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My dear Theo,
Now that I have been here for a few days and have done a
good deal of walking about in various directions, I can tell
you more about the area in which I have ended up. I am
enclosing a quick little scratch of the first study I painted
here, a cottage on the heath. A cottage made entirely of turfs
and sticks. I have seen the inside of some 6 or so like this,
too, and more studies of them will follow.
I can't convey the way they look outside in the dusk or just
after sunset better than by reminding you of a certain painting
by Jules Dupré, which I think belongs to Mesdag and
shows two cottages, their moss-covered roofs standing out
surprisingly deep in tone against a misty, hazy evening sky.
That could have been here.
Inside, these cottages, dark as a cave, are very beautiful.
There are drawings by certain English artists who have worked
on the moors in Ireland that portray most realistically what I
have found here. Alb. Neuhuys does the same with somewhat more
poetry than is apparent at first sight, but he never does
anything that is not basically true.
I saw some superb figures in the country - striking in their
sobriety. A woman's breast, for instance, has that heaving
movement which is the exact opposite of volupté
[voluptuousness], and sometimes, when the creature is old or
ailing, can arouse compassion or respect. And the melancholy
which things in general have here is of a healthy kind, as in
drawings by Millet. Fortunately, the men here wear short
breeches, which show the shape of the leg and give the
movements more expression.
To mention one of the many fresh impressions and feelings I
have gained on my exploratory outings, let me tell you for
instance about the barges drawn by men, women, children, white
or black horses, laden with peat, in the middle of the
heath, just like the ones you see in Holland, say on the
The heath is magnificent. I've seen sheepfolds and shepherds
more beautiful than those in Brabant. The ovens are more or
less as in Th. Rousseau's four communal [communal oven], and
stand in the gardens under old apple trees or among the
cabbages and the celery. Beehives, too, in many places.
One sees many individuals who have something wrong with them
- I think it can't be very healthy here, perhaps because of
foul drinking water. I have seen a few girls of perhaps 17 or
even younger with something lovely and youthful about them,
whose features were striking, but more often than not they look
fané [faded] at an early age. Still, that does not
detract from the fine and noble bearing of some of the figures,
even if they do appear quite faded when seen from close to.
There are 4 or 5 canals in the village, to Meppel, to
Dedemsvaart, to Coevorden, to Hollands Veld. Following them,
one now and then sees a curious old mill, farmhouse, boatyard,
or lock. And always the bustle of peat barges.
To give you an example of the true character in these parts:
as I sat painting that cottage, two sheep and a goat came and
started to graze on the roof of the house. The goat
climbed up on to the ridge and looked down the chimney. The
woman, who had heard something on the roof, rushed out and
flung her broom at the said goat, which leaped down like a
The two hamlets on the heath where I went and where this
incident occurred are called Stiufzand [Shifting Sand] and
Swartschaap [Black sheep]. I have been to various other places
too, and you'll have some idea now of how primitive it all is
here - Hoogeveen is après tout [after all] a town and
yet right next to it one has shepherds, those ovens, those turf
I often think with melancholy of the woman and the children,
if only they were provided for; oh, it's the woman's fault, one
might say, and it would be true, but I am afraid her
misfortunes will prove greater than her guilt. I knew from the
beginning that her character was spoiled, but I hoped she would
improve; and now that I do not see her any more and ponder some
things I saw in her, it seems to me more that she was too far
gone for improvement. And this only increases my feeling of
pity, and it becomes a melancholy feeling because it is not in
my power to redress it.
Theo, when I meet on the heath such a poor woman with a
child on her arm, or at her breast, my eyes get moist. It
reminds me of her, her weakness; her untidiness, too,
contributes to making the likeness stronger. I know that she
is not good, that I have an absolute right to act as
I do, that I could not stay with her back there, that I
really could not take her with me, that what I did was
even sensible and wise, whatever you like; but, for all that,
it cuts right through me when I see such a poor little figure
feverish and miserable, and it makes my heart melt inside.
Goodbye, write soon and believe me,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 15 September 1883 in Drenthe. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 324.
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