunflower: an aesthetic canonization. 

Shortly after, the organizers of another exhibition hung a crown of thorns over a portrait of Vincent. 

Time and again, critics at first resisted the idea of looking at Vincent’s life and work as one, then gave in to it. 

When they looked at the paintings, they saw not just the art but Vincent, toiling and suffering, cutting off his ear, clawing at the act of creation. 

They fused art and artist. 

They saw what Jo van Gogh-Bonger wanted them to see.

The catalog cover for Vincent’s first Amsterdam art exhibition, 1892.Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


Jo worked doggedly to build on her early successes with critics. 

She did much else in her life, of course. 

She raised her son. 

She fell in love with the painter Isaac Israëls, then broke it off when she realized he was not interested in marriage. 

She eventually remarried: yet another Dutch painter, Johan Cohen Gosschalk. 

She became a member of the Dutch Social Democratic Workers’ party and a co-founder of an organization devoted to labor and women’s rights. 

But all these activities were woven around the task of managing her brother-in-law’s post-mortem career. 

“You see her thinking out loud,” Hans Luijten told me. 

In the early days, he said, she went about it as modestly as one could imagine: “She identifies an important gallery in Amsterdam and she goes there: a 30-year-old woman, with a little boy at her side and a painting under her arm. 

She writes to people across Europe.”

Her training as a language teacher — she knew French, German and English — came in especially handy as she expanded her reach, attracting the interest of galleries and museums in Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen. 

In 1895, when Jo was 33, the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard included 20 van Goghs in a show. 

Vincent’s intensely personal and emotion-filled approach had been ahead of its time, but time was catching up; in Antwerp, a group of young artists who saw him as a trailblazer asked to borrow several van Goghs to exhibit alongside their own work.

Jo learned the tricks of the trade — for example, to hold onto the best works but to include them as “on loan” alongside paintings that were for sale in a given show. 

“She knew that if you put a few top works on the wall, people will be stimulated to buy the works next to them,” Luijten says. 

“She did that all over Europe, in more than 100 shows.” 

A key to her success, says Martin Bailey, an author of several books on the artist, including “Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum,” was in “selling the works in a controlled way, gradually introducing van Gogh to the public.” 

For an exhibit in Paris in 1908, for instance, she sent 100 works but stipulated that a quarter of them were not for sale. 

The dealer begged her to reconsider; she held firm. 

Bucking her tendency to doubt herself, she proceeded methodically and inexorably, like a general conquering territory.

In 1905, she arranged a major exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam’s premier modern-art showcase. 

She reckoned that it was time for a grand statement. 

The success she had had in promoting her brother-in-law’s art boosted her self-confidence. 

As more and more people in the field came to agree with her assessment of Vincent, she shed her youthful hesitancy. 

Rather than hand over the task of organizing the show, she insisted on doing everything herself. 

She rented the galleries, printed the posters, assembled names of important people to invite, even bought bow ties for the staff. 

Her son, Vincent, now 15, wrote out the invitations. 

The result was, and remains, the largest-ever van Gogh exhibition, with 484 works on display.

A poster for Vincent’s exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, 1905. It was the largest retrospective of Vincent’s work to date, with more than 480 artworks on display.Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


Critics came from all over Europe. 

The hard work of translating the artist’s vision into the vernacular was mostly done by this time. 

Fourteen years after she was handed her task and had the epiphany to sell the art and artist as a package, everyone in the art world seemed to know Vincent personally, to know his tragic lifelong struggle to find and convey beauty and meaning. 

The event cemented the artist’s reputation as a major figure of the modern era. 

Prices for his paintings rose two- to threefold in the months after.

There was one caveat. 

The work of Vincent’s later period, when he was in an asylum in the South of France and after, which today is probably the most beloved part of his oeuvre, made some people uncomfortable. 

To some early critics, these paintings seemed clearly the product of mental illness. 

The unbridled intensity that Vincent brought to a lone mulberry tree, or a stand of cypresses, or a wheat field under a blazing sun, was off-putting. 

