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Another Sunday, and so I am writing you again. Sometimes it
seems to me that I didn't express warmly and cordially enough
how much I was touched by what you recently told me. As to the
question of whether an honest love might become “une
illusion perdue” [a lost illusion], I do not doubt that
it may sometimes happen; however, it would greatly astonish me
if it should happen in your case, nor do I believe it will with
Curiously enough, Michelet says that at first love is as
frail as a spider's web, and grows to be as strong as a
But only on condition of faithfulness.
I have often walked on the Geest recently, in those streets
and alleys where I often walked with the woman last year, in
the beginning. The weather was damp, everything was beautiful
there, and when I came home, I said to the woman, “It is
still just the same as last year.” I tell you this
because you spoke of disenchantment; no, no, it is true there
is a withering and budding in love as in nature, but nothing
dies entirely. It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea
remains the sea. And in love, either for a woman or for art,
there are times of exhaustion and impotence, but there is no
I consider love as well as friendship not just a feeling but
also a positive action, and as such it requires doing things
and exerting oneself, and exhaustion and impotence are the
A sincere and true love is a blessing, I think, though that
doesn't prevent occasional hard times.
I like the proverb, “When things are at their worst,
they are sure to mend,” but now and then I ask myself,
“Haven't we by any chance reached the worst?” for
the “mending” would not be at all unwelcome to me.
Well, we'll see.
Lately I read Le Peuple by Michelet, or rather I read it
some time ago this winter, but recently I was strongly reminded
of it. That book was written quickly, and apparently in a
hurry, and if it were the only one of Michelet's books one
read, one wouldn't think it very good, and wouldn't be struck
by it. But knowing his more polished works, La Femme, L'Amour,
La Mer, and Histoire de la Révolution, I thought this
one like the rough sketch of a painter whom I like very much,
and, as such, it had a peculiar charm. To me Michelet's style
is enviable. I don't doubt that there will be many authors who
disapprove of Michelet's technique, as there are some painters
who think they have the right to find fault with Israëls'
technique. Michelet has strong emotions, and he smears what he
feels onto paper without caring in the least how he does it,
and without giving the slightest thought to technique or
conventional forms - just shaping it into any form that can be
understood by those who want to understand it. To me Le Peuple
is not so much a first idea or impression as an unfinished but
well-thought-out and studied conception. Some parts are
apparently done hurriedly from nature and joined to other parts
which are more finished and studied.
De Bock seems to be in very flourishing circumstances,
judging from his fur coat. I hadn't seen him for months, but
met him a few days ago in the above-mentioned beautiful fur
coat. Yet I cannot say he himself looked flourishing. Have you
ever felt sympathetic to a person whom you saw was
unhappy, but who pretended and was considered to be
flourishing; and have you felt in your heart, If I tried to be
friends with him, he would either think that I was making fun
of him and it would be almost impossible to gain his confidence
or his friendship - or if I got that far, he would still say,
“I have chosen my course, and will stick to it,”
and we should have no influence on each other. This is the way
I think of De Bock, and though I feel a real sympathy for him
and admire much of his work, I do not think that he and I would
profit by each other's society, especially as we have
diametrically different views of life, and of art too. It is
sometimes difficult for me to give up a friendship, but if I go
into a studio and have to think, Talk about inane things, don't
mention anything of importance and don't express your real
feeling about art - that would make me more melancholy than if
I stayed away altogether. Just because I should like to find
and keep up a real friendship, it is difficult for me to
conform to a conventional friendship.
If there is a desire to be friendly on both sides,
there may be some difference of opinion, but for all that, one
doesn't fall out so easily, and if one does, it is easily made
up. Where it is conventional, bitterness is almost unavoidable,
just because one does not feel free, and even though one
doesn't express one's real feelings, they are sufficiently
apparent to leave a continuing disagreeable impression on both
sides and to make it hopeless for one to profit from the
other's society. Where there is conventional, there is
mistrust, and mistrust gives rise to all kinds of intrigues.
