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I received your letter with enclosed 100 fr. and thank you
very much for it.
Your letter has given me more light than all my own worry
and fretting about that problem of Mauve and Tersteeg. I
congratulate you on finding it out, for now I think I
understand it better. And if I understand you correctly, the
only thing I have to do is to work on quietly without worrying
and thinking about it as much as I did. If I think too much
about it, I get that same dizzy feeling which you say a person
who has not studied perspective gets, when he tries to follow
the fugitive lines in a landscape and to account for them.
And just as the whole perspective changes with the shifted
position of the eye, which does not depend on the object, but
on the man who is looking (whether he stoops or stands on an
elevation), so I think the change in Mauve and Tersteeg has
been in part only imaginary, and can be accounted for by my own
state of mind. I do not see clearly in such things, but your
letter showed me distinctly that there is no reason for me to
worry if only I work on. And now enough of this, there are
other things I want to write about.
I was greatly touched by Heyerdahl's sympathy. Give him my
best regards, and tell him I certainly hope to make his
acquaintance someday, and shall greatly appreciate it.
Now I have finished two larger drawings. First,
“Sorrow” in a larger size - only the figure,
without any surroundings. The pose has been
changed a little: the hair is not hanging down the back, but
falls over the shoulder partly in a plait, so more of the
shoulder, neck and back is in view. And the figure has been
drawn more carefully. The other, “The Roots,” shows
some tree roots on sandy ground. Now I tried to
put the same sentiment into the landscape as I put into the
figure: the convulsive, passionate clinging to the earth, and
yet being half torn up by the storm. I wanted to express
something of the struggle for life in that pale, slender
woman's figure, as well as in the black, gnarled and knotty
roots. Or rather, because I tried to be faithful to nature as I
saw it, without philosophizing about it, involuntarily in both
cases something of that great struggle is shown. At least it
seemed to me there was some sentiment in them, but I may be
mistaken; well, you must judge for yourself.
If you like them, they will perhaps be fit for your new
home; and then I have made them for your birthday, for which I
send you my best wishes. But as they are rather large (a full
page Ingres), I don't know if I can send them immediately. Tell
me, do you think Tersteeg would call me impudent or pretentious
if I asked to have them enclosed when a box goes to Paris?
Though “The Roots” is only a pencil drawing, I
have brushed it in with lead pencil and scraped it off again,
as I would if I were painting.
This is how I reason about the carpenter's pencil. What did
the old masters use for drawing? Certainly not Faber B, BB,
BBB, etc., etc., but a piece of rough graphite. Perhaps the
instrument which Michelangelo and Dürer used somewhat
resembled a carpenter's pencil. But I was not there to see it
for myself, so I don't know; I only know that with a
carpenter's pencil one can get effects quite different from
those with thin Fabers, etc.
I prefer the graphite in its natural form to that ground so
fine in those expensive Fabers. And the shininess disappears by
throwing some milk over it. When working outdoors with
conté crayon, the strong light prevents one from seeing
clearly what one is doing, and one perceives that it has become
too black; but graphite is more grey than black, and one can
always raise it a few tones by working in it with the pen, so
that the strongest graphite effect becomes light again in
contrast to the ink.
Charcoal is good, but if one works at it too long, it loses
its freshness, and one must fix it immediately to preserve the
delicacy of touch. In landscape too, I see that draughtsmen
like, for instance, Ruysdael and Van Goyen, and Calame and
Roelofs too among the moderns, used it to great advantage. But
perhaps there would be more pen drawings in the world if
somebody invented a good pen for use outdoors, with an inkstand
to go with it. One can do great things with charcoal soaked in
oil, I have seen Weissenbruch do it; the oil fixes the charcoal
and at the same time the black becomes warmer and deeper.
But I say to myself that it's better to do it in a year than
to do it now, because I do not want the beauty to come from the
material, but from within myself. When I am a little more
advanced I shall occasionally dress up nicely - that means I
shall work with a more effective drawing material. And then if
only I have some power within me, things will go doubly
smoothly and the result will be better than I expected.
But before any success there must first come the
hand-to-hand struggle with the things in nature.
Last year I wrote you a great many letters full of
reflections on love. Now I no longer do so because I am too
busy putting those same things into practice. She for whom I
felt what I wrote you about is not in my path, she is out of my
reach in spite of all my passionate longing. Would it have been
better to have kept thinking of her always and to have
overlooked what came my way? I cannot decide myself whether I
acted consistently or inconsistently.
Suppose I began today a drawing of a digger, for instance,
but he said, I must go, I will not or cannot pose any longer.
As I had begun to draw him without asking his permission, I
have no right to be angry with him for leaving me with an
unfinished drawing. But must I now give up drawing a digger
I think not, especially if tomorrow I may meet another who
says, I will come not just today, but tomorrow and the day
after tomorrow; I understand what you want, do as you like, I
have the patience and goodwill to help you. Though I should not
then remain true to my first impression, would it have been
better to have said, No, I must decidedly have that first
digger, even though he says, I cannot and I will not? And once
I begin No. 2, I certainly can't work with the thought of No.
1, for then I should not be true to nature; that is the point.