As one critic wrote, in response to the Amsterdam show, Vincent lacked “the distinctive calm that is inherent in the works of the very Great. 

He will always be a tempest.”

One painting in particular, “The Starry Night,” which many today consider one of Vincent’s most iconic works, was singled out for criticism. 

The discomfort over its distortions began with Theo, after Vincent sent the painting to him and Jo from Saint-Rémy. 

Jo may have initially shared her husband’s uneasiness toward it. 

She didn’t include it in any of the early exhibitions she arranged, and she eventually sold it. 

Throughout her life she mostly held onto what she believed to be Vincent’s best work. 

But she got the owner of the painting to lend it for the Amsterdam show, suggesting that she had come to embrace its intensity.

One reviewer — who had a fit over the whole exhibition, calling it a “scandal” that was “more for those interested in psychology than for art lovers” attacked “The Starry Night,” likening the stars in the painting to oliebollen, the fried dough balls that Dutch people eat on New Year’s Eve. 

That kind of criticism, however, only seemed to bring more attention to the painting, and ultimately to give further validity to the idea of art as a window into the mind and life of the artist. 

It may also have confirmed for Jo her reappraisal of Vincent’s more stylized work. 

She bought the painting back the next year. 

It eventually ended up at the Museum of Modern Art, becoming the first van Gogh in the collection of a New York museum.

Works by Vincent on exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium, 1914.Credit...Van Gogh Museum Documentation, Amsterdam


When Emilie Gordenker, a Dutch-American art historian, took over as director of the Van Gogh Museum at the beginning of 2020, the staff greeted her with a copy of Hans Luijten’s biography of Jo van Gogh-Bonger. 

Gordenker’s background was in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish art; since 2008 she had been the director of the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, the storied home of many Vermeers and Rembrandts. 

She knew she had to get up to speed on van Gogh, so she read the book immediately.

Gordenker said she found herself reacting to Jo’s story as a woman. 

“Though I’m not nearly the trailblazer Jo was, I can relate to some of the struggles,” she says. 

“For example, when I make a decision, I’m sometimes told what I am. 

‘You’re a woman, so you do things differently.’ 

You want to be evaluated for your ideas, but you’re sometimes pigeonholed. 

Of course, it was so much worse for her, being told you can’t do this because it’s not for women.”

She says she was struck by Jo’s self-taught approach to marketing an artist. 

“She had to make it up as she went along,” she says. 

“She didn’t have any background in this. 

But she was forthright and direct and at the same time very unsure of herself. 

That turns out to be a very productive combination of traits.” 

Gordenker says she believes it was a simple gut feeling that led Jo to her epiphany. 

“That informed her decision to make one package of the work and the person. 

Of course, she could only do that because of the letters. 

She found them to be a unique selling point. 

She sold the package to the critics, and they bought it.”

Gordenker stresses that Jo’s approach worked because it suited the times. 

“It was a moment when everything came together. 

There was a return to romanticism in art and literature. 

People were open to it. 

And her achievement informs our image to this day of what an artist should do: be an individual; suffer for art, if need be.” 

It takes some effort today to realize that people did not always see artists that way. 

“When I was studying art history, I was told to unthink that notion of the starving artist in the garret,” Gordenker says. 

“It doesn’t work for the early modern period, when someone like Rembrandt was a master working with apprentices and had many wealthy clients.

In a sense Jo helped shape the image that is still with us.”

Jo also set in motion a family legacy of carrying on her work. 

Gordenker put me in contact with Jo’s great-grandson Vincent Willem van Gogh. 

At 67, he gives off an air of easy elegance. 

He spoke fondly of his grandfather Vincent — Jo and Theo’s son. 

He told me that he and his grandfather both tried to distance themselves from the burden of their ancestor’s legacy (and by extension of Jo’s obsession): his grandfather by becoming an engineer, he by becoming a lawyer (and by deciding to go by his middle name). 

But eventually each man came around and accepted his role as a custodian of what Jo began.

