Highlighting health - venereal - Turn off highlighting
"Sorrow," Vincent van Gogh
Friday I was informed by the hospital at Leyden that Sien
might come home Saturday; so I went there today, and we came
home together, and now she is here at Schenkweg and so far all
is well, both she and the baby. She has enough milk, and the
baby is quiet.
How I wish you could have seen her today. I assure you her
appearance has quite changed since last winter, it has been a
complete transformation. If some of this is to my credit, and
that through your help, of course much more is due to the
professor who treated her. But what the professor has less to
do with is the effect on her of the strong attachment between
us two. A woman changes when she loves and is loved; when
nobody cares for her, she loses her spirits and the charm is
gone. Love draws out what is in her, and her development
definitely depends on it. Nature must have its free course,
must go its normal way; what a woman wants is to be with one
man, and with him forever. This is not always possible, but any
other way is against nature. So she now has quite another
expression than last winter, and her eyes look different; her
glance is calm and quiet, and there is an expression of
happiness on her face, of peace and quiet, the more touching
because she is of course still suffering. I wrote you once that
the form of her head, the line of her profile, is exactly like
that figure by Landelles, “L'Ange de la Passion,”
so it is far from ordinary; it is decidedly noble, but it does
not always strike the eye at once. Today, however, it was
exactly, exactly so.
Before she left the hospital, the professor - who felt real
sympathy for her, as he had known her before, and treated her
with special care this time and examined her thoroughly at her
request (because I had made her promise to ask this before she
went) - took the trouble to speak with her at length and in
detail about what she should and should not do to keep
Being with one man - seeing that everything in
her constitution and temperament makes her fit for domestic
life, and decidedly unfit for the sort of life misery had
forced her to lead in the past.
That she should be out of doors as much as possible, and
as soon as she has regained her strength, she should take
many walks - inhale lots of fresh air.
As to food, he told her what she should have and what
would be harmful.
She should often wash with cold water and alcohol, and
take a hot bath once every week.
She ought to avoid emotions that make her nervous - for
instance, anxiety, tension, disquiet.
She must not scrub floors or do other kinds of really
hard work which would force her to keep her head down, like
cleaning the passage, for instance, and particularly,
should not lift heavy things.
In other words, substantially what he told her before - only
now he explained it all to her in more detail. Everything
indicates that he is really interested in her. Also, of course,
he spoke to her about me at some length; he knows all about my
indisposition, and told her I did quite right in going to the
hospital, and he explained to her exactly how he thinks I got
it. He returned to the question of whether her relation with me
was permanent and whether I should ever desert her, not once
but very often, and when she went on assuring him it was
all right, he thought she was pulling his leg. But he ended by
saying, If you have really got your man permanently, you have a
big advantage. What he especially insisted on was that she
should lead a regular and quiet life.
Passing water had improved a good deal, until some
particularly cold and wet days influenced me more or less
unfavorably. For a number of days the jet was vigorous again
when passing water, and practically back to normal. Although
right now this is no longer the case, yet I think it is a sign
of improvement, and should the weather stay dry and fine, as it
is today, things will improve even more quickly.
When she left, not only the nurse on her ward, but the head
nurse herself came to say goodbye to her. I was present and
thanked her, as I had three letters from her when Sien was not
allowed to write. She stood talking with us for some time.
Fortunately, it was quite warm fine weather and the journey
came off all right. Sien's mother and her little girl had come
to the Schenkweg and were waiting for us there. It was indeed a
delightful homecoming, and Sien was in high spirits about
everything, especially about the cradle, about the easy chair,
about everything. But she was especially glad to see her little
girl again; I had given her a pair of new boots for the
occasion, and she looked very pretty.
Last May there was an accumulation of difficulties, her
confinement, my illness, complicated by the question of how
things would go and where she would live when she left the
hospital. Light and relief have come in many ways. At times she
still suffers much pain because of the operation with the
forceps, and there are still other, more natural results of her
confinement; there is great weakness, but one can see that
there is a renewing and reviving in her - a recovery of her
body and a recovery of her soul at the same time. Now there is
an atmosphere of “home,” of one's own
“hearth” here. I can understand Michelet's saying,
“La femme c'est une religion.”
She will probably feel pain and will have to be very careful
for at least six weeks after her confinement.
I believe that you will see, for instance, from the
professor's and the head nurse's special attention to her that
she is somebody for whom serious persons have sympathy; indeed,
it is quite remarkable that they have given her that kind of
When I came into the maternity ward, where I saw several
patients, it struck me that she was quite different from the
others, though she is simple enough. But there is more spirit
and sensitivity in her; one can see that suffering and hard
times have refined her. I hope you will not have any scruples
about making her acquaintance.
I was greatly amused by what Sien told about her
conversations with the professor; it was really funny. He seems
to be very jovial with his patients; for instance, he said,
“By the way, do you like to drink a gin and bitters, and
can you smoke a cigar?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“I only asked,” he said, “to tell you that
you need not give them up.” But on the other hand, he
vehemently forbade her to use vinegar, mustard and pepper. On
days when, as often happens, she is more thirsty than hungry,
she must take a gin and bitters as a medicine, to give her an
He has given her a list of nourishing foods, after
consulting her as to what she could afford. I myself shall also
follow his advice in these things. Meat is good for her, but
once or twice a week is sufficient; it is not necessary every
Her first remedy, the most important medicine, was to have a
home of her own, that is what he kept on insisting on. I was
afraid perhaps that Sien would have to take expensive things,
but the diet he prescribed is really the most economical one
can imagine. So I really think we can manage on 150 fr. a
month. Besides, he told Sien that if the child should ever
become ill during the next two years, she can always consult
the professor at Leyden, and also get free medicine. “I
not only want to help you through your confinement, my
lass,” the professor said, “but I want you to
become a strong, healthy woman again in a few years. You have a
whole life ahead of you if you do as I tell you.” Well,
he has talked with her and advised her about large things and
small, as if he were her own father, so she came home much more
bright and cheerful.
