My dear Theo,
I received your letter with enclosed 50 fr. My warm thanks
for both, and I am very glad you have given some details about
As for me, brother - though the mill is gone and the years
and my youth are gone as irrevocably - deep within me has risen
again the feeling that there is some good in life, and that it
is worth while to exert oneself and to try to take life
seriously. Perhaps, or rather certainly, this is more firmly
rooted than it used to be, when I had less experience. The
question for me now is how to express the poetry of that time
in my drawings.
Your letter to me crossed one of mine in which I told you I
had resolved to set to work again, sick or not sick. Well, I
have done so, and I find it does me no harm, though I must take
more medicine to brace me up. But of course the work itself
puts me in a much better mood. I could not bear staying away
from my drawings any longer.
Now when you come, brother, I shall have a few watercolours
for you. It is damn nice working in the studio. Do you remember
that last winter I told you you would have your watercolours
within a year?
Those I have done now are simply to show you that my
studying drawing, correct perspective and proportions, helps me
make progress in watercolours. And for my part, I did them as
an experiment to find out what progress I had made in
watercolours after six months of drawing exclusively; and
secondly, to see what I shall have to work harder on in that
fundamental drawing which everything depends on.
They are landscapes with complicated perspective, very
difficult to draw, but for that very reason there is a real
Dutch character and sentiment in them. They resemble those I
sent last, the drawing is no less conscientious; but in
addition these have colour - the soft green of the meadow
contrasting with the red tile roof, the light in the sky
contrasting more strongly with the sombre tones of the
foreground, a yard full of wet wood and sand.
When judging me and my behaviour, Tersteeg always starts
with the fixed idea that I can do nothing and am good for
nothing. I heard it from his own lips, “Oh, that painting
of yours will be like all the other things you started, it will
come to nothing.”
He spoke like this last winter; he speaks that way now, to
which I replied that I did not wish to go to see him or have
him come here for six months. You should thoroughly understand
- for this reason I no longer care for him; and he should
clearly understand once and for all that lately I have
developed a strong aversion to him, and prefer to be done with
him for good and all. I quietly continue working, and I shall
gladly let him tell all the absurdities about me he may get
into his noodle, as such sayings only annoy and upset me. As
long as he does not hinder my work, I shall absolutely forget
It was different last winter when he said something about
his seeing to it that I should get no more money from you, and
I wrote you about it at once. But I shall not write about him
any more unless such a thing happens again. It would be too
foolish to run after him, saying, Mr. Tersteeg, Mr. Tersteeg, I
am a real painter like other painters, no matter what you
No, since I do indeed have the artistic sense in the very
marrow of my bones, I think it's much better to go quietly
camping in the meadows or the dunes, or to work in the studio
from the model, without paying the slightest attention to
I am glad that you have been reading Le Ventre de Paris;
lately I read Nana too. I tell you, Zola is really a second
Balzac. Balzac the First describes society from 1815 to 1848.
Zola begins where Balzac leaves off and goes on until Sedan, or
rather until now. I think it's splendid. I just want to ask you
what you think of Mme. François, who lifted poor Florent
into her cart and took him home when he was lying unconscious
in the middle of the road where the greengrocers' carts were
Though the other greengrocers cried, Let that drunkard lie,
we have no time to pick men up out of the gutter, etc.
That figure of Mme. François stands out so calmly and
nobly and sympathetically all through the book, against the
background of the Halles, in contrast with the brutal egoism of
the other women.
See, Theo, I think Mme. François is truly humane; and
I have done, and will do, for Sien what I think someone like
Mme. François would have done for Florent if he had not
loved politics more than her. Look here, that humanity is the
salt of life; I should not care to live without it, that's
I care as little about what Tersteeg says as Mme.
François cared about the other women and greengrocers
when they cried, “Let him be, we have no time,” and
about all the noise and gossip.
Then I must tell you that it will not be long before Sien
earns her own bread by posing. My very best drawing,
“Sorrow” - at least, I think it's the best I've
done - well, she posed for that, and in less than a year I
shall draw the figure regularly. I promise you that. For
understand clearly that however much I may like landscapes, I
love drawing the figure more. But it is the most difficult, and
therefore costs me more study and work, and also more time. But
don't let them tell you she keeps me from my work; at the
studio you will see for yourself how things are. If it were
true that I worked less for her sake, yes, then you would be
right; but, indeed, now it is exactly the reverse.
Well, I hope we shall agree on that by and by, less by words
than by drawings. I hate words. Enough.