Jo’s great-grandson says he remembers spending summers at the house in Laren, the town where his grandfather lived. 

After Jo’s death, the Engineer (as Jo’s son is referred to in the family, to distinguish him from the other Vincents) made it the temporary home of the collection: the 220 original Van Gogh paintings, as well as hundreds of drawings, that Jo, even after a career of selling Vincent’s works, had kept, and that she left to him.

The artist’s namesake told me he spent many childhood holidays at that house. 

He remembers that there was a “Sunflowers” hanging in the living room (one of five major renderings of the subject that Vincent painted) and a small painting of an almond-blossom branch in a vase at the end of a corridor, and that his grandfather kept his favorite, a view of Arles, on his desk, leaning against a stack of books. 

But only a fraction of the collection was displayed. 

“There was a walk-in closet in an upstairs bedroom,” he told me. 

All the art was there, everything that Jo had not sold, which today would surely be valued in the tens of billions of dollars. 

“I remember I would help him to get ready for an exhibition at, say, MoMA, or the Orangerie in Paris. 

He might be looking for flower paintings. 

We would go through the closet. I’d locate something and say, ‘This, Grandpa?’” 

The former lawyer, who is now on the board of the Van Gogh Museum, gave a chuckle at the memory: “You could never do that now.”

But Jo’s son did not plan on keeping the art in his closet forever. 

In 1959 he entered into negotiations with the Dutch government to create a permanent home for it. 

All the art that Jo had kept was transferred to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation. 

The three living descendants of Jo and Theo’s only son sit on the foundation’s board; the fourth board member is an official with the Dutch ministry of culture. 

The government built the Van Gogh Museum to house the work and assumed the responsibility of making it public. 

“There’s not a single painting or drawing by Vincent in the family anymore,” Jo’s great-grandson told me with some pride. 

“Thanks to Jo, and to her son, it’s no longer ours. 

It’s for everyone.”

Thus the museum itself is another product of Jo van Gogh-Bonger’s efforts to realize Vincent’s ambition of democratizing his art. 

By numbers alone it has succeeded spectacularly. 

When the original building was opened, in 1973, it was with an expectation of receiving 60,000 visitors a year. 

In 2019, before the pandemic, more than 2.1 million people jostled for the chance to spend a few moments before each of the master’s canvases.

Jo’s son, Vincent Willem van Gogh, with his wife, Josina van Gogh-Wibaut, in Amsterdam, 1915.Credit...Bernard Eilers, Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


In 1916, at age 54, Jo confronted the most formidable challenge in her campaign to bring Vincent to the world. 

For all the success she had had in Europe, the United States, with its conservative and puritanical society, lagged in appreciating the artist. 

She left Europe — left her whole world — and moved to New York with a goal of changing that. 

She spent nearly three years in the United States, living for a time on the Upper West Side and then in Queens, networking, explaining the artist’s vision and, in her spare time, translating Vincent’s letters into English.

She found it tough going at first. 

“I supposed the American taste in art was advanced enough, fully to appreciate van Gogh in which I have been rather mistaken,” she lamented at one point in a letter to the art promoter Newman Emerson Montross. 

But change came. She eventually arranged a show with Montross’s gallery on Fifth Avenue. 

Shortly after, the Metropolitan Museum featured an exhibition of “Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings,” to which Jo contributed four canvases.

At about the same time, a professor from Columbia University delivered a public lecture in which he tried to interpret the works, which to American tastes seemed lurid and cartoonish. 

The New York Times covered the talk and furthered the explanation, asserting that the artist’s exaggerated colors were tapping into a “primitive symbolic language.”

Jo, meanwhile, continued to believe that the letters to Theo — in which Vincent came through as a romantic figure, a tragic figure — would open up his soul to America and beyond. 

Having the letters published in English was her last great objective.

It proved to be a race against time. 

Her health was failing — she had Parkinson’s disease — and the publisher she had contracted with, Alfred Knopf, wanted to produce only an abridged edition, to which she would not agree.

