Etten 12 November 18811
Not having received any letter from you up to today, I
thought, “Probably Rappard did not like my last letter at
all, there seems to have been something in it that made him
peevish.” Qu'y faire? Suppose this were so, do you really
think it nice of you? Speaking for myself, I cannot always
quite make out whether my reasonings are right or wrong, proper
or improper. But this much I know, that however roughly or
harshly I may express myself toward you, I have such a warm
sympathy for you that on quietly reading or rereading my letter
you will see and feel, The person who speaks that way to me is
not my enemy. And knowing this, is it quite impossible for you
to hear with me and even swallow some expressions that are a
little rough or harsh, which perhaps later on will prove to be
less rough and harsh than you thought in the beginning?
Rappard, why do you think I speak and write to you as I do?
Is it because I want to lay snares for you, because I am a sort
of tempter who wants to make you fall into a pit, or is it
possible that I had a sound reason for thinking, “Rappard
is taking a chance on very slippery ice!” Oh, I well know
that there are people who not only stay on their feet on the
most slippery ice, but can even perform tours de force on it -
but even if you were standing as firmly on your feet as all
that (and I'm not saying you aren't), yet I would rather see
you marching on a footpath or a paved road.
Please, don't get angry - read on - to the very end - if you
get angry - don't tear up this letter without reading it -
first count to ten. One... two... three... and so on....
That's tranquillizing... for you know, now there follows
something dreadful indeed. What I want to say is this.
Rappard, I believe that, though you are working at the
academy, you are trying more and more to become a true realist
and that even at the academy you will stick to reality -
however, without being conscious of it yourself. Without
knowing it, this academy is a mistress who prevents a more
serious, a warmer, a more fruitful love from awakening in you.
Let this mistress go, and fall desperately in love with your
real sweetheart: Dame Nature or Reality.
I fell in love the same way too - desperately, I tell you -
with a certain Dame Nature or Reality, and I have felt so happy
ever since, though she is still resisting me cruelly, and does
not want me yet, and often raps me over the knuckles when I
dare prematurely to consider her mine. Consequently I cannot
say that I have won her by a long shot, but what I can
say is that I am wooing her, and that I am trying to find the
key to her heart, notwithstanding the painful raps on the
But never think that there is only one woman called Dame
Nature or Reality; no, it is only the family name of many
sisters with different Christian names. So we need not be
Is this clear to you, my friend? Of course it is meant in a
purely artistic sense, you know 2.
Now, in my opinion there are two kinds of mistresses. There
is the kind whom you may love and be loved by, all the time
being aware that on one side or on both it is nothing
permanent, and that you do not surrender yourself completely,
unconditionally and without reservation.
Such mistresses enervate one, they flatter and spoil one,
and then - then - they scorch the wings of quite a number of
The mistresses of the second kind are of an entirely
different variety. Collets montés - female Pharisees -
female Jesuits!!! These are women of marble - sphynxlike -
frozen vipers - who would like to fetter men completely, once
and for all, however, without on their part surrendering
themselves unconditionally and without reservation. They are
bloodsuckers, these mistresses, they freeze men and petrify
But I told you, old fellow, this is only meant in a purely
artistic sense - and so I compare the first kind of mistress,
those who scorch, to that school in art which lapses into
vulgarity; and I compare the other kind of mistress (the
collets montés) those who freeze and petrify, to the
academic reality, or ... or ... if you want me to coat the
pill, to the unacademic reality - more sugar won't stick to the
pill, and I am afraid you can look through the thin layer. The
pill is bitter, but very healthy ... it is quinine....
Have you understood this, old fellow?
Now there are - thank God - others besides these two kinds
of women: they form that family of Dames Nature and Reality,
but it takes a severe mental struggle to win one of them.
They demand nothing more nor less than the entire surrender
of the heart, the Soul and the mind, in a certain respect all
the love we have in us, and then - then - they surrender
themselves too. These Dames Nature, though righteous as doves,
are at the same time cautious as serpents and they know quite
well how to distinguish those who are sincere from those who
She renews, she refreshes, she gives life, this Dame Nature,
this Dame Reality!
