Many thanks for your letter and for the money.
When I read and reread your letters about your patient, I am
reminded of many things. And I should like to write and ask you
much more about it, but as I know the person only from your
letters, it is all too vague and undefined, and more than once
I have torn up a letter because of this, but believe me, I
think of it all the time, and I can very well understand, and
perfectly agree with you, that except for the melancholy idea
of her suffering, such an encounter is a thing for which you
feel grateful, and consider it uncommon good fortune. That
je ne sais quoi coming from the heath, or whatever it is
that reminds you of her native country, that old coast of
Brittany, is something which I think will become stronger
rather than weaker the longer you are with her. Your
expression, “Later on will she be like the dog with the
shepherd or something better?” is rather characteristic.
Don't you think it probable that one time will differ greatly
from another? There are so many different phases or
metamorphoses in any one love, just because of the
faithfulness to that one love - so that it changes all the
That operation will be a hard time - if I were you I
shouldn't say too much to her about finding a situation later,
as the future is so undecided because of her foot 1
- better leave it undecided. For I should be afraid that, for
instance, in a crisis of pain she might quite wrongly get the
notion fixed in her head, “I must do this or that,”
which often happens to sick women. It might make her obstinate,
contrary to the feelings of her own heart, which would pain you
because you would only have mentioned the idea of a situation
out of delicacy, to make her feel that her future was free
and independent; and she might assume that you felt more
indifferent about her than is really the case. Perhaps I
express myself too vaguely, but women do not always understand
delicacy, any more than they do humour; and though one must
certainly act with delicacy, it often gives rise to
misunderstandings (though, in my opinion, one isn't responsible
for them) which, in short, make life more difficult.
I do not know whether Heyerdahl, for instance, would find
anything picturesque in the daily activities of the woman whom
I live with. But Daumier certainly would.
I thought of Heyerdahl's saying, “Je n'aime pas qu'une
figure soit trop corrumpue” [I don't like a figure to be
too misshapen], when I was drawing - not the woman, but an old
man with a bandaged eye - and I found it not true. There
are some ruins of physiognomies which are full of expression,
as, for instance, “Malle [Mad] Babbe” by Frans Hals
or some heads by Rembrandt.
As to Heyerdahl, I do not doubt that his intentions
were all right when he made this statement, otherwise I don't
think it would hold water.
In the last letter I wrote you I asked casually about
Lhermitte's work. In the articles about the Black and White he
is nearly always singled out as “the Millet and Jules
Breton of Black and White.” There was, for instance, a
description of a drawing of old women on the cliffs, and about
his technique they said there was none more daring, bold, or
strong than he, even astonishingly so, and other drawings
couldn't be compared to his, and that his touch was broader
than the broadest. They also compared him with Legros, but only
with the most extraordinary, most exceptional drawings or
etchings by Legros, which are also very strong and broad, for
instance, “The Pew.”
Ever since the middle of December I have been drudging
incessantly, especially on those heads. This last week I have
been out-of-doors a good deal to refresh myself. I have taken
baths, washed my head often with cold water, etc., etc. But one
feels so miserable at such a time; I have a large pile of
studies, but they don't interest me then, and I find them all
Rappard wrote me again this week; he said he was recovering,
but slowly, still feels weak but is beginning to walk a little
bit now and then. But he wrote very clearly and plainly about
many things concerning the work.
There is a spring feeling in the air already, and it will
not be long before the lark sings over the meadows again.
Do you think you will be able to get here this spring???
I am rather afraid not. I am eager to talk this winter's
studies over with you, and also with Rappard; he will come here
sometime, when he is quite recovered.
I will take a few weeks' rest, and be out-of-doors as much
as possible to refresh my thoughts. I want to use my studies
for watercolours, for instance, but at present it's no use.
In the evening at sunset there are effects of dark clouds
with silver linings that are splendid, for instance, when one
is walking in Bezuidenhout or along the edge of the wood. You
will remember that from long ago. It is also beautiful outside
my studio window, or in the meadows; one feels the spring from
afar, and now and then there is something balmy in the air.
Adieu, boy, thanks again for your letter, and best wishes
for your patient. I hope that I shall soon find again a drawing
or a study that interests me - it is so unpleasant when one
must take a rest. One cannot rest for the very reason
that one must. Adieu. With a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
The patient had to be operated on for a tumour on the
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 5 February 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 264.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.