She returned to Europe and lived her last years in a spacious apartment on Amsterdam’s stately Koninginneweg and in a country house in Laren. 

Her son, Vincent, and his wife, Josina, moved close to her, and Jo found happiness in the hour she spent each day with her grandchildren. 

Otherwise, she kept remarkably fixated on her life’s mission: shipping canvases to one exhibition after another, wrangling with the publisher, all the while coping with the pain and other symptoms of her illness.

If anything, her obsession seems to have grown as she neared the end of her life. 

She got into a friendship-ending argument over a modest amount of money with Paul Cassirer, a German dealer who had worked closely with her to promote van Gogh. 

When a romanticized novel about the van Gogh brothers appeared in German in 1921, she found the factual liberties it took deeply upsetting. 

Requests for paintings for possible exhibitions kept coming at a furious pace — Paris, Frankfurt, London, Cleveland, Detroit — and she remained closely involved, until she no longer could. 

She died in 1925 at age 63.

The first English-language edition of the letters, by Constable & Company in London and Houghton Mifflin in the United States, appeared two years later, in 1927. 

It contained an introduction by Jo, in which she furthered the myth of the suffering artist and highlighted her husband’s role as well: “It was always Theo alone who understood him and supported him.” 

Seven years later, Irving Stone published his best-selling novel “Lust for Life,” based heavily on the letters, about the relationship between the van Gogh brothers. 

It in turn became the source material for the 1956 movie starring Kirk Douglas. By then, the myth was ingrained. 

No less a figure than Pablo Picasso referred to van Gogh’s life — “essentially solitary and tragic” — as “the archetype of our times.”

There was one other homage Jo paid to her brother-in-law and her husband, possibly the most remarkable of all. 

Late in her life, while she was translating the letters into English, she arranged to have Theo’s remains disinterred from the Dutch cemetery where he had been laid to rest and reburied in Auvers-sur-Oise, next to Vincent. 

As with the Amsterdam exhibition, she undertook the operation like a general, overseeing every detail, down to commissioning matching gravestones. 

Hans Luijten told me he found it a striking manifestation of her single-minded devotion. 

“She wanted to have them side by side forever,” Luijten said.

A wife’s digging up her husband’s remains is such a startling image it yanks one back to the central question of Jo’s life: her motivation. 

Why, finally, did she fasten herself to this cause and carry it across the length of her life? 

Certainly her belief in Vincent’s genius and her desire to honor Theo’s wishes were strong. 

And Luijten noted to me that in promoting van Gogh’s art, she believed she was also furthering her socialistic political beliefs.

But people act from smaller, simpler motivations as well. 

Jo’s 21 months with Theo were the most intense of her life. 

She experienced Paris, joy, a revolution in color and culture. 

With Theo’s help she vaulted out of her careful, conventional world and gave herself over to passion. 

Moving today through the museum that houses all the paintings Jo couldn’t bear to part with, another notion surfaces: that, in devoting herself utterly to Vincent van Gogh, in selling him to the world, she was keeping alive that moment of her youth, and allowing the rest of us to feel it.

Jo van Gogh-Bonger at her desk in Amsterdam, sometime after 1909. Vincent van Gogh’s “Vase of Honesty” (1884, left) and Henri Fantin-Latour’s “Flowers” hang beneath Vincent’s “Landscape at Twilight” (1890).Credit...Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)


Russell Shorto is a contributing writer and the author, most recently, of “Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob.” 

He last wrote about the obsessive aristocrat Jan Six, who found two unknown Rembrandt paintings.

Vincent’s self portraits Clockwise from top left: ‘‘Self-Portrait,’’ Summer 1887; ‘‘Self-Portrait With Straw Hat,’’ August-September 1887; ‘‘Self-Portrait With Pipe and Straw Hat,’’ September-October 1887; ‘‘Self-Portrait,’’ July-August 1887; ‘‘Self-Portrait,’’ March-June 1887; ‘‘Self-Portrait,’’ March-June 1887.