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Here are two photographs of the weavers - next week I hope
to send you two more sketches for Hermans' decorations.
You know well enough that your criticism of this past year
and a half only seems like some kind of vitriol to me. But
never suppose I don't know it is possible to protect oneself
from such vitriol by a sort of leather which it cannot pierce
so easily, and that as soon as one's hide is tanned so as to
keep it out, it does not matter so much - so - what do I
Apart from this I believe you mean well. So what more do you
But I declare that it is not in the least my fault if
the money you give me yields such a poor interest, not only to
you, but also a poor interest to me. The former - that it
yields a poor interest to you - grieves me more than the
latter, it's yielding a poor interest to me too.
Things may improve, you will say - yes, but in that case not
only I but you too would have to change a good deal. I just
want to tell you that this winter, perhaps next month, I intend
to leave here for a time; I have thought of Antwerp - I have
thought of The Hague.
But during the last few days I have thought of something
that is perhaps even better. In the first place I now want at
all events some city life, some change of surroundings, having
been either in Drenthe or in Nuenen for a full year or more.
And I believe this will be a good distraction for me, for my
spirits in general, which have not been and could not be as
cheerful as I should like, especially recently.
Look here now, the sculptor Stracké lives in
Bois-le-Duc; at the same time he is director of the drawing
academy there. I saw a terre cuite by a pupil of his, and heard
on that occasion that Stracké is not at all unkind or
indifferent to anyone who practices art in this vicinity. That
at Bois-le-Duc he has several models for the academy, and that
there are people to whom he affords the opportunity to draw
from the nude or to model in clay.
Probably, however, one would have to pay the model
oneself, but that is not so very expensive, and then one has a
spacious room for which one doesn't pay anything. I am
going to see for myself how things are, and then it is not
impossible that, just as Breitner, for instance, went to
Cormon, I shall go to Stracké. It is in the
neighbourhood, and would be the cheapest thing too.
I have bought a very beautiful book on anatomy, Anatomy for
Artists; by John Marshall. It was in fact very expensive, but
it will be of use to me all my life, for it is very good. I
have also what they use at l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and what
they use in Antwerp.
But such things make great holes in my pocket. I tell you
this only to make you understand that my not paying Father and
Mother for my board while I stay here is not because I do not
want to pay, but because I have had many expenses which I for
my part don't consider superfluous.
The key to many things is the thorough knowledge of the
human body, but it costs money to learn it. Besides, I am quite
sure that colour, that chiaroscuro,
that perspective, that tone and that
drawing, in short, everything has fixed laws
which one must and can study, like chemistry or algebra. This
is far from being the easiest view of things, and one
who says, “Oh, one must know it all instinctively,”
takes it very easy indeed. If that were enough! But it isn't
enough, for even if one knows ever so much by instinct,
that is just the reason to try ever so hard to pass from
instinct to reason. That's what I think.
I said, Yes, they must be paid at once. Then he gave
me 25 guilders.
Then came all my other expenses for models, not counting my
time, work, etc.; but since then I have not seen any of his
money, nor have I asked for it. On the contrary, because
my work pleased him from first to last, I consider myself
already sufficiently paid, if need be. Besides, the pictures
remain my property, and I must judge for myself what I am
willing to lay out for them. But enough of this, since those
stretchers, canvases, etc., I have had at least 20 guilders'
worth of expenses, perhaps even more, and have not even got
them back. But the man is satisfied and pleased with me. Is it
then good policy to ask for money? One must be very careful in
this, in my opinion, just when people are satisfied, one
must lower the price rather than raise it. Especially when,
after all, the sum is not so considerable that receiving it or
not makes that much difference. If I succeed, it will perhaps
be for the very reason that I work more cheaply than others,
and make it easy for the art lovers.
As to Hermans, he is very good, and a man to remain
on good terms with, and he is certainly rich, but - has always
been stingy rather than generous. Quite different from a real
miser, but after all, I am earning less, much less
But notwithstanding this, I for my part have been very kind
and obliging to him. I find in him a very pleasant, jovial
friend, and it is really touching to see how a man of
sixty tries hard to learn to paint with the same youthful
enthusiasm as if he were twenty.
What he makes is not beautiful, but he works hard, and has
already copied four of my six compositions, in quite a
different sentiment, and it has something medieval, something
like Peasant Breughel.
You once told me that I should always be isolated; I don't
believe it, you are decidedly mistaken in my character
And I do not at all intend to think and live less
passionately than I do. By no means - I may meet with rebuffs,
I may often be mistaken - often be wrong - but that only as far
as it goes - basically I am not wrong.
Neither the best pictures nor the best people have no faults
or partis pris.
And I repeat, though these times may seem tame, they aren't
really. I also positively deny that my assertion of certain
parties still being as strongly opposed to each other in '84 as
in '48 should be exaggerated. It is something quite
different from that ditch of yours, I assure you - I am
speaking of the parties now, rather than of you and me in
particular, but you and I also belong somewhere, don't
we? - standing either on the right or on the left, whether we
are conscious of it or not.
I for my part have at all events a parti pris if you like,
and if you think you, for your part can manage to stand neither
on the right nor on the left, I take the liberty of doubting
most strongly its feasibility. And especially the practical
I have had a fairly good letter from Utrecht, she has
recovered enough to go to The Hague for a time. But I am still
far from easy about her. The tone of her letters is much more
self-confident, much more correct, and less prejudiced than
when I first knew her. At the same time, something like the
wail of a bird whose nest has been robbed; she is feeling
perhaps less indignant than I toward society, but she too sees
in it “the boys that rob the nests,” who do it for
fun and laugh about it.
But now there is a piece of news, that the pastor at
Helvoirt has died, so that there is now a vacancy in that
parish. I think it probable that they want to get Father back
there, at least that the family at Helvoirt is going to sound
Father out on the subject. But seeing that it was only the day
before yesterday that the dear reverend gentleman over yonder
dropped dead, I do not know in the least whether they are going
to call Father or not. However I think it highly probable.
Father is not going to accept the call, this much is
As to what I call barricade and you call ditch, it can't be
helped, but there is an old civilization that, in my opinion,
is declining through its own fault - there is a new
civilization that has been born, and is growing, and will grow
In short, there are revolutionary and
Now I ask you whether you yourself have not often noticed
that the policy of wavering between the old and the new isn't
tenable? Just think this over. Sooner or later it ends with
one's standing frankly either on the right or on the left.
It is no ditch. And I repeat, then it was '48, now it
is '84; then there was a barricade of paving stones - now it is
not of stones, but all the same a barricade as to the
incompatibility of old and new - oh, it certainly is there in
'84 as well as in '48. Goodbye,
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written October 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 381.
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