I wanted to write you last Sunday already, but I waited a
little because I was trying to do something and its outcome was
uncertain. A few weeks ago, I read Fritz Reuter's Ut mine
Festungstid, in which he describes, in the most witty way, how
Fritz Reuter and others who were confined in a fortress tried
to make their life as comfortable as possible and to obtain
several privileges from the town major.
That book gave me the idea of attacking my landlord about
certain improvements which would make work easier for me.
And several times I have gone down to Voorburg, where he
lives, in order to find out if he would do something for
There were old shutters and boards which I wanted to use
lying around there, but it was hard to get them. But I have
You know there are three windows in the studio. They let in
far too much light, even when I cover them, and for a long time
I have been thinking about how to remedy this.
But he refused to do anything unless I paid for it. But now,
after a new attack, I have six shutters and about six long
Those shutters are sawed in two now, so that both the upper
and lower halves can be opened or closed at will, and the light
let in or shut out from either above or below.
From this little scratch you will see that it is pretty
slick. And the boards are for a big closet in the alcove to put
away drawings, prints, books, and to hang up different smocks
and jackets, old coats, shawls, hats, and last but not least,
the sou'wester - all the things which I need for the
I have always paid the landlord regularly, and now I told
him briefly and succinctly that if he thought the rent low, I
wouldn't contradict this, but that I wanted him to consider
that for me the rent itself was very heavy, and that I could
not work well in this way and couldn't make progress before I
had better light.
That if he wouldn't change it, I, for my part, should really
have to take another studio.
That I wouldn't mind it if I had the money, but that under
the circumstances I couldn't pay more than I did. So that to
pay a higher rent was out of the question, and my staying or
leaving would depend on his consenting to these improvements;
if he didn't mind my leaving, well, we would separate on good
terms, without more ado.
Well, then he said No, he would do something, and so
we at last arranged that I should only have to pay a few
guilders in wages. He has been to the studio several times and
is not exactly a penny pincher, though he is rather sharp
(something of a Yankee), and the studio looked better than he
had anticipated (he hadn't been there since last July) - at
least, once in the studio he gave his consent, and even more
readily than I had expected.
I've been drawing a few figures, rather large-size, bust or
half-length, which, with a few others I already had, will
become a kind of decoration for the hall and stairs, though
they are really nothing but ordinary studies.
So you can see from all this that I have thrown myself
headlong into it again, in order to get new ideas.
For instance, in Voorburg, when I went with him to pick out
that wood, I saw beautiful things of workmen in a shed, and
digging a cellar, and laying the foundation of a house. Then I
thought again of the description you once gave me of those
workmen in Montmartre when you witnessed an accident in a stone
You know, I already had something in front of the windows,
namely some canvas stretched on rods. This can be used for
something else now, that is, it will make a very good
background covered with a darker or lighter material - if one
wants to draw heads, for instance.
You understand that I can also shut one or two of the
windows now, and so get one general light which will make the
effects much stronger; they used to be neutralized by
reflections or diffuse light.
If I had had to pay for it myself, the job would have been
quite out of the question because it would have been too
expensive; but as it is, I am mighty glad to have it.
I had felt the necessity for better light, especially when
making those last drawings - for instance, those heads I sent
you in which I used a deeper black.
I hope everything will turn out well, but from this little
scratch, you can see it is so simple that it must turn out
How miserably these modern houses are constructed nowadays,
compared to what they might be if they tried to make them a
little more cozy. Compare a window of the present with one of
Rembrandt's time. At that time everyone seemed to feel the need
for a special kind of tempered light which doesn't seem to
exist any more - a least they seem to aim at making it cold,
harsh and unfeeling.
The workmen's houses were all right in the beginning, but I
don't see that they've progressed any in the last twenty or
thirty years. Quite the opposite, the attractiveness is
disappearing more and more, and is being replaced by something
cold, systematic and methodical, which is becoming more and
If I could have afforded it, I should have had the windows
fixed this way. It wouldn't have cost so much more if we hadn't
had to use the blinds we had. The only difference is that each
pane would have had a separate shutter, so that the shutters
would have been a little smaller. But this way one could easily
build a nice, pleasant window. But one can't have everything.
And, in fact, a broad windowsill, which one can sit on, goes
with it, but this house hasn't anything like that.
Last week I again read Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, which I
had already read, more than ten years ago. Do you know what I
found in it, at least, thought I found in it, so that I don't
doubt Victor Hugo meant such a thing? I found Thijs Maris in
Probably most people who read Notre Dame have the impression
that Quasimodo was a kind of fool. But, like myself, you would
not find Quasimodo ridiculous, and, like myself, you would feel
the truth of what Hugo says, “Pour ceux qui savent que
Quasimodo a existé, maintenant `Notre Dame' est vide.
Car non seulement il en était l'habitant mais il en
était l'âme.” [“For those who know
that Quasimodo once existed, `Notre Dame' is now empty. For not
only did he live there, but he was the soul of it.”]
Taking Notre Dame as a symbol of that tendency in art which
found its expression, for instance, in Leys and De Groux
(sometimes), and Lagye, De Vriendt and Henri Pille, one can
apply to Thijs Maris the words, “Maintenant il y a un
vide pour ceux qui savent qu'il a existé, car il en
était l'âme, et l'âme de cet art-là
c'était lui.” Well, Thijs Maris still exists, but
not in his full bloom and strength, not unscathed; and
disenchanted in so far as he can be disenchanted.
One of the most stupid things about the painters here is
that even now they laugh at Thijs Maris. I think that as
terrible as suicide. Why, as suicide? Because Thijs Maris is so
much the personification of everything high and noble that in
my opinion a painter cannot mock him without lowering himself.
Whoever doesn't understand Maris, so much the worse for him;
those who have understood him, mourn him, and regret that such
a man has been broken. “Noble lame, vil fourreau”
[A noble blade, a vile sheath] is applicable to Thijs Maris and
to Quasimodo. “Dans mon âme je suis beau.”
[Within my soul I am beautiful.]
Well, write soon, if you haven't done so already. And
believe me, with a handshake,
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 20-24 February 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 268.
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