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On your birthday I want you to receive a little word from me
too. May it be a happy year for you, and may you have success
in your work, and I do hope, especially, that you may have in
this year some satisfaction for what you did for your patient;
may she recover and start a new life. Do you know it is almost
a year since you were here? Yes - I long very much for your
coming. It is the work of that whole year that I have to show
you, about which we must speak in regard to the future.
Do you think it will be about the same time as last year
that you will come? Well, as soon as anything is decided about
your coming, let me know.
Some time ago you told me many things about these Swedish
painters, Heyerdahl, Edelfelt.
This week I found a reproduction of a picture by Edelfelt:
“A Prayer-Meeting on the Beach.” There is something
in it of Longfellow's poems; it is very beautiful. It shows a
sentiment of which I am very fond, and which I think does more
good in the world than the Italians and Spaniards with their
“Arms Merchants of Cairo,” of which I get so tired
in the long run.
This week I have been working on the figure of a woman on
the heath, who is gathering cuts of peat.
And a kneeling figure of a man.
One must know the structure of the figures so thoroughly, in
order to get the expression, at least I cannot see it
The Edelfelt is indeed beautiful in its expression, however
the effect lies not only in the expression of the faces, but in
the whole position of the figures.
Do you know who has claims to being the cleverest of all
It is perhaps a certain Wilhelm Leibl, [actually a German]
an absolutely self-made man.
I have a reproduction of a picture with which he suddenly
came out, I think it was at the exhibition in Vienna in
`82. It represents three women in a pew, one seated
figure of a young woman in a checkered dress (Tyrol), two
kneeling old women in black, with kerchiefs round their heads.
Its sentiment is beautiful and drawn like Memling or Quinten
Matsys. That picture seems to have made a great sensation among
the artists at the time, I do not know what became of Leibl
since then. I found him very much like Thijs Mans. In England
there was also a German of that kind, but less clever - Paul de
Gassow, who reminds me a little of Oberlander, whose heads you
certainly remember. Well, there still seem to be some good
artists in Sweden.
I am longing again for your letter. As to what I wrote you
about relations between women and their mothers, I can assure
you, in my case nine-tenths of the difficulties I had with the
woman originated directly or indirectly therein.
And yet those mothers are not exactly bad, though they act
But they do not know what they are doing.
Women of about the age of fifty are often distrustful, and
perhaps it is that very distrust and cunning that entangles
them. If you care to hear them, I can tell you some
particulars some day. I do not know whether all women become
more serious in getting older, and then want to govern and
correct their daughters, which they do in exactly the wrong
In some cases their system may have some raison
d'être; but they ought not to fix as a principle and
accept a priori that all men are deceivers and fools, for which
reason women must cheat them and suppose they know everything
better. If, by ill chance, the mother-system is applied to a
man who is honest and of good faith, he is indeed badly
Well, the time has not yet come when reason,
not only in the sense of raison, but also of la
conscience, is respected by everyone; to contribute towards
bringing about that time is a duty, and in judging characters
one of the first things that humanity demands is to take into
consideration the circumstances of contemporary society.
How beautiful Zola is - it is especially L'Assommoir which I
often think of. Apropos, how far did you get in reading Balzac?
I have quite finished Les Misérables. I know very
well that Victor Hugo analyses in a different way than do
Balzac and Zola, but he probes to the bottom of things just as
Do you know what I should prefer in the matter of relations
between the woman and her mother - in my case where it has
decidedly bad consequences - that the mother came to live with
I proposed it this winter, when the mother was very hard up,
and I said: If you are so much attached to each other, then
come and live together, but I believe they, though worse off
themselves, don't think our simple way of living good enough,
one which I desire on principle and to which I am forced by
Many people care more for the exterior than for the inward
life of a family, thinking they act well in doing so. Society
is full of that: people who strive to make a show instead of
leading a true existence. I repeat: those people are not bad,
but they are foolish.
However great the difference between the persons in question
may be, keep an eye on the relations between your patient and
her mother. Don't make the mistake of thinking that I suspect
the mother of something definitely evil - no, but I should be
surprised if she did not possess her share of the general
foolishness. And if your patient did not possess every woman's
inclination to blunder in the choice of ones whom she wants to
be led by.
A wife's mother is, in some cases, the representative of a
meddlesome, slandering, aggravating family, and as such
decidedly injurious and hostile, though she may not be so bad
In my case, she would be much better off in my house than in
the houses of other members of the family, where she is very
often the victim of callous insolence and is incited to
Did you ever think of this quality in your patient's mother?
She may acquire it to a certain extent - therefore be on the
qui vive. And with regard to such persons, it is possible that
you yourself foresee also that they will prove not to have the
same desirable ideas about reserve as you and your patient.
Towards your patient you have been absolutely honest and
straightforward: that is the principal thing, which keeps the
future clear, whatever it may be: but even if one has acted
rightly, difficulties may arise. Well, in the year that begins
for you today, I wish you very few of those - on the contrary
may all good be your share. Well, write soon if you have not
written already, which I hope will be the case. Adieu, boy,
with a hearty handshake,
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 30 April 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 281.
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