And with a little more mutual sincerity, our lives would be so
Meanwhile, one gets used to things as they are, but it is
not normal, and if it were possible to go back suddenly to the
period of thirty, forty or fifty years ago, I think one would
feel more at home in that period than in the present one - that
is to say, you and I, for instance, would feel more at home in
it. I don't think anyone would want to go back to this
period fifty years from now, for if a time of antiquated decay
or a time of “periwigs and crinolines” follows,
people will be too dull to think about it, and if there is a
change for the better, tant mieux.
I do not think it absurd to expect that such a time of
stagnation may arrive, for what is called “the period of
periwigs and crinolines” in Dutch history also had its
origin in the relinquishment of principles and the substitution
of the conventional for the original. At their best the Dutch
people are Rembrandt's “Syndics,” but if the salt
loses its savour, a time of stagnation follows, of
“periwigs” - not immediately, but history proves
that it may.
It is sometimes hard for me to believe that a period of, for
instance, only fifty years is sufficient to bring about such a
total change that everything is the other way around.
But just by reflecting on history one learns to see those
relatively quick and continual changes; from it I conclude that
every man weighs the scale somewhat, no matter how little, and
that how one thinks and acts does make a difference. The battle
is but short, and sincerity is worth while. If many are sincere
and firm, the whole period becomes good - at least,
Yes, I often think of what you wrote me recently. I think
there must be a great difference between the woman you met and
the one I have already lived with for a full year, but what
they have in common is their misfortune and their sex.
Don't you also think that if one meets someone in such a way
- I mean, so weak and defenseless - something makes one
surrender completely, so that one cannot imagine ever being
able to desert such a person? Generally speaking, such an
encounter is an apparition. Have you read Erckmann-Chatrian's
Madame Thérèse? It has a description of a woman
who is recovering - very touching and beautiful; it is a simple
book, but at the same time, deep.
If you don't know Madame Thérèse, do read it.
I think she will like it too, and be touched by it.
At times I regret that the woman with whom I live
understands neither books nor art. But (though she definitely
can't) doesn't my still being so attached to her prove that
there is something sincere between us? Perhaps she will learn
later on, and it may strengthen the bond between us; but now,
with the children, you will understand that she has her hands
full already. And especially because of the children she comes
into contact with reality, and involuntarily she learns. Books
and reality and art are alike to me. Somebody out of touch with
real life would bore me, but somebody right in the midst of it
knows and feels naturally.
If I did not look for art in reality, I should probably find
her stupid; as it is I only wish it were otherwise, but after
all I am contented with things as they are.
I hope to be able to work regularly again this week. I feel
so strongly that I must work doubly hard to make up for my
having started so late; it is the feeling that I am behind
because of my age which worries me.
These days Montmartre will have those curious effects which
Michel, for instance, has painted; that dry, withered grass and
the sand against a grey sky. At least at present the colour in
the meadows often reminds me of Michel, the soil,
yellowish-brown; withered grass with a muddy road full of
puddles; black tree trunks; a greyish-white sky; the houses at
a distance subdued, but with the red roofs lending a little
touch of colour.
Those effects are striking enough, and Michel's secret (like
Weissenbruch's) depends on taking the proper measurements and
finding the correct proportion of the foreground to the
background, and feeling the exact direction in which the
perspective lines run. These things are no accident (Michel's
works are plentiful enough, and I see clearly from them that he
had reached such a height that it seemed like child's play to
him), it is a science, and I think that before he
succeeded, Michel must have been perplexed and disappointed
sometimes because things wouldn't go right.
Simple though it may seem, there is a very extensive general
science behind it all, as there is behind even more
simple-looking works, Daumier's, for instance.
Well, I must finish this letter. Write soon, if you haven't
already. I am longing to hear whether your patient has had any
serious consequences of the operation. Isn't it curious that in
the very first letter I had from Rappard after his illness, he
again talks with great animation of some wood engravings he has
found, including some of Lançon's? he is now so eager
for them that I need not urge him on, and at first he cared for
them as little as others do. He is getting a very good
collection, and I think I see the influence of those same
Englishmen in his work and intentions - though, of course, he
is far from imitating them in the slightest. But, for instance,
the fact that before his illness he went to make studies in the
asylum for the blind is the direct practical result of his love
for draughtsmen like Herkomer or Frank Holl.
Adieu, boy, write soon. With a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 11 February 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 266.
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