I have also started drawing again, and though it gives me a
headache and soon tires me, it will pass by and by, especially
as I shall be able to begin at home with the woman and the
child posing for me. It disappoints me to feel so weak still,
but it is always that way after an illness such as mine.
The two drawings I did recently are both watercolours
because I wanted to try it. However, it seems to me that even
now I must work harder on actual drawing, which is the
foundation of all the rest. But as you saw from the last one, I
am beginning to wash in by degrees.
As soon as I am quite well again,
I began this letter last night, and now I can tell you that
we - that is, the woman, the two children and I - spent a night
in the large attic. The bedroom looks a good deal like the hold
of a ship because it is completely boarded, and I think it is
very healthy. The cradle has to be carried downstairs during
the day. Everything was all right, and if no difficulties arise
from the outside, and I hope they will not, we at home will get
along very well. As for me, I do not feel strange in the
company of the woman and the children, but more in my element,
and as if we had been together a long time. Using my hands to
do things which Sien is too weak to do, for instance, making
the beds or a thousand other things, is not unusual for me. I
have often done things like that, either for myself or for sick
And the old Dutch pictures and drawings prove clearly enough
that those things do not stand in the way of painting and
drawing. The mixture of studio and family life is no drawback,
especially for a painter of the figure. I remember perfectly
interiors of studios by Ostade - small pen drawings, probably
of corners of his own house - which show clearly enough that
Ostade's studio looked very little like those studios where one
finds Oriental weapons and vases and Persian rugs, etc.
Now, speaking more particularly about art, I sometimes have
a great urge to start painting again. The studio is
larger now, the light better; I have a good cupboard to keep my
paints in, so they will not make too much dirt and mess. I have
already started with watercolour. I depends on my getting well
again; as soon as there is no danger of a relapse and I can go
out and sit in the open air, I intend to start it all again,
and put some energy into it.
I think, now that Sien and I live together and need not
maintain two separate establishments, I shall be able to spend
more of the 150 fr. a month on painting materials than I have
up to now. Neither Sien nor I is afraid of having to manage
with little, and we should not care to have more furniture or
household things as long as I do not earn anything by selling
drawings. For we would much rather wait to buy such things than
to borrow more money now, even if we could get it.
As soon as she has quite recovered, Sien will begin posing
seriously again, and I assure you her figure is good enough.
That she poses well and is fit for it you can see for yourself
from “Sorrow,” for instance, and a few other
drawings you have.
I have some more studies from the nude which you have not
seen yet; I should like to go on with it as soon as she is
able, for one learns much from it. Even if I could not continue
working in the open air for some time for fear of a relapse
(which I hope will not be the case), I shall at all events find
subjects enough at home and shall not have to sit idle.
I had a fine letter from Father and Mother. Just think, they
enclosed two coupons. They must not do that again, however,
because I know they need it themselves; and I repeat, we can
manage with the money from you, now that things have taken such
a good turn as to Sien's condition and my recovery. So I would
rather not receive money from Father and Mother. As I wrote
you, I should like to send Father the money for the journey
here as soon as I can spare it and when Sien is well again; and
then when he is here, we can talk about everything.
What pleases me more than the coupons is that their attitude
is the best I can possibly expect under the circumstances, so
that I hope that when I speak to them about Sien they will not
oppose it on principle, but will accept it with good will.
The other day I saw the exhibition of French art from the
Mesdag, Post, etc., collections. There are many beautiful
things by Dupré, Corot, Daubigny, Diaz, Courbet, Breton,
Jacque, etc. What I particularly admired was the large sketch
by Th. Rousseau from the Mesdag collection - a herd of cows in
the Alps - and a landscape by Courbet - yellow, sandy hillocks
covered here and there with fresh young grass and bordered by
dark woods, which a few white birch trees stand out against;
far in the distance little grey houses with red and blue slated
roofs, and a narrow, light, delicate grey streak of sky above.
But the horizon very high, so that the soil is the principal
thing. And that fine streak of sky serves more as a contrast to
make you feel the roughness of the masses of dark earth. I
think this is the most beautiful thing of Courbet's I have ever
The Duprés are superb, and there is a Daubigny which
I could not get enough of - large thatched roofs against the
slope of a hill. Also a small Corot, a pond and lisière
de bois [edge of a wood], at four o'clock or thereabouts on a
summer morning. One single little pink cloud shows that the sun
will soon rise - a silence and a calm and a peace which are
I am glad I have seen all this.
Now I am going to finish this letter; I hope you will write
soon, and I especially hope that you will really come to
Holland by August. I write you “between times,” for
as you can imagine, there is a lot to do. I let Sien putter
around the house, but I must always be on the lookout to see
what she is doing in order to be always on hand if by chance
she wants help. For she is really weak still (she told me the
professor had said “damned weak”), but it is good
for her to find some distraction in keeping busy. Everything
that cheers her and makes her happy is medicine for her.
Neither is the baby absolutely out of danger - you know how the
confinement went, that always influences the child somewhat -
and little can be said about how things will go until six weeks
have passed. Much depends on the mother's milk, of course. I
hope it does not bore you to read all this. I wanted to write
just a short note, and it has become a long letter. I am not
yet out of cash, but if you could send something about the
20th, it would be welcome for getting through the
last days of the month.
Adieu, with a hearty handshake in thought,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 15-16 July 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 215.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.