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I just received your letter. I read it over and over again
with the greatest interest, and one thing is becoming clear to
me, which I have often thought about without getting very
That is to say, you have in common with me a time of
secretly drawing the most impossible castles in the air, etc.,
which drawings stand in a curious relation to the throng of
thoughts and aspirations - useless because nobody who might
lend a helping hand takes any notice of them (only painters
could show the right way then, but they have their thoughts
elsewhere). That is a great inner struggle, which ends in
discouragement, or in giving up the ideas as impracticable, and
just about the age of twenty-one is very eager to do so.
What I may have said then, which was bound to contribute to
that casting things overboard, at that moment my thoughts were
perhaps the same as yours, that is to say, I regarded it as
impossible. But as to that despairing struggle without getting
any light anywhere, I know how awful it is too - with all one's
energy one cannot do anything, and thinks oneself crazy, or
Heaven knows what. In London how often I stood drawing on the
Thames Embankment, on my way home from Southampton Street in
the evening, and it came to nothing. If there had been someone
then to tell me what perspective was, how much misery I should
have been spared, how much further I should have been now!
Well, let bygones be bygones. It has not been so. I spoke once
or twice to Thijs Maris. I dared not speak to Boughton because
his presence overawed me; but I did not find it there either,
that help with the very first things, the A B C.
Let me repeat now that I believe in you as an artist, and
that you may become so still, yes, that in a very short time
you would think over in all calmness whether you are an artist
or not, whether you succeed in producing something or not, if
you learned to spell the above-mentioned A B C and if at the
same time you wandered through the cornfields and the moors, to
renew what you yourself express as “I used to feel myself
part of nature; now I do not feel that way any
Let me tell you, brother, that I myself experienced so
deeply, so very deeply what you say there. That I have been
through a period of nervous, arid overstraining - there were
days when I could not see anything in the most beautiful
landscape just because I did not feel myself part of it. It is
the street and the office and the care and the nerves that make
Do not be angry with me when I say that at this moment your
soul is sick - it is true, you know; it is not right for you
not to feel yourself part of nature, and I think the most
important thing is to restore that. I must look into my own
past to find why I lived in that stony, arid mood for years,
and why it became worse instead of better, though I tried to
Not only did I feel hardened instead of sensitive toward
nature, but, much worse still, I felt exactly the same toward
I do not believe somebody like ———(?) for
instance - who proved really to be insane - thought that way,
and therefore I repeat, I have often thought those years of
grubbing over, but I do not see how in those circumstances I
could have been different from what I was.
This was the ground which gave way under my feet; think how
miserable anyone would be if such a ground gave way. I had been
with Goupil for six years. I was rooted there, and thought that
if I left them, I could look back on six years of clean work,
and that if I presented myself elsewhere, I might refer to my
past with full assurance.
It was by no means so; things are done so hurriedly that
there is but little time for reflection, for questions or
arguments. People act according to very arbitrary, very
superficial impressions, and once one has left G. & Co.,
nobody remembers who G. & Co. is. It is a name like X &
Co., without any meaning, so one is simply “someone out
of work.” At once, suddenly, inevitably, that is how it
is everywhere. Of course, just because one possesses a certain
proper pride, one does not say, I am Mr. So-and-so, I am this
or that. One applies for a new position in full earnest,
without many words, fully intending to put one's hand to the
plough. All right, but by and by a person out of work,
“L'homme de quelque part,” becomes a suspicious
Now imagine your new boss to be a man whose business is
rather mysterious, imagine him to have but one goal,
“money.” Can you, with all your energy, at once, on
the spot, help him to a big amount? Not very likely, don't you
think? But he wants money, money “quand
même”; you want to know a little more about the
business, and what you see or hear is rather disgusting.
“A person out of work” - “I do not want
you any longer” soon is the answer.
Well, look here, you are becoming more and more “a
person without work.” You may go to England, you may go
to America - it does not matter, you will be like an uprooted
tree everywhere G. & Co., where you had been rooted since
your earliest years, G. & Co., though indirectly they
brought you to grief, because as a boy you thought them the
finest, the best, the biggest in the world; G. & Co. -
if you came back to them (I have not done so, I
could not do it, my heart was too full, much too full) -
G. & Co. would give you the cold shoulder, with a
“nous n'avons plus à nous en occuper.” [We
need no longer bother about it.] For all that, one is uprooted,
and the world reverses the facts and says that you have
uprooted yourself. The fact is - your place no longer knows
Now, stick to your point, and don't let your grief let you
lose your head; if the gentlemen behave like that, then stand
on your honour, and do not accept your dismissal except on
conditions which guarantee your getting a new situation.
