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392 To Theo van Gogh. Nieuw-Amsterdam, on or about Wednesday, 3 October 1883.

metadata
No. 392 (Brieven 1990 395, Complete Letters 330)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nieuw-Amsterdam, on or about Wednesday, 3 October 1883

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b353 V/1962

Date
In this letter Vincent writes that he has received a postal order from his parents. They sent this on 1 October 1883 (see n. 17 below). Assuming that he took the barge to Nieuw-Amsterdam/Veenoord immediately after he received it and Theo’s first allowance for October (l. 75), the earliest he could have sailed was 13.00 on Tuesday, 2 October. There was no service on Wednesday, but there were sailings on Thursday and Friday. However it rained on Thursday and Friday, while Van Gogh writes that he sat on the deck of the barge, drawing (see the letter sketch). The journey described in the letter was therefore probably on Tuesday, 2 October 1883. (See also n. 1). We cannot say for certain whether the present letter was written that same evening (cf. ‘it is already late’, and ‘I thought about you again and again on this trip’ (l. 100 and ll. 104-105), but it must have been shortly after Van Gogh’s arrival: after all he writes that he cannot yet provide a permanent address because he doesn’t know where he will be ‘for the next few days’ (l. 69). We have therefore dated the letter on or about Wednesday, 3 October 1883.

Ongoing topics
Van Gogh orders paint in The Hague (387)
Drawings on commission with Uncle Cor (378)

Sketches

  1. Farm (F - / JH 405), letter sketch
  2. Rider by a waterway (F - / JH 405), letter sketch
  3. Woman and child (F - / JH 405), letter sketch
  4. Head of a woman (F - / JH 405), letter sketch
  5. Woman working (F - / JH 405), letter sketch
  6. Country road with cottages (F - / JH 405), letter sketch

