My dear Theo,
Just a word to acknowledge the safe receipt of your letter,
for the contents of which my hearty thanks.
I have done hardly anything but watercolours these last few
days. Enclosed is a small sketch of a large one.
You may remember Mooijman's State Lottery office at the
top of Spuistraat. I passed it one rainy morning when a crowd
of people were standing outside waiting to get their lottery
tickets. Most of them were little old women and the sort of
people of whom one cannot tell what they do or how they live,
but who evidently scrape and struggle to make their way through
Of course, superficially a small crowd of people like that
so patently interested in “Today's Draw” is
something to make you and me smile, neither of us giving two
pins for the lottery.
But I was struck by that small group and their expectant
expressions, and while I did the sketch it assumed a greater
and deeper significance for me than it had at first sight. It
seems to me that it takes on more significance when one views
it as: the poor and money. However, that is true of
nearly all groups of figures - one must think about them before
one can tell what one is looking at. The keen interest in, and
the illusions about, the lottery may seem rather childish to
us, but are serious indeed when we think of their counterpart,
the misery and the sort of efforts de perdus [forlorn efforts]
of those poor wretches to find salvation, as they think,
through a lottery ticket possibly paid for with their last
pennies, money that should have gone on food.
Be that as it may, I am trying my hand at a large
watercolour of it. And am also doing one of a pew, which I saw
in a small church in the Geest attended by the almshouse people
(in these parts they are called, very expressively
orphan men and women).
Once again hard at work drawing. I sometimes think there is
nothing nicer than drawing.
This is a part of that pews piece - there are other heads,
of men, in the background. Things like this are
difficult, however, and don't always work straight away. When
they do work, it's sometimes the end result of a whole series
Speaking of orphan men, I was interrupted while writing
these lines by the arrival of my model. And I worked with him
until dark. He was wearing a large old overcoat (which lends
him a curiously broad figure) [F 962, JH 212].
I think you may perhaps like this collection
of orphan men in their
Sunday best and their
Then I got him sitting with a short pipe as well. He has a
nice bald head, large (N.B. deaf) ears and white
I did this sketch at dusk, but perhaps you can just make out
the composition. Once it's all together, it's quickly drawn,
but it wasn't all that easy to put it together and I wouldn't
say that I've put it together as well as I would have liked. I
should like to paint it, with the figures about one foot high,
or a little less, and the composition a little wider.
But I don't know if I'll do it. It would need a large
canvas, and if things go wrong it could mean quite a bit of
money wasted. So, much as I should like to do it, I think that
if I carry on with my typical figures, these things will come
by themselves. They will spring naturally from the studies
after the model, be it in this or in another form, but with the
I am beginning to see more and more how useful and essential
it is to keep hold of one's studies after the model. Though
they have less value for others, the one who made them will
recognize the model in them and will be reminded vividly of how
If you get a chance, please try to return some of my old
studies. I hope that I shall be able to do better things with
them in time.
It goes without saying that in that group of figures, of
which I am sending you a quick black sketch, there were many
splendid things in colour - blue smocks and brown jackets,
white, black and yellowish workmen's trousers, faded shawls, an
overcoat that had turned greenish, white bonnets and black top
hats, muddy paving stones and boots setting off pale or
weather-beaten faces. And it all cries out for watercolour or
oils. Well, I am hard at it.
I count on your writing again - you will, won't you? And
once more thanks for the timely remittance which is
indispensable if I am to carry on working hard. Goodbye, my
dear fellow, let me shake your hand warmly in thought, and
Ever yours, Vincent
There is a bit more foreground in the watercolour - here,
the figures are too prominent and the eye doesn't have enough
command of the foreground.
[Sketch `The State Lottery', JH 223, enclosed with the
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 1 October 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 235.
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