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Thanks for your letter and thanks for the enclosure. Today
is Sunday, and I have been working furiously this week, and now
today I am sitting down quietly to write you somewhat more
extensively than I have been able to of late, because there
were so many things to distract me. And I particularly want to
write to you because I see from your letter that things are not
going so well with you, and I want to write somewhat more
cordially than usual.
If in my own case - considering my small income - Father and
Mother should raise objections to my marrying on account of my
having no money, I could approve of it to a certain extent, at
least understand why they talked this way and gave in. But,
Theo, now that in your case - knowing that you have a
permanent position and a good salary (nota bene, considerably
more than their own) - they raise the same objection, I can
only say that I think it unutterably pretentious and downright
ungodly. In point of fact, clergymen are among the most
unbelieving people in society and dry materialists. Perhaps not
right in the pulpit, but in private matters. From a moral point
of view one might be allowed to object to a marriage if real
want of bread in its literal sense were to be expected;
but as I see it, such an objection utterly loses its moral
justification as soon as there is no question of actual want
of bread. And it would be ridiculous to predict want of
bread in your case.
Suppose somebody like old Mr. Goupil should raise monetary
objections - from his point of view as a rich merchant, one
could not expect anything else.
I wish we only strove for peace in our homes, and stinted
ourselves rather than strain after a high position. And used
our energy to increase our spiritual refinement and humaneness,
but were contented with the most simple things as a matter of
So I regret it, and it grieves me; again, I am horribly
disappointed at Father and Mother saying such a thing.
I should be willing to do anything to undo this.
I should like to be proud of Father, because he is truly a
poor village preacher in the pure sense of the Gospel, but I
think it so rotten that Father stoops to such considerations as
something not being in keeping with “the dignity of his
My opinion is that one might expect Father to co-operate as
soon as the question of saving a woman arises. It would be
right to be on her side, because she is poor and
By not doing so, Father commits an enormous error: it is
inhuman for anyone to do such a thing; doubly so, however, if
he is a servant of the Gospel.
Thwarting the interests of such a woman, preventing her
rescue, is monstrous.
Oh, I know very well that nearly all clergymen would use the
same language as Father - and for this reason I reckon the
whole lot of them among the most ungodly men in our
You and I also sometimes do things which are perhaps sinful;
but for all that, we are not merciless, and we feel pity, and
for the very reason that we do not consider ourselves perfect
and know how things can happen, we do not revile fallen or
frail women as the clergymen do, as if they themselves were the
only ones at fault. And now this woman of yours is, moreover, a
decent woman of a middle-class family, and I really think
Father's error serious.
Suppose there were objections - my opinion is that Father,
because he is a shepherd, ought to urge you on to help her and
put up with difficulties for the sake of her preservation. One
ought to find comfort from people like Father when society does
not give comfort - but not they! - they are even worse than
It is horrible that Father assumes this attitude.
When Father was here, he spoke disapprovingly of my being
with the woman, and then I told him I did not refuse to marry
Then Father evaded the point, and started talking in
He did not want to tell me I ought to desert her on the
spot, but he regretted that I had relations with her.
For the rest, I talked but little with Father about the
matter, seeing that I do not exactly consider him the person to
be concerned in it. You have done your duty by informing Father
and Mother of the affair, but now that they talk the way they
do, I am of the opinion that they have given you the right to
exclude them from certain confidences and to consult them less
than you would if they were more reasonable. Their error is
that they are not humble and humane enough in this case.
Now you write that business is less flourishing. This is
rotten enough. But the position has always been precarious, and
may be expected to remain so as long as you live. Let us keep
up our courage, and try to find energy and serenity.
I can tell you that my first composition, of which I sent
you a sketch, is almost finished. First I made the drawing in
charcoal, then worked it over with brush and printer's ink. So
there is some pith in it, and I think when you look at it for
the second time, you will find more in it than you did at
Besides, since I sent you this sketch I made a second
drawing, of a similar subject.
Do you remember that once you described (last year) an
accident in a stone quarry in the Butte Montmartre where you
saw a group of workmen, one of whom had been badly hurt in the
quarry? Well, this is a similar case, but simply the group of
men at work.
I was with Van der Weele in Dekker's Dune, where we saw that
sand pit; and since then I have gone there regularly and had a
model every day, and now the second drawing is also done.