original text
 1r:1
Waarde Theo,
Ditmaal schrijf ik U heel uit den achterhoek v. Drenthe, waar ik gekomen ben na een eeuwig lange vaart in de trekschuit door de heide.1
Het land U te beschrijven zoo als ’t zou behooren gedaan te worden zie ik geen kans toe daar de woorden mij ontbreken. Maar stel U voor de oevers van ’t kanaal als mijlen en mijlen Michels of Th. Rousseau’s b.v., van Goyens of Ph. de Konink.
Vlakke plannen of strooken verschillend van kleur, die smaller & smaller worden naarmate ze den horizon naderen. Hier & daar geaccentueerd door een plaggen keet of kleine boerderij of een paar schrale berkjes, populieren, eiken.– Overal stapels turf en telkens vaart men schuiten met turf of lisch2 uit de moerassen voorbij. Hier en daar magere koeijen van fijne kleur, dikwijls schapen – varkens.– De figuren die nu & dan verschijnen in de vlakte zijn van een groot karakter meestal, soms hebben ze een magtig fijn charme. ik teekende o.a. een vrouwtje in de trekschuit met krip om haar oorijzers wegens ze in den rouw was,3 en later nog een moeder met een kindje – deze had een paarschen doek om ’t hoofd.4
Er loopen een boel Ostade5 typen onder, physionomies die aan varkens of kraaien herinneren,6 maar zoo nu en dan een figuurtje dat als de lelie onder de doornen is.7 Enfin over dezen togt ben ik erg blij want ik ben vol van wat ik gezien heb. Van avond was de heide ongemeen mooi.– In een van de Albums Boetzel staat een Daubigny die precies dat effekt uitdrukt.8 De lucht was van een onuitsprekelijk fijn lilas wit – geen schapenwolken want het zat meer aan elkaar en bedekte den geheelen hemel. maar vlokken meer of minder toonig lilas – grijs – wit – een enkel scheurtje waardoor ’t blaauw heenschemerde. Dan aan den horizon een roode schitterende streep – daaronder de verbazend donkere vlakte bruine heide en tegen de roode lichtende streep uit een menigte lage daken van kleine keeten.
 1v:2
Des avonds heeft deze heide dikwijls effekten waar de Engelschen de expressies weird en quaint voor hebben. Don Quichotte achtige molens9 of zonderlinge gevaartes van ophaalbruggen profileeren hun grillige silhouetten tegen de wemelende avondlucht. Zoo’n dorp s’avonds, met de reflexies van lichte venstertjes in ’t water of in modder & plassen, is magtig gezellig soms.
Te Hoogeveen heb ik voor mijn vertrek nog eenige studies geschilderd, een groote boerderij met mosdaken o.a.10 Want ik had verf laten komen v. Furnee daar ik er ook zoo over dacht als gij zegt in Uw brief, dat door te zorgen ik in ’t werk verdiept raak en me zelf verlies om zoo te zeggen, mijn stemming zou veranderen, wat ook al een boel gebeterd is.
Maar bij wijlen – even als de momenten waarin gij denkt om naar Amerika te gaan11 – denk ik om als volontair naar de Oost te gaan.12 Maar dat zijn van die beroerde, sombere momenten als de dingen iemand overstelpen en ik zou U toewenschen gij die stille heide eens zaagt die ik hier uit ’t raam zie want zoo iets calmeert en stemt tot meer geloof, berusten, kalm werken.
In de schuit heb ik verscheiden studies geteekend maar ik blijf hier stila om er te schilderen. Ik ben hier digt bij Zweeloo, waar o.a. Liebermann is geweest,13 en nu is bovendien hier nog een streek waar groote, zeer oude plaggen keeten zijn waar niet eens een middenschot is tusschen de stal en het woonvertrek. Die buurt te bezoeken is mijn plan voor deze eerste dagen.14
Maar wat een rust, wat een breedte, wat een kalmte in deze natuur, men voelt het pas als men mijlen en mijlen Michels tusschen zich en het gewone heeft.
 1v:3
Nu kan ik U geen bepaald adres opgeven15 daar ik niet precies weet waar ik dezer dagen zijn zal, doch 12 October zal ik te HOOGEVEEN zijn en als gij op den gewonen tijd Uw brief verzend aan ’t zelfde adres zoo vind ik die dus den twaalfden aldaar te Hoogeveen. De plaats waar ik nu ben is Nieuw Amsterdam.16
Van Pa ontving ik nog een postwissel van f. 10.-17 die met dat van U maakt ik nu wat schilderen kan. Ik denk er over in deze herberg waar ik nu ben voor lang terug te gaan als ik die buurt met de groote oude plaggenkeeten van hier uit makkelijk bereiken kan, daar ik hier een beter licht & ruimte zou hebben. Want betreffende het bewuste schilderij van dien Engelschman met de magere kat en het doodkistje, al heeft hij in dat donkere vertrek zijn eerste idee gekregen,18 hij zal daar op die zelfde plek toch moeielijk hebben kunnen schilderen, ten minste men werkt als men in een te donker vertrek zit meestal te licht, zóó dat als men er mee in ’t licht komt men al de schaduwen te zwak ziet. Dit ondervond ik nog pas, toen ik in de schuur een openstaande deur en het doorkijkje in het tuintje schilderde.19
Enfin ik wou U maar zeggen dat ik dit bezwaar ook al zal kunnen verbeteren want hier zou ik een kamer kunnen krijgen met goed licht en waar s’winters een kagchel staan kan. Nu kerel, als gij niet meer denkt aan Amerika, ik niet meer aan Harderwijk,20 dan zal hoop ik ook nog wel een & ander zich kunnen schikken. Uw explicatie van C.M.’s zwijgen geef ik toe ’t geval zou kunnen zijn maar een nonchallance kan toch wel eens expres gedaan zijn ook.
Achterstaand vind ge eenige croquis.21 Ik schrijf in haast, of liever het is al laat.
Wat zou ik willen we hier zamen konden loopen en – zamen schilderen.– Ik geloof het land U zou inpakken en overtuigen. adieu, ik hoop gij wel zijt & een beetje voorspoed zult hebben. Ik dacht op dezen tocht zoo telkens & telkens aan U. Met een handdruk.