Rappard, there are people, and perhaps you and I belong
among them, who - only when they are really in love - realize
that before that time they have had mistresses of either
variety, consciously or unconsciously, or who at any rate are
not unacquainted with both species.
So, according to me, you have a mistress who freezes you,
who petrifies you, who sucks your blood.
Therefore I tell you, my friend, you must tear yourself from
the arms of this woman of marble (or is it plaster of Paris???
how horrible!), or you will freeze to death.
Meanwhile remember, if I be a tempter digging a deep pit for
you to fall into, that pit may be a “well wherein truth
And that's that. Nevermore sound the praises of any
unacademic mistress to me (speaking artistically)! In my
opinion she is a shrew. Old fellow, I think she will cheat you
if you let her capture you. Let her go to the devil. Drive her
away on the double, but listen, this is meant purely in the
artistic sense, old fellow.
Oh well! if there is anything over and above this, that is
another matter - even so, I shan't take back my words, though I
should like to take my own words in a nonfigurative sense. Do
you understand, old fellow? - and - and - say! - you will now
write to me without loss of time, hein?
A handshake, and believe me
Ever yours, Vincent
Recently I made a drawing. Lunch hour: a labourer resting
and drinking his coffee and cutting a slice of bread. On the
ground a spade, with which he returned from the field.
[The following part of the postscript is written mostly in
Yet she is somewhat cold, my friend, the woman whom you say
you love, and who is your ideal for the time being. She
certainly is what I had imagined: - marble, plaster of Paris,
how can I tell? A somnambulist at best. Alive? - no!
So you say:
Where does she come from?...from Heaven.
Where does she dwell?...everywhere in the world.
Her intentions?...beauty and sublimity.
But, good heavens, at least you are sincere, and without
knowing it you agree with me to the extent of admitting that
you have chosen a mistress among those to whom I have assigned
the name of collets montés, etc, etc.
Truly this is quite right, you have described her very
correctly. But how Pharisaical she is, this beautiful lady, and
how much you are in love with her - what a pity.
Lady, who are you? I am Beauty and Sublimity. Just
tell me, beautiful and sublime lady, she who feels so,
is she really so? I readily admit that in certain crises in
life - in great pain, in the exaltation of joy - one may feel
one is beautiful as well as sublime; I hope I belong to those
who can appreciate such feelings. Notwithstanding all that, the
fact is, my lady, that you leave me cold and without emotion -
what is the cause of this? I feel sure that I do not have too
thick a skin; I hope that quite a few females, some not even
pretty nor exactly sublime, have charmed me. But you, my lady,
you do not charm me in the least. One should not claim to
possess beauty and sublimity!
My lady, I do not love you at all, and besides, I do not
believe that you know how to love, or it might be in some
academic heaven; this may be true - but somewhere on the heath,
or by the fireside, intimately? - no, a thousand times no!
Don't tell me that story, my Lady Beauty and Sublimity, you
know nothing of that.
You see, my lady, I am only a man with human passions, and
as long as I am rambling on the heath “here below,”
I have no time to meddle with some celestial and mystical love,
for I feel a love of a more earthly and frank character.
I certainly want beauty and sublimity, I admit it, but above
all I want some-thing else - to begin with: goodness, kindness,
tenderness - do you have much of that, my Pharisaical lady? I
am inclined to doubt it. And then, my lady, please tell me, do
you really have a body and a soul? - I am inclined to doubt
that too, by heaven, and I mean the body as well as the
Listen, beautiful lady, wherever you pretend to come from,
you who tell me that your fundamental intentions are
“beauty and sublimity” (which, however, can only be
results and never intentions), whatever
place you come from, you certainly did not issue from the body
of the living God, neither did you from the body of a woman.
Get you gone, sphinx, begone at this very instant, I tell you -
you are nothing but a humbug ... You do not exist at all. (Le
tiaple n'eczisde boind,3 as Nucingen would say.) But
if you really exist, if in point of fact you come from
somewhere, are you quite sure that your progenitor was not
Satan himself, the father of lies; are you less viper and less
serpent than he, my beautiful, my sublime lady?
