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The more I think of it, the deeper the impression your last
letter made on me.
Generally speaking (apart from the difference between the
two persons in question), to you and me there appeared on the
cold cruel pavement a sad pitiful woman's figure, and neither
you nor I passed it by - we both stopped and followed the human
impulse of our hearts.
Such an encounter has the quality of an apparition about it,
at least when one recalls it; one sees a pale face, a sorrowful
look like an Ecce Homo on a dark background - all the rest
disappears. That is the sentiment of an Ecce Homo, and there is
the same expression in reality, but in this case it is on a
woman's face. Later it certainly becomes different - but one
never forgets that first expression-
I think it probable that your meeting this woman will take
your thoughts back to the period some ten or even twenty years
ago, and even further back.
Anyway, what I mean is that you will rediscover in her, a
phase of your own life you had nearly forgotten - that is to
say, the past - and I do not know whether, after having been
with her for a year, you will view the present with the same
eyes as, for instance, before you knew her.
Underneath a figure of an English woman (by Paterson) is
written the name Dolorosa; that expresses it well.
I was thinking of the two women now, and at the same time I
thought of a drawing by Pinwell, “The Sisters,” in
which I find that Dolorosa expression. -That drawing represents
two women in black, in a dark room; one has just come home and
is hanging her coat on the rack. The other is smelling a
primrose on the table while picking up some white sewing.
That Pinwell reminds one a little of Feyen-Perrin - in his
early work; it also reminds one of Thijs Maris, but with an
even purer sentiment.
He was such a poet that he saw the sublime in the most
ordinary, commonplace things. His work is rare - I saw very
little of it, but that little was so beautiful that now, at
least ten years later, I see it as clearly as I did the first
At the time they used to say of that club of draughtsmen,
“It is too good to last.” Alas, Herkomer's words
show that it was true; but it is not dead yet, and in
literature as well as in art, it will be difficult to find a
better conception of that time than theirs.
I often disliked many things in England, but that Black and
White and Dickens are things which make up for it all. I speak
from my own experience. It's not that I disapprove of
everything in the present, far from it, but still it seems to
me that something of the fine spirit of that time which ought
to have been preserved is disappearing - in art especially. But
also in life itself. Perhaps I express myself too vaguely, but
I cannot say it differently - I don't know exactly what it is,
but it is not just the Black and White which changed its course
and deviated from its healthy, noble beginning. Rather, there
is in general a kind of skepticism and indifference and
coolness, notwithstanding all the activity. But all this is too
vague, too indefinite. I do not think too much about it,
because I think of my drawings and have no time to spare.
I am still busy making heads this week, especially women's
heads and women with bags, among other things.
Did you ever see anything by Boyd Houghton - he is one of
the Graphic's early contributors who, though little known,
nevertheless has his own niche (he died young)? I thought of
him once when you wrote about Daumier's
“Barricade.” At the time be drew the Parisian
pétroleuses and barricades too, but later he went to
America, and I know drawings of his of Quakers, and a Mormon
church and Indian women, etc., and immigrants.
In such a barricade scene, for instance, he had something
ghostly, or rather mysterious, like Goya. He also treated the
American subjects in that same way, quite Goya-like; but then
all at once there are some with a wonderful soberness which
reminds one of Méryon. His wood engravings might almost
pass for etchings.
The world says, “Too good to
last,” but for that very reason, because it is
rare, the good lasts. It is not produced every
day, it will never be achieved mechanically, but what is, is;
it is not lost, but lasts. And if another good thing turns up
later on, the first retains its value so I think one must not
regret that such and such doesn't become more common; even
though they are uncommon, the good and beautiful things that
What about the etchings which Cadart started at that time?
Did they also prove to be something “too good to
I know quite well that many beautiful etchings are published
nowadays. But I mean the old series,
“société des aquafortistes” [etchers'
club], in which appeared “Les Deux Freres” by
Feyen-Perrin and the “Park à Moutons” by Daubigny
and work by Bracquemond and so many others - did they keep
their full power or did they slacken?
Then if they slackened, aren't the things they did important
enough to endure forever, so that the expression “too
good to last” loses its meaning? Daubigny, Millet,
Feyen-Perrin, so many others, showed what the etching needle
can do, just as the Graphic, etc., showed what black and
white can do.
And this is a lasting truth, which can give energy to
whomever wants it.
The truth is that whenever different people love the same
thing and work at it together, their union makes strength;
combined, they can do more than if their separate energies were
each striving in a different direction. By working together one
becomes stronger and a whole is formed, though the personality
of each need not be blotted out by working together. And
therefore I wish that Rappard were entirely better; we do not
really work together, but we have the same thoughts about many
things. He is recovering, though, and we are already fussing
over our wood engravings again.
But it is my constant hope that we shall become even better
friends than we are now, and that perhaps later we shall go and
visit the miners together, for instance. But for the moment, I
think we must both apply ourselves to a thorough study of the
figure; the better we master that, the easier it will become to
carry out such plans. He writes that he had a fever, that's
all, that he is still very weak; but he writes little about his
We've had snow again, which is thawing just now. That thaw
weather is very beautiful. Today, while the snow is melting,
one feels spring approaching, as it were, from afar.
I think when you come, sooner or later, we'll have a really
good time together. I long for the spring breezes to blow away
the weariness from working indoors so long.
I am very glad to have my sou'wester; I wonder if you will
find some good in those fishermen's heads. The last one I made
this week was of a fellow with white throat whiskers.
I know a drawing by Boyd Houghton which he calls “My
Models”; it represents a passage where a few invalids,
one with crutches, a blind man, a street urchin, etc., come to
visit the painter on Christmas Day.
There is something very pleasant in the intercourse with the
models, one learns much from them. This winter I have had some
people whom I shall not easily forget. It is a charming saying
of Edouard Frère's that he kept the same models so long
that “celles qui posaient dans le temps pour les
bébés, posent maintenant pour les
mères” [those who used to pose for the babies, are
now posing for the mothers].
Well, adieu, Theo, write soon, my best wishes, believe me,
with a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 25-29 January 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 262.
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