Don't fly into a rage, they are not worth that, though
they incite you to it. I flew into a rage and walked
Now again, my position was different from yours. I was one
of the least, you, one of the foremost, yet I am afraid you
would feel what I say about being uprooted too if you were out
of it, so face this fact coolly, don't give in, and don't let
yourself be turned out without being somewhat prepared for the
difficult situation of having to start anew.
And in that extreme case: do not go to America, for
it is just the same there as in Paris. No, beware of the moment
when one says, I shall make myself scarce; I went through that
moment myself, I hope you will not know it. And if it
comes your way, I repeat, Beware of it, resist it quite
collectedly, and say, This proves that I am striking a stone
wall. Such a wall is for bulls to beat against; it is true that
I am a bull myself, but an intelligent one, I am a bull in the
matter of becoming an artist. In short, don't let yourself be
induced to crush your own skull, that's all. I do not say
things will turn out that way; I only hope there will be no
question whatever of striking a stone wall.
And know this well, in case of being uprooted, in case of a
failure when starting anew, do not despair. Suppose there were
a whirlpool somewhere, with sharp-edged, rocky promontories;
well, then I should just think one might sail around them,
mightn't one? You will perhaps admit that rock to be there, as
you yourself pulled me out of that whirlpool when I myself no
longer had any hope of getting out, and was hopelessly unable
to struggle against it any longer.
I mean, sail around that whirlpool at a great distance - it
has already begun to suck you in to the extent of your being
estranged from nature. Do you think me foolish if I dare to
say, Change your course enough now so that you try to
restore the harmony between yourself and nature? The longer you
remain in this mood, the more you foster nervousness, your
constant enemy and mine. I have had more experience than you
with what tricks it might play on you.
You are now entering upon a situation that may disturb you
in so far as the relation with nature is disrupted. Take this
quite calmly as a sign of aberration. Say, “Oh, no, not
that way, please.” Look for a new aim, an interest in
something, for instance, think that basically perspective must
be the simplest of all things after all, and chiaroscuro, a
simple, not a complicated thing. It must be something that
speaks for itself, otherwise I do not care much for it. Try to
get back to nature this way.
Well, simply believe this, boy, that while writing this, I
have got back something of the same feeling of years ago. That
I again take pleasure in castles in the air, for instance, that
especially here in Drenthe I am feeling pretty much the way I
did at the time when first I began to see the beauty of art.
You will agree with me when I call this normal, won't you? I
mean to admire the things of nature, to be calm enough to draw
them, to paint them.
But suppose you are faced by a stone wall, would you
think a person in my frame of mind tranquil enough to be
tempted to take a little walk with you to divert your thoughts
at the moment when, because of nervous tension, these thoughts
are beginning to contain an element of despair? At the core you
are yourself, and have not changed, but your nerves are getting
upset from overstrain. Well, take care of your nerves, and do
not think lightly of them, for they may tempt you to
quick-tempered manoeuvers; anyway, you know something about
Theo, understand clearly what I mean at this moment: Father,
Mother, Wil, Marie and particularly I myself are all assisted
by you; you think you will have to stick it out for all our
sakes, and believe me, I quite enter into your feelings about
this, at least I can sympathize with them to a great extent.
But think it over. What is the purpose - your own purpose and
Father's, Mother's, Wil's, Marie's and mine? What do we all
want? We want to pull through, acting righteously; we all want
to arrive at a clear position, not a false position, don't we?
This is what we want unanimously and earnestly, however much or
little we may differ. What is it that we all want to set
against fate? All, all of us without exception, want to work
steadily, want quiet. Am I wrong in looking at the situation
this way? All right, what is facing us now? A calamity is
facing us which, hitting you, will hit us all. All right. A
thunderstorm is threatening us; we see it threaten, we may be
struck by lightning. All right, what are we going to do now?
Are we frightened out of our wits? I do not think this would be
our state of mind - although we all have certain nerves in our
bodies, although certain fibres of the heart even more delicate
than nerves might be shocked or suffer pain. “We are
today what we were yesterday,” even if the lightning
strikes, even if the thunder rolls. Are we or aren't we the
sort who can face things collectedly? - that's the simple
question, and I do not see any reason why we should not be.
What I further see is this:
That at this moment our mutual position is straight; to keep
it so, a closer solidarity between us is desirable, and in my
opinion, there are in ourselves a few things which we must
settle between us.
I have reached the point where my work will probably yield
some profit soon. And now if we could reduce the
expenses to a minimum, even below the present rate, I could
perhaps earn a little instead of spending, become positive
instead of negative.
