This time I am writing to you from the remotest corner of
Drenthe, where I have arrived after an endless passage by barge
through the heathland.
I don't think I shall be able to do justice to the
countryside because words fail me, but imagine the banks of the
canal as miles and miles of, say, Michels or Th. Rousseaus, Van
Goyens or Ph. de Konincks.
Level planes or strips, varied in colour, that grow narrower
and narrower as they approach the horizon. Accentuated here and
there by a turf hut or small farmhouse or a few stunted
beeches, poplars, oaks - peat stacked up everywhere and barges
constantly passing by with peat or bulrushes from the marshes.
Here and there skinny cows, subtle in colour, quite often sheep
In general the figures that now and then put in an
appearance on the flats are full of character; and sometimes
they have an exquisite charm. I drew, amongst others, a little
woman on the barge, wearing crape round her casque brooches
because she was in mourning, and then a mother with a baby -
the latter had a purple shawl over its head. [The headdress is
a kind of golden casque worn by Frisian women. It consists of
two oval plates with ornamental spirals at the temples. Over
these plates is worn a cap of stiff lace with wide frills.
Often this (costly) headgear is very becoming.] There are lots
of Ostade types among them, physiognomies that put one in mind
of pigs or crows, but now and then a little figure who is like
a lily among the thorns.
In short, I am very pleased with this trip, for I am full of
what I have seen.
This evening the heath was inexpressibly lovely. There is a
Daubigny in one of the Boetzel Albums which conveys the effect
precisely. The sky was of an inexpressibly delicate lilac-white
- the clouds not fleecy, for they were joined together more,
but in tufts covering the whole sky in tones of more or less
lilac-grey-white, with a single small break through which the
blue gleamed. Then, at the horizon, a glorious red streak, the
surprisingly dark stretch of brown heath underneath and a host
of little low-roofed huts against the brilliant red streak.
In the evening this heath often has the kind of effect the
English call “weird” and “quaint.”
The fantastic silhouettes of Don Quixote-like mills or
curious monsters of drawbridges are profiled against the
vibrant evening sky. Such villages look wonderfully cosy in the
evening sometimes, with the reflections of little lighted
windows in the water, or in the mud and puddles.
Before I started out from Hoogeveen, I painted a few studies
there, among others a large moss-roofed farm.
For I had had paint sent from Furnée,
But at times - like those moments when you think of going to
America - I think of enlisting for the East Indies; but those
are miserable, gloomy moments, when one is overwhelmed by
things, and I could wish you might see those silent moors,
which I see here from the window, for such a thing calms one
down, and inspires one to more faith, resignation,
steady work. In the barge I drew several studies, but I stayed
a while here to paint some. I am quite near Zweeloo, where,
among others, Liebermann has been; and besides, there is a part
here where you still find large, very old turf huts, that have
not even a partition between the stable and the living room. I
intend first of all to visit that part one of these days.
But what tranquillity, what expanse, what calmness in this
landscape; one feels it only when there are miles and miles of
Michels between oneself and the ordinary world. I cannot give
you a permanent address as yet, as I do not exactly know where
I shall be for the next few days, but by 12th October I
shall be at Hoogeveen, and if you send your letter
at the usual time to the same address, I shall find it
there, on the 12th, at Hoogeveen.
The place where I am now is Nieuw Amsterdam.
Father sent me a postal order for ten guilders, which,
together with the money from you, makes me able to paint a
I intend to settle for a long time at the inn where I am
now, if I can easily reach from there that district with the
large old turf huts, as I should have better light and more
space there. As to that picture you mention, by that
Englishman, with the lean cat and the small coffin, though he
got his first inspiration in that dark room, he would hardly
have been able to paint it in that same spot,
Well, what I wanted to say is that there will be a chance to
remove that obstacle too, for here I can get a room with good
light, which can be heated in winter. Well, lad, if you do not
think any more about America, nor I of Harderwijk [The place
where Volunteers for the East Indian army enlisted] I hope
things will work themselves out, I admit your explanation of C.
M.'s silence may be right, but sometimes one can be careless
purposely. On the back of the page you will find a few
scratches. I write in haste, it is already late.
How I wish we could walk here together, and paint together.
I think the country would charm and convince you. Adieu, I hope
you are well and are having some luck. During this excursion I
have thought of you continually. With a handshake,
[Page of sketches, JH 405 on reverse of page.]
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 3 October 1883 in Drenthe. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 330.
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