To say that your mistress, “the Beautiful and Sublime
One, who says that she comes from heaven and dwells everywhere
on earth,” is a more than suspect person would mean
expressing the thing not strongly enough.
Ask her if she is good and useful, if she loves and craves
for love. Then she will be troubled in her mind, and if she
answers Yes, it is a lie.
She - that is to say the other one, not
the one with the intentions aforenamed - where does she come
Far be it from me to deny her divinity, her immortality;
most certainly I believe in these, and in the first place too,
but on the other hand she is also quite earthly, and also
certainly a womanborn of a woman.
She? Where she dwells? I well know where, and it is not far
from any of us.
She? Her intentions? What do I know of them, how can I
I want to be silent - and yet, because I must speak -
well then - as it seems to me: to love and to be lovable - to
live - to give life, to renew it, to restore it, to preserve it
- and to work, giving a spark for a spark, and above all to be
good, to be useful, to be helpful in something, for instance
lighting a fire, giving a slice of bread and butter to a child,
a glass of water to a sufferer.
Oh! but all this is very beautiful, very sublime. Yes, but
she did not know the names for it, and moreover she believed it
was quite simple, she did not do it expressly, it was not
her intention to make so much noise: she thought nobody
took any notice of it.
Those “reasonings” of hers, you see, are not so
very brilliant, not so very exquisite - but her feelings are
“To know what's her duty she does not go to her head
she goes to her heart.” 4
But this one is not a mistress at all. Puisqu'une
dame est une dame, as Michelet says.
Meanwhile, Rappard, I thought that competition affair rather
In the first place number 11 is the fools' number, and
further, to be “the last one" is also a good sign, so I
congratulate you from the bottom of my heart - I think it all a
good omen for you. It is promising.
Well, I have many objections to various dogmas of yours too,
but seeing that under the present circumstances the said
mistress is my particular bête noire, I
shall leave your dogmas alone. If only you could send the Lady
Beauty and Sublimity packing, and fall in love with the
other one, I think this would put quite different
dogmas into your head and into your heart. And certain
phenomena give me the impression that, however much you may be
attached to my Lady Beauty and Sublimity, you will not be able
to stand her company much longer. If only she does not petrify,
and freeze, and immobilize you in this way, but I do not
consider this very probable: you have too much good sense for
that. Be careful - see to it that you keep warm (by way of a
little precaution against her freezing influence) - take many
walks (especially when you feel a certain petrifaction
beginning); a warned man counts as two, so here is your
Do not take this in bad part - if the phrase were not so
academic, I should say: it is for your own good.
Enfin, keep going strong, I have yet another bête
noire to pursue, but at the moment I won't tell you which
it is. However, listen, I am going to tell you all the same.
This other bête noire is “resignation under
disappointments.” Another Pharisaical invention of an
incredible Jesuitism. But it is theological, very theological.
My dear fellow, never be resigned, and never get disappointed,
this is the best advice I can give you; it is worth even more
than the other advice namely to send that cold mistress of
yours to the devil - the more so as the two advices are really
A handshake. Always believe me
Vincent himself dated this letter 12/9/1881, but there
is every reason to suppose that this was a slip of the pen,
and that he meant 12/11. In the first letter of
October 1st there is no question of the academy
yet; Vincent is only inquiring after Rappard's plans for
the following winter. From the second letter of October
15th it appears that R. had informed Vincent of
his intention to go to Brussels, and now there begins
Vincent's attack on the bête noire of the
academy. In the third letter (of November 3: R. is already
at Brussels) the attack is continued. Apparently R. was
annoyed by this letter, and did not hasten to answer it
then letter R 4 followed.
These and many other sentences in this letter were
written in French, because Van Rappard was living in
Brussels. For a better understanding of these letters from
Etten, compare with letters 153 ff. to Theo.
The rather exaggerated German pronunciation of le
diable n'existe point, “the devil does not exist
This sentence was written in English.
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Anthon van Rappard. Written 12 November 1881 in Etten. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number R04.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.