And I add this to my previous letter. I want your help in order
to succeed, but I think the expenses would not be more, but
rather less than what you have sent these past months.
I will and dare undertake it if I may count on 150 fr. a
month for another year.
Well, I hope to earn something besides, and if this fails, I
shall have to stint myself, it's true; but I shall manage. And
then afterward when that year is past? -
I think nothing in my work indicates I shall fail, if I only
can continue to work and do my best. And I am not a person who
works slowly or irresolutely. Drawing becomes a passion with
me, and I throw myself into it more and more; and where there's
a will, there's a way.
Where [there] is a will, [there] is a way 1, but
it must come from both sides. The will in me must be the
making of things; the will in those who have or might
get sympathy for me must be the buying or selling of those
things. The will being there, I think the way may
But if everybody talked like Tersteeg about
“unsaleable” and “without charm,” heaps
of annoyances would be in store for me. However this may be, I
will try even harder to conquer the “unsaleable”
and “without charm.”
It has been very stormy for three nights. Last Saturday
night the window of my studio gave way (the house I live in is
very shaky); four large window panes broke and the frame was
torn loose. You can imagine it was not pleasant. The wind came
blowing across the open meadows and my window got it firsthand
- the drawings torn from the wall, the easel upset, the railing
downstairs also thrown down. With my neighbour's help I have
been able to tie up the window, and I nailed a blanket in front
of the hole, which is at least three feet square.
[art id=216_V-T_1950>Sketch of the layout of the studio.]
I didn't sleep a wink all night, as you can imagine. And there
was great trouble about getting it fixed the next day, because
it was Sunday. The landlord is a poor devil; he gave the glass,
I paid for the labour. But this is another reason why I want to
take the house next door. It is arranged thus:
The studio, larger than mine, the light very good. The attic
is finished, so that you do not see the rafters and tiles; very
large, so that you can divide it into as many rooms as you like
(I have the partitions for it). The rent is 12.50 guilders a
month for a strong, well-built house; it is that cheap because
it is “only in the Schenkweg,” and the rich people
whom the owner expected to get do not want to live there. I
should like to take it very much, and the owner would like to
have me; he spoke to me about it first, and then I went to see
Yours sincerely, Vincent
I will not send the drawings if you intend to come soon. But
it is time you received some of my things now and then; I do my
best, and if these two, for instance, please you, I will send
you some more of various kinds.
If you show those you think suitable to people who happen to
come to your room, it may be the beginning of selling them.
When more and different ones by the same hand are together,
they show to better advantage, and one explains and compliments
The thing I value most is your sympathy. If I win that, the
selling will follow.
But that sympathy of yours cannot be forced by either you or
me. I think I can produce a great deal - I mean I can work
quickly, without dawdling. After you returned the old studies
as I asked you, I sent you two new ones (“Laan van
Meerdervoort” and “Sorrow”) to prove I can do
more if you like them. If you say it is not ripe yet, I will
work on without sending them; what I sent was no accident - I
am really able to do what I'm doing now. I shall have to
study for some time to do better. But what I want to say is: If
the last ones I have sent you are good enough for you to show,
then I can begin to send what I have ready.
Those you think the best ought to be mounted in grey, and so
by degrees you will get a small collection. Think it over. I
have some more drawings - an old man by the hearth,
an old woman of the Geest, a few female figures - which,
added to the others, would do well, I think. Also more small
I am not saying this to hurry you, but it will do no harm to
think it over. You began to help me without knowing what the
result would be and when others refused their help. I should be
glad if the result were that you could say quite coolly to
those who think it foolish of you to help me that you have not
lost by it. And that stimulates me to work even harder, and I
think you must begin to take a few drawings, and every month I
will send some more. There are days when I make five of them,
but one has to count on the fact that out of twenty drawings
one is successful. But that one of the twenty is no accident -
I can count on it. There will be one every week, of which I
feel, it will last.
It is better if you keep those that are
“lasting” for the present than if I sell them for
10 guilders to somebody here who takes them out of pity or
charity. Here they all criticize the technique, but they all
say the same hackneyed things about the English drawings, for
instance. Only Weissenbruch - when I told him, I see things
like pen drawings - said, “Then you must draw with the
He, Weissenbruch, has not seen the small but the large
“Sorrow,” and has said pleasing things about it to
me. That's why I dare to speak as I do about the large one. I
have had no “guidance or teaching” from others to
speak of, but taught myself; no wonder my technique, considered
superficially, differs from that of others. But that's no
reason for my work to remain unsaleable. I feel pretty sure
that the large “Sorrow,” “The Old Woman of
the Geest,” the “Old Man,” and others, will
find a purchaser someday. But maybe I shall work a little more
on them later. I have worked on the “Laan van
Meerdervoort” again. In front of me is a drawing of a
woman in a black merino dress; I know for sure that after you
have had it for a few days, you will be quite reconciled to the
technique, and not wish it were done differently. I did not
understand the English drawings the first day either, but
“I took the trouble to become acquainted with
them,” and have not regretted it.
Adieu, enough for today.
Vincent wrote the quotation in this paragraph in
English, missing out the word “there” twice.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 1 May 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 195.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.