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Your letter just arrived, so I know that the mail will reach
Some days ago I wrote you a line to tell you a few things
about the country around here. Everything is beautiful here,
wherever one goes. The heath is much vaster than in Brabant, at
least near Zundert or Etten - a little monotonous in the
afternoon, and especially when the sun shines, but I would not
miss that very effect, which I tried vainly to paint several
times. Nor is the sea always picturesque; but those moments and
effects, too, must be studied if one does not want to be
deceived in their real character. Then the heath is sometimes
far from attractive at that hot midday hour - it is
aggravating, monotonous, and wearying like the desert, as
inhospitable and hostile, so to speak. Painting it in that
blazing light and rendering the planes vanishing into infinity
makes one dizzy.
However, one must not suppose it has to be taken
sentimentally; on the contrary, that is what it hardly ever is.
In the evening when a poor little figure is moving through the
twilight - when that vast sun-scorched earth stands out darkly
against the delicate lilac hues of the evening sky, and the
very last little dark-blue line at the horizon separates the
earth from the sky - that same aggravating, monotonous spot can
be as sublime as a Jules Dupré. And the figures, the men
and the women, have that very same characteristic - they are
not always interesting, but when one looks at them with
patience, one is sure to discover the Millet-like quality.
Yesterday I found one of the most curious cemeteries I ever
saw. Imagine a patch of heath surrounded by a hedge of thickly
grown little pine trees, so that one would think it just an
ordinary little pinewood. There is an entrance, however, a
short avenue, and then one sees a number of graves overgrown
with grass and heather. Many of them marked with white posts
bearing the names.
Herewith a sketch [JH 396] of the study I painted of it [Lost]. I am making
another study of a red sun between the little birches in a
marshy meadow, from which the white evening haze is rising, and
beyond which one can just see at the horizon a bluish-grey line
of trees with a few roofs.[Lost]
It is a pity you have not heard anything from C. M.
Of course he need not do anything, but I think it
rather rude never to send a word in reply.
But you must understand one thing - it is increasingly
apparent to me that we are living in a time in which things
have got rather mixed up (I personally don't think it
rather but enormously mixed up, but I won't force that
opinion on you). As to C. M., he as well as many others would
be very polite to a stranger, but “on ne hait que ses
amis.” [One only hates one's friends.] And as he is quite
absorbed in the ebb and flow of trade and the art-dealing
business, he is so engrossed by very abstract things that a
very natural thing, such as, for instance, the fact that I have
spoken to him and still do speak to him about my affairs
strikes him as disagreeably as an open door that lets in a
draught, for his thoughts are far, far away - always - and he
knows no better than to free himself rather roughly, just as
one slams the draughty door.
You will say that I suppose him to be very inconsiderate.
Well, that is exactly what I do suppose, though I do not doubt
that he can be very pleasant, but only when he has his
attention fixed on the matter, which is certainly not so
in my case, the more so because he seems to have certain
unshakable opinions about me which I do not think I must try to
I hope to send you studies from here soon, when I have got
some together; and just think over whether some of them would
perhaps be the thing for Wisselingh.
My money is almost gone, and strictly speaking I had hoped
to be able to lay in a small stock of colours and other
materials, but well - we must cut our coat according to our
cloth - though it's a pity there isn't a little more cloth. But
by working on patiently, things may be mended. I am very glad
though that I am here, for, boy, it is very beautiful.
I am longing to hear more from you. Perhaps I understand
some things a little, but, above all, I know and trust you have
As for acting well, our circumstances sometimes make us
different from what we should be if our intentions were not
I don't know how I shall manage to get the money changed
here. If it can't be done here, I might get it changed in
Assen, but if you could arrange it so that, say, twice - till I
know my way around better and have found a bank in Assen, where
I have not yet been - if twice you could send me Dutch money
or, for instance, a postal order, that would be a good thing;
otherwise, I might not know how to manage.
I hope you will be able to send no later than September 20,
for I paid a week in advance as soon as I arrived here, so
another will be due, and I shall have to pay again.
On the back of the page you will find a sketch of the little
churchyard. The colouring there is very unusual. It is very
beautiful to see the real heather on the graves. The smell of
turpentine has something mystical about it, the dark stretch of
pine wood border separates a sparkling sky from the rugged
earth, which has a generally ruddy hue - fawn - brownish,
yellowish, but everywhere with lilac tones.
It was not easy to paint. I will try some more aspects of
it; with snow, for instance, it must be very curious.
I had already heard something about Liebermann, but your
description, especially of his technique, gives me a better
idea of him. His colour must be infinitely better than
Henkes's (you express it very well ”slate colour
dissolving into greyish-yellow and greyish-brown”). I
understand it perfectly. That way of painting is
delightful if one has mastered it. And the reason I want to
paint a great deal is just because I should like to have a
certain firmness and system in my technique (though I have
heard many people say you must not have a system).
But he and several others have it, all right. From your
description I see that he, Liebermann, must work somewhat in
Herkomer's manner. Especially in systematically carrying
through and analyzing those patches of light and shadow caused
by sunbeams coming through the leaves, which dazzle many an
The other day I saw the large engraving after Herkomer's
“The Last Muster.” I suppose you have seen it too -
what a manly thing! I should love to see the “Fille d'un
mineur” by Jules Breton. There is still a coal mine in
Courrières. When I went there on a rainy day, the miners
were just going home through the mud, like a caravan of chimney
sweeps; I remember one with an old capote, but the women, at
least the ones I saw, did not wear men's clothes the way they
do in the Borinage, where the “loques de fosse”
[the “pit rags”] are the same for everybody.
Well, boy, your letter will be very welcome again. If you
have not done so already, write a little word to C. M. to tell
him that I am now alone here in Drenthe, and mention
something about my plans. But if he does not answer, I think I
must give it up.
Thanks for all the trouble you have taken.
It is beautiful grey weather this morning, no sun for the
first time since I got here; but for all that, it will be just
as fine, so I am going to set out. The people with whom I board
are excellent; the man works at the railway depot, the fellow
has something De Groux-like about him - a face that sometimes
has the colour of red cabbage, a real coolie; the woman, very
active and neat; 3 children. Probably they will give me a back
garret for a studio. Goodbye, brother, best wishes, with a
Yours sincerely, Vincent
You know the address is: A. Hartsuiker, Innkeeper,
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 17 September 1883 in Drenthe. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 325.
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