Many thanks for your registered letter of yesterday and the
enclosure. I am writing at once in reply and enclose a small
scratch, based more closely than the one before on my last
study. I haven't been able to get as far with it as I would
have liked. I worked on it continually for three days from
morning till night, and by Saturday night the paint had begun
to get into a state which prevented further work until it had
dried out completely.
I went to Eindhoven today to order a small lithographic
stone, as this is to become the first of a series of
lithographs, on which I intend to start again. When you were
here I asked you about the costs of reproduction by the G.
& Co. process. I think you said it would be 100 francs.
Well, the old-fashioned, almost neglected, ordinary
lithographic process is quite a lot cheaper - especially in
Eindhoven, perhaps. I get the use of the stone, graining, paper
and the printing of 50 copies for 3 guilders.
Anyway, I intend to do a series of subjects from peasant
life - les paysans chez eux [peasants at home].
Today I went for a splendid walk for a few hours with an
acquaintance of mine whose first watercolour of a figure I
I don't say that the scenery isn't even more stirring and
more dramatic, say in Brittany, in Katwijk or in the Borinage -
yes indeed, but even so, the heath and the villages here are
very beautiful as well, and once there, I find an inexhaustible
source of subjects from peasant life - and the only thing that
matters is to get down to it, to work.
I've a great mind to do some watercolours and drawings again
as well - and when I'm in my studio, I'll be able to make time
for that in the evenings.
I was tremendously pleased that you sent me the 100 francs.
As I said, it was absolutely essential that I pay several
things off - and that was on my mind. Not that people were
bothering me for it, but I knew they needed the money. And that
is why I wrote that I might have to keep something back when
the estate is settled. But that won't be necessary now -
although I can tell you that this year is bound to be very
grim. But I keep thinking of what Millet said, “Je ne
veux point supprimer la souffrance, car souvent c'est elle, qui
fait s'exprimer le plus énergiquement les
artistes.” [I would never do away with suffering, for it
is often what makes artists express themselves most
When I say that I am a painter of peasant life, that is a
fact, and it will become increasingly apparent to you in the
future that I feel at ease as one. It was not for nothing that
I spent so many evenings musing by the fire in their homes with
the miners and the peat cutters and the weavers and the
peasants - unless I was working too hard for that.
By continually observing peasant life, at all hours of the
day, I have become so involved in it that I rarely think of
You write that the public attitude - that is, indifference
to Millet's work, as you have just had occasion to observe at
the exhibition - is not encouraging, either for artists or for
those who have to sell paintings. I quite agree - but Millet
himself felt and knew this - and on reading Sensier I was very
struck by something he said at the beginning of his career,
which I don't remember word for word, only the purport
of it, namely, “that (i.e. that indifference) would be
bad enough if I had need of fine shoes and the life of a
gentleman, but - puisque j'y vais en sabots - je m'en
tirerai.” [As I go about in clogs, I'll manage]. And so
it turned out.
What I hope never to forget is that “il s'agit d'y
aller en sabots” [what matters is going about in clogs],
that is, being content with the kind of food, drink, clothes
and sleeping arrangements with which the peasants are
That is what Millet did and indeed he wanted nothing
else - and to my mind this means that he set an example to
painters as a human being, which Israëls and Mauve,
for instance, who live rather luxurious lives, have not,
and I repeat Millet is father Millet, that is,
counsellor and mentor in everything to the younger
painters. Most of those whom I know, but then I don't
know all that many, would not subscribe to this view. For my
part, I do, and fully believe in what he says.
I'm talking at some length about this dictum of Millet's
because you write that when city-dwellers paint
peasants, their figures, splendidly done though they may
be, cannot but remind one of the faubourgs [suburbs] of Paris.
I used to have the same impression too (although in my opinion
B. Lepage's woman digging potatoes is certainly no exception),
but isn't this because the painters have so often failed to
immerse themselves personally in peasant life? Millet
said on another occasion, Dans l'art il faut y mettre sa peau
[one has to put one's all into art].
De Groux - that is one of his qualities - painted
peasants properly. (And they, the State, demanded
historical pictures from him! Which he also did well, but how
much better he was when he was allowed to be himself.)
It will always be a shame and disgrace that De Groux is not yet
as fully appreciated by the Belgians as he deserves. De Groux
is one of the best Millet-like masters. But although he
neither was nor is acknowledged by the public at large, and
although, like Daumier and Tassaert, he remains in obscurity,
there are people, Mellery, for example, to name but one,
who are working along his lines again today.
I saw something recently by Mellery in an illustrated paper,
a bargee's family in the little cabin of their boat -
husband, wife, children - round a table.
As far as popular support is concerned - years ago I
read something on the subject in Renan which I have always
remembered and which I shall always continue to believe - that
anyone who wishes to accomplish something good or useful must
not count on or seek the approval or appreciation of the
general public, but, on the contrary, must expect only a very
few warm hearts to sympathize and go along with him - and then
If you come across the “Chat noir” people, you
might show them this small sketch to be going on with, but I
can do a better one if they like, for this one was done in a
great rush and is simply meant to give you a clearer idea
of the effect and the composition than the first one. Regards
and thanks, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
You needn't tell the “Chat noir” that I also
intend to make a lithograph of this subject for myself. That
lithograph won't be for publication, anyway, but is entirely a
private affair. For that matter, I don't much care if
they don't want to have it - because I shall certainly make
lithographs myself of whatever I want to have lithographed.
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 13 April 1885 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 400.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.