If this is urgent that we must earn money, I see a
chance of it in that way, if they have patience at home, if
they realize what is necessary, and especially if the whole
family helps in the question of posing for me.
As to their being my models, they should decidedly have to
do what I want, they should have to trust in my having reasons
for it. If I say to them, You must pose, they ought to do so.
Of course I would not ask anything unreasonable.
You remember the basic cause of my leaving home, a
misunderstanding of each other in almost everything.
Can one live together in such a case? Yes, for a
time, if it must be, and if both sides feel that
everything must be subordinated to what the force majeur
of circumstances demands. I wish that had been understood at
the time; besides, I did not take the initiative in going
away; but when I was told to go, I went.
Well, I just mention this, because I see that circumstances
may demand that you must have your hands free, and if my
living at home for a time might further that, I think Father
and I must agree to it at once. Though, if it is not absolutely
necessary - “tant mieux” - but I do not say that I
absolutely must be in Drenthe, it doesn't matter in the
least where I am.
So rest assured on that score, I would do anything you
And today I shall simply write Father this: In case Theo
considers it advisable that my expenses be reduced to a minimum
and I should have to live at home for a while, I hope, for
myself as much as for you, that we shall possess the wisdom
not to make a mess of things by discord, and that,
ignoring the past, we shall resign ourselves to what the new
circumstances may bring. Nothing further about you or about
business matters, and in case I should have to live at home, I
should not speak about you otherwise than in general terms. And
certainly not mention Marie for the present.
Theo, when, perhaps a year ago, you said you would certainly
not become a painter, but would definitely stay in your present
profession, I could not but acquiesce; now I no longer
acquiesce to the same extent: throughout the history of art one
repeatedly finds the phenomenon of two brothers being painters.
I know that the future is unpredictable, at least for myself I
declare that I do not know how things will turn out. But it is
a fact that I believe in you as a painter, in which belief I am
strengthened by your last letter.
But mind, there is one thing I tell you is urgently
necessary. Beware of your nerves - avail yourself of all means
to keep your mind at ease. If it is possible, go and consult a
doctor every day, not particularly because a doctor could do
something for you that would prove effective, but because the
measure of going to see a doctor, etc., would force you to bear
in mind, this is nervousness, this is what I am.
It is a question of self-knowledge, of serenity notwithstanding
all the tricks nerves must play. As I see it, the whole
idea of the possibility of making yourself scarce is
caused by nerves. Assume this to be the case, and you will do
wisely and well.
I hope you will not pull off a coup; I hope you will
not make a financial invention; I hope you will become a
painter. If your cool, self-possessed exterior shows that you
do not give a damn about the crisis the gentlemen have
purposely conjured up, it will be like water off a duck's back
with you; tell them, “I'm not leaving like that,
certainly not at present, never that way” - if you
say, I have plans, but they are not even of a commercial
nature, and as soon as they are ripe for execution, I shall
withdraw in all quietness; until such time, as long as you can
find no fault with my activities and behaviour, leave things as
they are; but bear in mind that you would be gravely mistaken
in my personality if you thought that I should run away because
you make the situation unbearable for me, or that I should part
with you in an unreasonable way. Do you want to get rid of me?
All right, I for my part want to be rid of you, but amicably
and in an orderly way - that, however, you are not the
slightest bit bent on staying, but that you will not get out
before you see a favourable moment. I think this is the way in
which you will be able to frustrate what they are now trying to
do to make it impossible for you to stay on. Perhaps they
suspect you of entering into negotiations with others, and in
such a case their making things impossible might be venomous
indeed. If they should turn venomous, nothing can be done, so
forestall it - perhaps mentioning in a quiet way on what terms
you should be willing to retire would be the best thing to
In the meantime, if I should have to go home for a time in
order to give you a free hand, please give me warning. And
again - Father, Mother, Wil, Marie and I, in a word all of us,
think more of you than of your money. This making yourself
scarce is purely nerves.
But redress - try to redress if you cannot do it at once -
the relation between yourself and nature and people. And if it
cannot be done in any other way than by your becoming a
painter, well then, do so, notwithstanding all objections and
obstacles. Say, do write soon, be sure you do so, with a
Yours sincerely, Vincent
I am sending you the enclosed sketches to give you an idea
of the many extremely different things this apparently
monotonous country presents. You see, I am just sampling at
random - I catch hold of one thing and another; later things
will arrange themselves and settle into shape of their own
accord. But here I will not begin with a prearranged plan; on
the contrary, I want my plan to result from my studies. As yet
I do not know the real character of the country; now I draw
everything that presents itself, but later on, after some
experience, I shall try to reproduce it in its real
One thing depends so much on another that one must catch
hold of everything; however much one should like to concentrate
on a single subject, not one thing can be left out.
