Just a word to tell you - that partly as a result of your
letter, in which you mention pen-and-ink drawings - I can send
you 5 such drawings of weavers, which I drew after my painted
studies, and which are a little different - and I think more
vigorous of technique, than the pen drawings of mine you have
seen up to now. I am working at them early and late, for except
the painted studies, and the pen-and-ink drawings, I have also
some new watercolours of them on the easel.
My thoughts have been with you often recently, partly owing
to a little book which you sent originally and which I borrowed
from L. - Poems by François Coppeé. I knew only
very few of them, but they had already greatly struck me at the
He is one of the true artists - “que y mettent leur
peau” - which is evident from more than one poignant
confession. Artist the more because he finds his inspiration in
so many very diverse things, and can paint a third-class
waiting room full of emigrants who are spending the night there
- everything grey and gloomy and melancholy - and in another
mood he can draw a little marquise dancing a minuet, as elegant
as a little figure by Watteau
That losing oneself in the present - that being quite
carried away and inspired by the surroundings in which one
chances to be - how can one help it? And even if one should
resist it at will, of what use would it be, why shouldn't one
yield to what is directly before one, this being après
tout, the surest way to create something.
I was struck by the last poem in the book, called:
“Désir dans le spleen,” which I copy to
remind you of it:
Tout vit, tout aime, et moi, triste et seul, je me
Ainsi qu'un arbre mort sur le ciel de printemps…
[All life, all love, and I, sad and alone, I am sanding
like a dead tree against the sky of spring…]
and then this:
Toi que j'ai vu pareil au chêne foudroyé
Je te retrouve époux, je te retrouve
You, who I have seen like a lightning-struck oak,
I find you again, a husband, I find you again, a
And then this:
O mon coeur, es tu donc si débile et si
Et serais tu pareil au forçât qu'on
Oh my heart, are you then so feeble and so cowardly,
And would you be like a convict whom they
Sure this is poetry, and of the best.
“Désir dans le spleen” especially I think
so true, it paints how, in those very souls that are exhausted
and on the verge of dropping, there arises at moments that
infinite renewal of desire, as if they had no past behind them.
I thought of Rembrandt's “Jewish Bride,” and what
Thoré says of it. Thoré in his prime, and
Théophile Gautier and so many others - how things have
changed since then - and how much duller everything has become.
If one wants to keep some of the sacred fire alive nowadays, in
short, one must show it as little as possible to others.
Did you receive the package I sent you last week? I must
keep the pen-and-ink drawings here for another week, because I
need them to finish other things which I started at the same
However, you will receive them soon, but please let me know
if the package arrived all right, and if it had enough
Because drawings perhaps count as manuscripts, more may be
due for them.
Goodbye, I hope you will be able to find some use for
Yours sincerely, Vincent
Father wrote you a few days ago about Mother; since then all
is well, and today the doctor said that at first he had not
dared to hope that all would go so favourably.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 18-23 February 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 357.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.