It represents men with wheelbarrows and men who
I shall try to make a sketch of it too, but it is a
complicated composition and can hardly be judged from a sketch,
any more than the other one can.
The figures have been drawn after painstaking studies
I should like very much to have these reproduced
The first one is on grey paper, the other, on yellow.
I long very much, Theo to have you in the studio again, for
there are so many studies, and now you can see what I was
aiming at when I made the studies, and they may furnish the raw
material for many more things.
I have had a frame made, or rather a passe-partout of
ordinary wood, and have given it a walnut colour with a black
inner strip; that shuts off the drawing very well, and it is
pleasant working in the frame.
I have made arrangements for other larger compositions, and
I have again stretchers for two new ones ready; I should also
like to do the tree felling in the wood, and the refuse dump
with the dustmen, and the potato digging in the dunes.
It was a good thing that I went to see Rappard, for his
sympathy has cheered me where I hadn't enough self-confidence.
But when you see these drawings, Theo, and the studies, you
will understand that this year I have had as much care and
trouble as a man can bear. It is devilishly difficult to hammer
out a figure. And indeed, it is the same as with iron - one
works on a model, and goes on working, at first with no result;
but at last it mellows, and one finds the figure, like the
iron, becomes malleable when it is hot, and then one
must go on working on it. So I had a model continually for
these two drawings, and worked on them early and late.
Do you know what I often think? I should like to get into
contact with the Graphic or London News in England. Now that I
am getting on with it, I should like so much to continue a few
large compositions suitable for illustration.
Boughton and Abbey together are making drawings called
“Picturesque Holland” for Harper's in New York
(agent for the Graphic too). I saw those illustrations at
Rappard's (very thoroughly done, small though they are and
undoubtedly made after larger drawings). Now I say to myself,
If the Graphic and Harper's send their draughtsmen to Holland,
perhaps they would not be unwilling to take on a draughtsman
from Holland if he can produce some good work and not too
I should prefer being put on regular monthly wages to
selling a drawing now and then at a relatively high price. And
I should like to make a contract for a series of compositions,
for instance, following up these two drawings I am working on
now, or those I am going to do. I should think it advisable to
go to London myself with studies and drawings and to visit the
managers of the various establishments or, better still, the
artists Herkomer, Green, Boughton (but some of them are in
America at present) or others, if they are in London. And
there, better than anywhere else, I should be able to get
information about the different processes. Perhaps Rappard
would come with me, and take drawings with him too. Such a
thing, more or less modified, ought to be done, I think.
Personally I could undertake to do one large drawing for a
double-page engraving for illustration every month, and I will
also apply myself to the other sizes, whole page and half
I know perfectly well that reproductions can be made large
or small, but a double page is more suitable for things done in
a broad style; the smaller ones may be drawn in a different
way, for instance, with pen and pencil.
Now, I don't think it's every day that the managers of
magazines find somebody who considers making illustrations his
From the little sketch which I made after the large drawing
just now, in a quarter of an hour, and which I enclose
herewith, you will see that I don't mind making the size larger
or smaller if necessary; when I know that a certain size is
wanted, I can make it.
But for my own study, I prefer the large size, so that I can
study hands, feet, head in greater detail. Don't you think that
a number of drawings of tree felling, etc., might be done in
the same style in which I just did “Peat Cutters”
and “Sand Diggers” - and in that way would be
interesting enough to serve as illustrations?
But I repeat, the money from you is absolutely indispensable
to me as long as I have not found employment. Out of what I
received from you today, I have to pay exactly as much as I
received: I have still to pay three models who have
posed several times. I have to pay the carpenter, to pay the
rent, to pay the baker and the grocer and also the shoemaker,
and I have to lay in some provisions. Then I have in front of
me two blank sheets for new compositions, and must set to work
on them. I shall again have to take a model every day, and
struggle hard till I have got it down. Quand bien même
I'll get started, but you will understand that in a few days I
shall be absolutely penniless, and then those terrible eight
long days of not being able to do anything but wait, wait for
the tenth of the month.
Oh, boy, if we could only find somebody who would buy the
drawings. The work is an absolute necessity for me. I can't put
it off, I don't care for anything but the work; that is to say,
the pleasure in something else ceases at once and I become
melancholy when I can't go on with my work. Then I feel like a
weaver who sees that his threads are tangled, and the pattern
he had on the loom is gone to hell, and all his thought and
exertion is lost.
