van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Wilhelmina van Gogh
Saint-Rémy, c. 20 December 1889
Relevant paintings:

"Olive Picking," Vincent van Gogh

"Olive Picking," Vincent van Gogh

W18 1

Saint-Rémy, c. 20 December 1889

My dear sister,

I'm adding a word to you in great haste; I hope you will like the canvas for you and Mother which I am working on at present a little. It is a repetition of a picture for Theo, women gathering olives.

I have been working very hard and ceaselessly for two weeks. Do you know the poem I have written on the opposite page?

Whistler painted a picture of his mother which is like that. But we find this especially in our old Dutch pictures now and then. When I think of Mother it seems to me that she is very like that too.

Life is not always very gay here, and my companions in distress are very often bored, but there is much resignation and patience here. But many of them are doing nothing, and remain absorbed in thought all day long, and now and then I feel inclined to believe that they would be better off in an asylum where manual labour was obligatory.

See you soon, and I embrace you in thought.

Yours, Vincent

[written on the opposite page]

Who is the maid my spirit seeks
Through cold reproof and slanders blight?
Has she love's roses on her cheek
Is hers an eye of calm delight?
No, wan and sunk with midnight prayer
And the pale looks of her I love,
And if by times a light be there
That light was kindled from above.
I choose not her mine heart's elect
Amongst those that seek their maker's shrine
In gems and garlands proudly decked
As if themselves were things divine.
No, heaven but faintly warms the breast
That beats beneath a broidered veil,
And they who come in glittering dress
To mourn their frailty--yet are frail.
Not to the form of her I love,
And love because her bloom is gone,
But ne'er was beauty's bloom so bright,
So touching as that form's decay,
That in the altar's wavering light
In holy lustre fades away.

1. Written in French.

At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh. Written c. 20 December 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number W18.

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