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I am working very hard on the series of heads from the
people, which I have set myself to make; I just enclose a
little scratch of the last one; in the evening I generally
scratch them from memory on a little scrap of paper, this is
one of them.
Perhaps I will make them later on in watercolour too. But
first I must paint them. Now just listen - do you remember how
in the very beginning I always spoke to you about my great
respect and sympathy for the work of Father de Groux? Of late I
think of him more than ever. One must not confront him
only in his historical pictures, though these are also very
good, nor in the first instance in a few pictures with the
sentiment of, for instance, the author Conscience. But one must
see his “Grace before Meat,” “The
Pilgrimage,” “The Paupers' Bench” and above
all, the simple Brabant types. De Groux is appreciated as
little as, for instance, Thijs Mans. He is different though,
but this they have in common, that they met with violent
In these days - whether the public is wiser now I can't
tell, but this much I know, that it is not at all superfluous
to weigh seriously one's thoughts and one's actions.
And at this very moment I could tell you some new names of
people that hammer again on the same old anvil on which de
Groux hammered. If it had pleased de Groux at that time to
dress his Brabant characters in medieval costumes, he would
have run parallel with Leys in genius, and also in fortune.
However, he did not do so, and now, years afterwards,
there is a considerable reaction against that medievalism,
though Leys always remains Leys and Thijs Maris, Thijs Maris,
and Victor Hugo's Notre Dame, Notre Dame.
But the realism not wanted then is in demand
now, and there is more need of it than ever.
The realism that has character and a serious sentiment.
I can tell you that for my part I will try to keep a
straight course, and will paint the most simple, the most
For pity's sake, how is it possible that you do not seem
able or willing to understand that by having fixed my studio
here, and by keeping it here for the present, I have made it
possible to have money enough for painting, and if I had done
otherwise it would have been a failure for myself as well as
for others. If I had not done so I would have had to drudge at
least three years more, before I had definitely overcome the
difficulties of colour and tone, just because of the expenses.
It is now just a year ago since I came here, driven by
necessity. It is certainly not for my pleasure that I
live here at home, but for my painting, and this being so I
think it a great mistake of yours if you were to rob me of an
opportunity, if I had to leave here now, before I had
found something else. For my painting I must stay here somewhat
longer still, then as soon as I have made more definite
progress, I am willing to go anywhere where I shall earn the
same money that I have here.
To be put back is not what I need or deserve, nor do I feel
the least inclination for it, you see.
And attempt to get rid of you, that I never did, but where
you showed me too clearly how little chance there was of our
doing real business together, I do accept it for the future,
that is true.
Recognize this once and for all, when I ask you for money,
do not ask it for nothing; the work which I carry out
with it is at your disposal, and if now I am in arrears,
I am on the right road even to achieving some leeway.
I write this once more, for the same reason as I did the
earlier letters; I shall be quite at bay at the end of the
month, for I have only enough for two or three days to pay my
And I am wretched that I shall again be handicapped for ten
or twelve days this month.
And most seriously I repeat, can you not find a way to help
me to 20 francs, for instance, to cover those last days? What I
mind most, is the time I should otherwise forfeit. Goodbye.
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 15-17 December 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 390.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.