My dear Theo.
The more I reflect upon it, the deeper the impression made on me by your last letter. In broad outline (leaving aside the difference between the two people in question), on a cold, merciless pavement a sombre, sorrowful figure of a woman appeared before you and before me, and neither you nor I passed her by, but both of us stopped and followed the promptings of our human heart. Such an encounter has something of an apparition about it, at least if one thinks back one sees a pale face, a sorrowful look like an Ecce Homo1 against a dark background; everything else disappears. That is the sentiment of an Ecce Homo and in reality; the same thing is in the expression, but here it’s a woman’s face.
Later — things are definitely different — but one doesn’t forget that first moment.
Below an English figure of a woman (by Paterson) is the name Dolorosa, which pretty well expresses it.2 I’m thinking of the two women now, and at the same time I thought of a drawing by Pinwell, The sisters,3 in which I find that ‘Dolorosa’.
That drawing shows two women in black in a dark room. One has just come home and is hanging her coat on the hatstand. The other briefly smells a primrose on the table while picking up a white piece of needlework.
That Pinwell is reminiscent of Feyen-Perrin — in his earlier period — his work also recalls Thijs Maris, but with a yet purer feeling. He was a poet, as strong as could be, he saw the sublime in the most ordinary, everyday things. His work is rare, I saw little by him, but that little was so beautiful that now, 10 years later, it has remained just as clear in my mind as when I first became acquainted with it.
At that time it was said of that group of draughtsmen ‘It’s too good to last’. You can see from Herkomer’s words that sadly this has proved to be right,4 but it isn’t dead yet, and in both literature and art it will be difficult to find a better attitude than the one from those days.
I often felt low in England for various reasons but those, the Black and White and Dickens, are things that make up for it all.  1v:2
I think your meeting with this woman is likely to take your thoughts back many times to the period 10 or even 20 years ago, or still further back. In short, I mean you will rediscover yourself in her, a part of your life that you had almost forgotten, namely the past, and I don’t know whether, when you’ve been with her for a year, you’ll see the present through the same eyes as, for instance, before you knew her.
I speak from my own experience, not that I reject everything to do with the present day, far from it, but still it seems to me that something from the past that was good and should have been kept is going, in art particularly, but also in life itself.
Perhaps I’m expressing things too vaguely, but I can’t put it another way — I don’t know myself what it is exactly, but it wasn’t only the Black and White that changed direction and strayed from the healthy, noble beginnings.
Rather, in general a kind of scepticism and indifference and coldness prevails, despite all the activity.
But all this is too vague and ill-defined. I don’t think about it all that much in fact, because I’m thinking about my drawings and have no time to go into it.
Still busy with heads this week, women’s heads mainly — with bags, among other things.5
Have you ever seen anything by Boyd Houghton? He is one from the beginning of The Graphic who, though little known (he’s now dead), occupies a place of his own.
I thought of him when you wrote about the Barricade by Daumier.6 At the time he also did the pétroleuses and barricades in Paris.7 But later on he went to America and I know, among other things, drawings of Shakers by him,8 and a Mormon church,9 and Indian women10 &c., and emigrants.11  1v:3
In a barricade scene, for example, he can have something ghostly, or rather something mysterious like Goya. He also treated the American subjects in that way, namely Goya-like, but then sometimes all at once something runs underneath that recalls Meryon because of its extraordinary austerity.
His woodcuts could almost pass for etchings.
Too good to last, they say, but it’s precisely because of that, because it’s rare, that the good lasts. It isn’t produced every day — it will never be obtained mechanically, but what there is of it is there, and that won’t go away but remain. And even if later another kind of good comes, the first will still keep its value. So in my opinion one shouldn’t lament the fact that this or that hasn’t become general; even if it doesn’t become general, whatever there is of the good or beautiful still exists.
What’s the position these days with the etchings Cadart began years ago?12 Has that also proved to be Too good to last?
I know well enough that many etchings, and beautiful ones at that, are published these days too. But I mean the old series Société des Aquafortistes that included The two brothers by Feyen-Perrin13 and the Sheep pasture by Daubigny14 and the Bracquemonds15 and so many others — have they retained their power or have they gone weak?
Even if they are weaker, what there is — doesn’t that already have enough substance to remain for ever, thus rather disproving the words too good to last?
What the etching needle could do was shown by Daubigny, Millet, Feyen-Perrin, and many others, just as The Graphic &c. showed what the Black and White could do.
And this stands as a truth once and for all, and those who wish can always draw energy from it.  1r:4
The pity of it is partly that when several people care for the same cause and work on it together, unity is strength, and united they can do more than their separate energies can, each striving in a different direction.
People strengthen each other when they work together, and an entity is formed without personality having to be blotted out by the collaboration.
This is why I wish Rappard was fully recovered. We don’t actually work together, but we have similar ideas about many questions. He’s getting better and we’re again dealing in woodcuts together. Yet I always have hopes that we’ll become even better friends than up to now, and perhaps later visit the miners together or something like that. But for the time being I believe that both he and I must do our best at thorough study of the figure; the more one has mastered that the more attainable such plans become. He says he’s had a fever, nothing more, and is still weak, but he’s tight-lipped about his illness.
We’ve had snow here again that’s now melting. The thaw is very beautiful. I imagine that this spring could be unusually delightful for you. Write soon about how your patient is getting on. Well, I’ll enjoy the spring too. Today, while the snow melts, one feels the spring in the distance, so to speak.