But, brother, I am so very glad you are coming; when you are
here, shall we really go through the meadows together, with
nothing around us but that quiet, tender, soft green and the
light sky above? Fine - and the sea and the beach, and the
old part of Scheveningen. Delightful.
Apropos - the other day I saw some very beautiful little
fusains by Th. de Bock, with touches of white and a delicate
blue in the sky, very well done; I like them better than his
I can't tell you how wonderful I find all the space in the
studio - now that I have set to work, the effect is immediately
apparent. We'll teach them to say of my drawings
“they're only the old ones.” After all, I
didn't get ill for the fun of it.
So you must picture me sitting in my attic window as early
as 4 o'clock in the morning, studying the meadows and the
carpenter's yard with my perspective frame just as they're
lighting the fires to make coffee in the yard and the first
worker comes strolling in. A flock of white pigeons comes
soaring over the red tile roofs between the smoking black
chimney stacks. Beyond it all lies an infinity of delicate,
soft green, miles and miles of flat meadow, and a grey sky, as
calm, as peaceful as Corot or Van Goyen.
That view over the ridges of the roofs and the gutters with
grass growing in them, very early in the morning, and those
first signs of life and awakening - the flying bird, the
smoking chimney, the small figure strolling along far below -
that is the subject of my watercolour. I hope
you will like it.
I'm sure that it depends more on my work than on anything
else whether or not I succeed one day. Provided I can just keep
going, well then, I shall fight my fight quietly in this way
and no other - by calmly looking through my little window at
natural things and drawing them faithfully and with love. For
the rest, I shall just adopt a defensive attitude against
possible molestation, and beyond that I love drawing too much
to want to be distracted by anything else. The peculiar effects
of perspective intrigue me more than human intrigues.
If Tersteeg only understood that my painting is a thing
apart, quite different from the rest, he would not make a
But in his opinion I have deceived and disappointed Mauve.
Furthermore, he thinks I'm only doing it to get more money from
you. All this is absurd - too absurd to attach any importance
to it. Mauve himself will understand later that he was not
deceived in me, and that I was not at all unwilling. He
himself was the one who taught me to draw more
conscientiously before trying anything else. But then there was
a misunderstanding between us, perhaps Tersteeg was behind it.
Relationships with people like Tersteeg, who cling to their
prejudices, are absolutely sterile and useless.
In answer to your letter I must say one thing, that your not
knowing about Sien's child was not my fault, for when I told
you about her I certainly mentioned it, but you probably
thought of the child that had not yet been born.
I have already spoken a few words about the love for
humanity which some people possess, for instance, Mme.
François in the book by Zola. However, I haven't any
benevolent plans or projects for trying to help everybody, but
I am not ashamed to say (though I know quite well that the word
benevolence is in bad repute) that for my part I have
always felt and will feel the need to love some fellow
creature. Preferably, I don't know why, an unhappy, forsaken or
Once I nursed for six weeks or two months a poor miserable
miner who had been burned. I shared my food for a whole winter
with a poor old man, and heaven knows what else, and now there
is Sien. But so far I have never thought all this foolish or
wrong. I think it so natural and right that I cannot understand
people being so indifferent to each other in general. I must
add that if I were wrong in doing this, you were also wrong in
helping me so faithfully - it would be too absurd if this were
wrong. I have always believed that “love thy neighbour as
thyself” is no exaggeration, but a normal condition. So
be it. And you know that I shall make every effort to try to
sell my drawings soon, for the very reason that I do not want
to abuse your kindness.
I certainly and confidently believe, brother, that to all
the hints they may give you to convince you to stop sending me
money, you will quietly answer that you have faith in my
becoming a good painter, and so will continue to help me; that
as to my private life and business, you left me free therein,
and will neither force me nor help others to force me. Then I
believe they will soon stop their gossip. The only thing they
can do is exclude me from some circles where they consider me
an outcast. Which is nothing new and doesn't bother me one way
or the other. I will concentrate more and more on art. And
though some people may damn me irrevocably and forever, in the
nature of things my profession and my work will open new
relationships to me, that much fresher for not having been
frozen, hardened and made sterile by old prejudices.
Well, brother, thanks for your letter and the 50 fr.; my
drawing has dried in the meantime, and I want to touch it up.
The lines of the roofs and gutters shoot away into the distance
like arrows from a bow, they are drawn without hesitation.
Adieu, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
P. S. Read as much of Zola as you can; that is good for one,
and makes things clear.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 23 July 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 219.
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