Try to arrange it so that we can go on with energy. I am
going to ask permission to work in the old people's asylum. I
have already made many studies of old men, but I must have the
women too, and I must also draw the surroundings on the spot.
Well, you also have to provide for the woman, so I suppose you
know well enough that in this respect my life is not easy
either, with two children into the bargain.
I think it is so urgent that you see the studies and the
large drawings, especially with the financial side in mind. You
might take the same steps in Paris that I would take in London
with regard to illustrations if you could show a few large
drawings. But in that case I think it would be best not to
begin before we were almost sure of their being readily
These large compositions cause many expenses if one wants to
treat them conscientiously. For, boy, it must all be done with
the model; even if one uses studies, one must still retouch
them again, using the model. If I could take even more models,
I should be able to make them much, much better. So, boy, if
you think I could manage without your help for once, I assure
you I need it more than ever, but I show you our chance of
success if we persevere. I have already bought several things
with Rappard's money - sketching blocks, etc. - and everything
you send is invested in drawings, and I think you will like
those I am making now better than the first ones. So let us
keep up our courage and energy.
A great drawback for many things I should like to make on
the beach is that I have no Scheveningen woman's dress. You
understand, I could make a composition of Scheveningen figures
such as the enclosed little sketch. But when I draw a figure
out-of-doors, it is of course too superficial. It must be taken
up again and finished with a model, and one needs the
That expenditure, if I could afford it, would enable me to
start two or three drawings I have in mind. But how can I do
it? I repeat, within three days all the money I have now will
be gone, I have to spend almost everything. For these two
drawings I also needed a number of frocks, trousers,
sou'wester, etc. A model does not always wear a good,
picturesque frock; by changing it, it becomes more
characteristic and arresting. When you come, you must see how
elaborate the studies of the figures for the first plane of the
sketch are. I made them out-of-doors on a sand heap in a
In the beginning of your letter you write that you are glad
there was no cause for anxiety about the woman. Well, it is
true there is no direct reason for it, that is to say that in
this respect too I try to preserve my serenity and good
courage. But there are worries enough, heavy cares even, and
difficulties are not wanting. I began trying to save the woman,
notwithstanding the difficulties, and up to the present I have
gone through with it, but in the future everything will not be
couleur de rose either. Well, we must work as hard as we
Theo, do you know what the difficulties I had with the woman
were when I wrote you last? - her family tried to draw her away
from me; I have had nothing to do with any of them except the
mother, because I did not trust them. The more I tried to
analyze the history of that family, the more I was strengthened
in that opinion. Now, just because I kept out of their way,
they plot against me, and so a treacherous attack occurred. I
told the woman my opinion of their intentions, and said she had
to choose between her family and me, but that I did not want to
have anything to do with any of them, primarily because I
thought that relations with her family would lead her back to
her former bad life. The family proposed that she, with her
mother, should keep house for a brother of hers who divorced
his wife and is rather an infamous scoundrel. The reason why
the family advised her to leave me was that I earned too
little, and I was not good to her, and did it only for the
posing, but would certainly leave her in the lurch. Nota bene,
she has hardly been able to pose the whole year because of the
baby. Well, you can judge for yourself just how far these
suspicions of me have any foundations. But all these things
were secretly discussed behind my back, and at last the woman
told me. I said to her, “Do just as you like, but I shall
never leave you unless you turn back to your former
The worst is, Theo, that if we are hard up now and then,
they try to upset the woman in that way, and that rascal of a
brother, for instance, tries to drive her back to her former
life. Well, I can only say of her that I should think it
sensible and loyal of her if she broke off all relations with
her family. I myself dissuade her from going there, but if she
wants to, I let her go. And the temptation to show off her
baby, for instance, often drives her back to her family. And
that influence is fatal, and makes a greater impression upon
her because it comes from her family, who upset her by saying,
He will certainly leave you someday. So they try to make her
Adieu, boy, let us work and keep our head clear, and try to
act rightly! You know how it is with my money; if you can help
me, do so.
[Sketch “Sand Diggers in Dekkersduin” F 1028, JH
367 enclosed with letter]
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 3 June 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 288.
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