I think that we’ll have a real day when you come, sooner or later. Perhaps you’ll agree with me that in times of worry, such as you will certainly have now because of her illness, one can best feel the poetry of things. I long for the spring so that I can get a breath of fresh air instead of working at home, which has made me a little dull.
I’m still very happy with my sou’wester. I’m curious to know whether you’ll find anything good in the heads of fishermen.16 The last one I did this week was of a chap with a white fringe of beard.17
I know of one drawing by Boyd Houghton which he calls ‘my models’ and which shows a corridor where several invalids — one on crutches, one blind, one a street urchin &c. — come to visit a painter on Christmas Day.18 There’s something nice about dealing with models — one learns a lot from them — this winter I’ve had people who will always stay in my memory. I like Edouard Frère’s remark that he had hung on to his models so that ‘those who used to pose as babies now pose as mothers’.19 Well, adieu, Theo, write soon. Sincere best wishes. Believe me, with a handshake

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 307 | CL: 262
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, Friday, 26 or Saturday, 27 January 1883

1. With the words ‘Behold the man’, Pilate showed the scourged Jesus wearing a crown of thorns to the people (John 19:5). An ‘Ecce homo’ is a depiction of this scene.
2. Helen Paterson, also known as Helen Allingham, ‘Ninety-three’ – Dolorosa, in The Graphic 9 (13 June 1874), p. 565. Ill. 1214 [1214] (t*119). It is an illustration to Quatre-vingt-treize by Victor Hugo.
4. A reference to Hubert von Herkomer’s article ‘Drawing and engraving on wood’: see letter 278. Herkomer praised the illustrators of 20 years before and criticized the younger artists.
5. Van Gogh did various women’s heads; it is impossible to say which particular ones he was referring to here. Women carrying bags are not known.
6. Theo may have written about Daumier’s The Revolution of 1848. A family on the barricades (Prague, Národní Galerie) or about The revolt (Washington D.C., Phillips Collection). ‘Numerous imitations exist which are mostly based on one or two figures taken from this composition’. See Maison 1968, vol. 1, pp. 192-193, cat. nos. ii-18 and ii-19.
[969] [958]
8. Van Gogh may be referring to one or more of the six illustrations by Houghton depicting the Shakers which appeared in The Graphic 1 (7 May 1870), p. 536 and 1 (14 May 1870), pp. 556-557. See also Hogarth 1981, pp. 75-80.
10. The series about America which Houghton did for The Graphic includes several illustrations of ‘Indians in North America’ (in the volumes for 1870-1873); Indian women are seen in among others Hiawatha and Minne-ha-ha, in The Graphic 2 (16 July 1870), p. 60; and Pawnee squaws, in The Graphic 7 (22 February 1873), p. 185, which is in the estate. Ill. 961 [961] (t*848). Cf. Hogarth 1981, pp. 86-99.
11. This must refer to one of the prints of emigrants that Houghton made, which included Steerage passengers [959] and Steerage emigrants [2068]: see letters 304, n. 55 and 317, n. 9. Cf. also Hogarth 1981, pp. 60-65.
[959] [2068]
a. Saying (also Herkomer’s words, see n. 4 above). The expression ‘zegt de wereld’ means: ‘zegt men’.
12. The Société des Aquafortistes was founded in Paris in May 1862 by the engraver and publisher Alfred Cadart. Each month five etchings by artists who were either French or living in France were published. As a result of financial mismanagement and disagreements with the printer, the etchings group ceased to exist in September 1867. In 1868 Cadart and Maximilien Luce began publishing L’Illustration Nouvelle, a monthly about the art of etching. See Bailly-Herzberg 1972.
13. François Feyen-Perrin, Les deux frères (The two brothers) (London, Victoria and Albert Museum) – also known as a proof before letters (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). There is also an etching, in a slightly larger format, with no caption (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 837 [837]. Cf. Bailly-Herzberg 1972, vol. 2, pp. 78-79.
14. Charles-François Daubigny, Le grand parc à moutons (The large sheep pasture), after the painting at the Salon of 1861, appeared in the first volume of Eaux-fortes modernes, publiées par la Société des Aquafortistes (September 1862), no. 2; the etching was exhibited at the Salon of 1865 (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 47 [47]. See Bailly-Herzberg 1972, vol. 1, pp. 54, 72; vol. 2, pp. 60-63.
15. Félix Bracquemond played an important role in the Société. The issue for September 1862 contained his L’inconnu (part 1); and the February 1863 issue had his Vanneaux et sarcelles (part 6). He also did the title page for the album of the Société in 1865. See Bailly-Herzberg 1972, vol. 1, pp. 49, 53-54, 62, 131; vol. 2, pp. 20-27.
16. Van Gogh drew various heads of fishermen; it is impossible to say which particular ones he was referring to here.
17. Head of a fisherman with a fringe of beard and a sou’wester (F 1017 / JH 302 [2425]).
18. Arthur Boyd Houghton, Our artists’ Christmas entertainment – Arrival of the visitors, in The Graphic 6 (28 December 1872), p. 605. Ill. 966 [966]. The commentary makes it clear that the visitors are models (p. 599).
19. Derived from Flor O’Squarr’s contribution in Galerie Contemporaine, which says of Frère: ‘Look,’ he says to us, ‘those who today pose as mamas themselves once posed as babies’ (Voyez, nous dit-il, ceux qui posent aujourd’hui pour les mamans ont elles-mêmes posé autrefois comme les bébés). See letter 137, n. 1.