So there is work enough. I now have a pretty large room
(where a stove has been put), which happens to have a small
balcony, from which I can see the heath with the huts. In the
distance I see a very curious drawbridge.
Downstairs there is the inn, and a farmer's kitchen with a
peat fire on the hearth, very cosy in the evening. Such a
fireplace with a cradle beside it is an excellent place for
meditation. When I am feeling melancholy or worried about
something, I just run downstairs for a while.
I can tell you that in a roundabout way I have heard
something about the woman. I could not imagine why she did not
So I wrote the carpenter next door, if the woman had not
been to ask my address. And the scoundrel answered: “Oh
yes, sir, but I thought you wouldn't like her to know your
address, so I pretended not to know it.” The damned
So I wrote her at once, though it was not as good as the
express arrangement I had made with him and with her; but I do
not want to hide myself now or ever, and I
would rather write her at her family's address than conceal
myself in any way. That's my opinion about it. And I also sent
her some money; if this should have bad consequences, I am not
responsible for it. I will not act falsely. I found that
scoundrel's letter at Hoogeveen on my last visit there.
Friend Rappard has written to me again from Terschelling,
and now today from Utrecht - he is home again. He has brought
studies from there, especially of the almshouse. I don't
understand it exactly, he told me the doctor had prescribed sea
air for him during the winter; besides, he longed to spend a
winter in the country, but it seems to have turned out
differently in the end.
You wrote to me about Liebermann: his palette consists of
slate-grey tones, principally running from brown to
yellowish-grey. I have never seen anything of his, but now that
I have seen the landscape here, I can understand perfectly how
logically he is led to it.
Often the colour of things reminds me of Michel; you know,
he also has a grey sky (slate-coloured sometimes), a brown soil
with yellowish-greys. It is absolutely true, and according to
There are Jules Dupré effects, to be sure, but in
this autumn season it is exactly that - and you describe
Leibermann's palette. And if I may find what I seek - and why
shouldn't I find it? - I shall certainly often do it in the
same way, in that same chromatic gamut.
Mind you, to see it like that,
That sky is grey -but so iridescent that even our pure white
would be unable to render this light and shimmer. Now,
if one begins by painting this sky grey, thus remaining far
below the intensity of nature, how much more necessary it is to
tone down the browns and yellowish-greys of the soil to a lower
key, in order to be consistent. I think if once one analyses it
thus, it is so logical, one can hardly understand not having
always seen it so.
But it is the local colour of a green field, or a ruddy
brown heath, which, considered apart, easily leads one
Write again soon, for your last letter was remarkably brief,
too brief, but it was obviously written in the office.
What about that Triennial Exhibition? There will be many
beautiful things. I long to hear about it, because these
certainly are the characteristic things of the present, and not
of past years. So if you have a moment, tell me about it.
There was a rumour that Liebermann is somewhere here in the
neighbourhood. I should like to meet him.
I must say I am very glad to have found a better place to
work in, so that I needn't sit idle at home now that there is
so much rain and bad weather is expected. I wish you could see
the country here. In the evening it is inexpressibly
And I think, with snow, it will also be splendid.
I read a very beautiful little book of Carlyle's, Heroes and
Hero Worship, nice sayings, as, for instance: we have
the duty to be brave, though in general this is
wrongly considered to be an exception. In life it is the same,
goodness rises so high above everything that of course we
cannot reach such a height. The most reasonable thing, and the
thing that makes life less impossible, is to put our gamut in a
lower key, and not to try to be luminous, and not to subside
One finds here the most wonderful types of Nonconformist
clergymen, with pigs' faces and three-cornered hats. Also
adorable Jews, who look uncommonly ugly amidst Millet-like
types or on this naive, desolate moor. But they are very
characteristic. I travelled with a party of Jews who held
theological discussions with some farmers. How is it possible
for such absurdities to exist in a country like this? Why
couldn't they look out of the windows or smoke their pipes, or
at least behave as reasonably as, for instance, their pigs,
which make no disturbance whatever, though they are pigs, and
are in place in these surroundings and in harmony with them.
But before the clergymen of the type I saw here reach the
-cultural and rational level of ordinary pigs, they must
improve considerably, and probably it will take ages before
they arrive at this point. Now any pig is better, as far as I
Well, I am off again for a walk, write me if you can spare a
moment, and look out for something of Liebermann's at the
Good-by, my address is here for the present. Best wishes,
with a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 12 October 1883 in Drenthe. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 332.
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