My dear Theo,
Enclosed is one of Mother's letters, of course you know all
the news in it. I think that Cor is very smart to go there.
[Their youngest brother was going to the Transvaal.]
It's different from staying in Europe, down there you don't
have to put up with the influence of our big cities, which are
so old that everything in them seems to be tottering and in its
dotage. Instead of seeing his vital strength and native and
natural energy evaporate in circumlocution, it's possible that
he might be far happier distancing himself from our
He should do this without delay and act with honesty as he
has been taught, and not hesitate to accept the situation.
However, it's not to acquaint you with all this news that I am
sending you this letter, which you know already.
I think now that this growing young again has come to her
just because she is glad that you are married; she has wanted
it for such a long time, and I congratulate you because your
marriage enables you and Jo to have the rather rare pleasure of
seeing your mother grow young again. It is really for that
reason that I am sending you the letter. For my dear boy, one
sometimes needs a reminder later on, and it happens so
fortunately that just at the moment when she will have the
great sorrow of parting with Cor - it will be hard on her, that
- she will be comforted by knowing you are married. If
possible, you must not wait a whole year before going back to
Holland, for she will be longing to see you again, you and your
Well, once more, I have not seen a letter of Mother's
showing so much inner serenity and calm contentment as this -
not for many years. And I am sure that this comes from your
marriage. They say that pleasing your parents assures long
Thank you also very
heartily for the Shakespeare. It will help me not to forget the
little English I know, but above all it is so fine. I have
begun to read the series of which I knew least, which formerly,
distracted by other things or not having the time, I could not
read; the series of the kings: I have already read Richard II,
Henry IV and half of Henry V. I read without wondering if the
ideas of the people of those times were different from our own,
or what would become of them if you confronted them with
republican and socialist beliefs and so on. But what touches
me, as in some novelists of our day, is that the voices of
these people, which in Shakespeare's case reach us from a
distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It
is so much alive that you think you know them and see the
And so what Rembrandt has alone or almost alone among
painters, that tenderness of gaze which we see, whether it's in
the “Men of Emmaus” or in the “Jewish
Bride” or in some such strange angelic figure as the
picture you have had the good fortune to see, that heartbroken
tenderness, that glimpse of a super-human infinitude that seems
so natural there - in many places you come upon it in
Shakespeare too. And then above all he is full of portraits,
grave or gay, like “Six” and like the
“Traveller,” and like “Saskia.”
What a good idea of Victor Hugo's son to translate all this
into French, so that it will be within everyone's reach.
When I think of the impressionists and of all the problems
of art nowadays, what lessons there are for us in that very
thing. And so the idea came to me from what I have just been
reading that the impressionists are right a thousand times
over, yet even then they must think over long and well whether
it follows from this that they have the right or the duty to
take justice into their own hands.
If they dare call themselves primitives, certainly they
would do well to learn a little to be primitives as men
before pronouncing the word primitive as a title, which would
give them a right to anything whatever. But as for those who
may be the cause of the impressionists' unhappiness, well, they
are in a pretty serious predicament, even though they make
light of it.
And then it looks as though fighting a battle seven times a
week really could not go on.
It is amazing how L'Abbesse de Jouarre, when you
think of it, holds its own even beside Shakespeare.
I think that Renan treated himself to that, so as to be able
for once to use beautiful words plentifully and pleasurably,
for the words are beautiful there.
In order that you have some idea of what I am doing, I am
sending you a dozen drawings today, all from canvases I am
The latest one I've started is the “Wheat
Field,” in which there is a little reaper and a big sun.
The canvas is all yellow except for the wall and the background
of violet-tinted hills. The canvas which is almost the same in
subject is different in colouring, being greyish-green with a
white and blue sky.
How often I think of Reid when I am reading Shakespeare, and
how often I have thought of him while I was worse than I am
now. Thinking that I was far, far too hard on him and too
discouraging when I claimed that it was better to care for the
painters than for the pictures.
It is not within my power to make distinctions like this,
even faced with the problem which we see our living friends
suffering under, the lack of enough money to live on and to pay
for their paints, and on the other hand the high prices paid
for the canvases of dead painters. I was reading in a newspaper
a letter from a collector of Greek things to one of his
friends, in which this phrase occurred: “You who love
nature, I who love everything the hand of man has made, this
difference in our tastes is basically a unity.”
And I thought that this was better than my argument.
I have a canvas of cypresses with some ears of wheat, some
poppies, a blue sky like a piece of multicoloured Scotch plaid; the former painted with a
thick impasto like the Monticellis, and the wheat field with the sun, which
represents the extreme heat, very thick too; I think that these
would make it more or less clear to him that he could not lose
much by remaining friends with us. But that is true for us as
well, and just because it was perhaps right to
disapprove of his method, we must on our side take a
step toward reconciliation.
Anyhow, I dare not write now for fear of saying too many
silly things, but when I am more certain of my pen, I should
very much like to write to him someday.
I still have some canvases in Arles which were not dry when
I left. I very much want to go and get them one of these days
in order to send them to you; there are half a dozen. The
drawings seem to me to have little colour this time, and the
too-smooth paper must have caused it.
The “Weeping Tree” and the courtyard of the
“Hospital at Arles” have more
colour, but all the same this will give you an idea of what I
am doing. The canvas of the “Reaper” is going to be
something like the “Sower” of last year.
How fine Zola's books will continue to be, just because
there is life in them.
What has life in it too is that Mother is glad that you are
married, and I think that this cannot be unpleasant to
yourselves, you and Jo. But the separation from Cor will be
harder on her than one can imagine. It is just in learning to
suffer without complaint, in learning to look on pain without
repugnance, that you risk vertigo, and yet it is possible, yet
you may even catch a glimpse of a vague likelihood that on the
other side of life we shall see good reason for the existence
of pain, which seen from here sometimes so fills the whole
horizon that it takes on the proportions of a hopeless deluge.
We know very little about this, about its proportions, and it
is better to look at a wheat field, even in the form of a
I shake hands with you both, and I hope to hear from you
soon. Good health to both of you.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 2 July 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 597.
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