t. à t.
Vincent

 1r:4 [sketch A][sketch B][sketch C][sketch D][sketch E][sketch F]
translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
This time I’m writing to you from the very back of beyond in Drenthe, where I arrived after an endless trip through the heath on the barge.1
I see no way of describing the countryside to you as it should be done, because words fail me. But imagine the banks of the canal as miles and miles of Michels or T. Rousseaus, say, Van Goyens or P. de Koninck.2
Flat planes or strips differing in colour, which grow narrower and narrower as they approach the horizon. Accentuated here and there by a sod hut or small farm or a few scrawny birches, poplars, oaks. Stacks of peat everywhere, and always barges sailing past with peat or bulrushes from the marshes. Here and there thin cows of a delicate colour, often sheep — pigs. The figures that now and then appear on the plain usually have great character, sometimes they’re really charming. I drew, among others, a woman in the barge with crepe around her cap brooches because she was in mourning,3 and later a mother with a small child — this one had a purple scarf around her head.4
There are a lot of Ostade types5 among them, physiognomies that remind one of pigs or crows,6 but every so often there’s a little figure that’s like a lily among the thorns.7 In short, I’m very pleased about this trip, for I’m full of what I’ve seen. The heath was extraordinarily beautiful this evening. There’s a Daubigny in one of the Albums Boetzel that expresses that effect precisely.8 The sky was an inexpressibly delicate lilac white — not fleecy clouds, because they were more joined together and covered the whole sky, but tufts in tints more or less of lilac — grey — white — a single small rent through which the blue gleamed. Then on the horizon a sparkling red streak — beneath it the surprisingly dark expanse of brown heath, and a multitude of low roofs of small huts standing out against the glowing red streak.  1v:2
In the evening this heath often has effects that the English would describe as weird and quaint. The spiky silhouettes of Don Quixote-like mills9 or strange hulks of drawbridges are profiled against the teeming evening sky. In the evening a village like that is sometimes really snug, with the light from the little windows reflected in the water or in mud and puddles.
Before I left Hoogeveen I painted a few more studies there, among them a large farmhouse with a mossy roof.10 For I’d had paint sent from Furnée’s, because I thought the same about it as you say in your letter, that by making sure I become absorbed in the work and lose myself in it so to speak, my mood would change, and indeed it’s already a good deal better.
But at times — like those moments when you think about going to America11 - I think about going to the East as a volunteer.12 But they’re those wretched, sombre moments when things overwhelm one, and I would wish that you might see the silent heath that I see through the window here, because such a thing soothes one and inspires more faith, resignation, calm work.
I drew several studies in the barge, but I’m staying here to paint. I’m close to Zweeloo here, where Liebermann, among others, has been,13 and besides there’s an area here where there are large, very old sod huts where there isn’t even a partition between the barn and the living room. My plan for these first days is to visit that region.14
But what tranquillity, what breadth, what calm there is in nature here, one doesn’t feel it until one has miles and miles of Michels between oneself and the everyday.  1v:3
I can’t give you a definite address at the moment15 because I don’t know exactly where I’ll be for the next few days, but I’ll be in HOOGEVEEN on 12 October, and if you send your letter at the usual time to the same address I’ll find it there in Hoogeveen on the twelfth. The place where I am now is Nieuw-Amsterdam.16
I received a postal order for 10 guilders from Pa,17 which with what I got from you means that I can now do some painting. I’m thinking of returning to this inn where I am now for a long stay if I can reach the area with the large old sod huts easily from here, since I would have better light and space here. For as to that painting by that Englishman with the thin cat and the little coffin, although the idea first came to him in that dark room,18 he would have found it very difficult to paint in that same place, at least one usually works too light if one sits in a room that’s too dark, so that when one brings it into the light one sees that all the shadows are too weak. I experienced this only recently, when I painted an open door and the view through into the little garden from inside the barn.19
Well, I just wanted to tell you that I’ll also be able to overcome this drawback, because I could get a room here with good light and where a stove can stand in the winter. Now, old chap, if you think no more about America, and I no more about Harderwijk,20 then I hope things will work themselves out. I admit that your explanation of C.M.’s silence might be the case, but sometimes nonchalance can also be deliberate.
You’ll find a few croquis on the back.21 I write in haste, or rather it’s already late.
How I wish that we could walk together here and — paint together. I believe that the countryside would win you over and convince you. Adieu, I hope that you’re well and will have a bit of good fortune. I thought about you again and again on this trip. With a handshake.

Ever yours,
Vincent

 1r:4
[sketch A]
[sketch B]
[sketch C]
[sketch D]
[sketch E]
[sketch F]
notes
1. Van Gogh probably took the barge along the Verlengde Hoogeveense Vaart to Nieuw-Amsterdam/Veenoord on the afternoon of Tuesday, 2 October. The barge sailed at 13.00 and the trip of around 30 km took about six hours altogether. Van Gogh took a room in Hendrik Scholte’s lodging-house, district E, no. 34. See Dijk and Van der Sluis 2001, pp. 145-169.
2. We cannot say for certain what these bulrushes were used for; they were sometimes used for roofing, and the seed heads could serve as a filling material for beds. See Dijk and Van der Sluis, 2001, pp. 175-176. Some sources say that the leaves of the bulrush can be used for weaving mats, baskets and chair seats, and are also good for caulking and stopping cracks in barrels and boats because of their ability to swell when wet. Encyclopedia Britannica moreover states: ‘Cattails [bulrushes] have been called the most useful of all wild plants as sources of emergency food. The rootstocks, for example, are the source of an edible starch, the young stems are edible as salad plants or vegetables. Even the immature, still-green flowering spikes can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob.’
3. Crepe is a thin fabric – usually black – which women wore for mourning clothes and veils. A cap brooch is a casque or clasp made of precious metal worn under a woman’s cap; a cap brooch wound round with crepe can be seen in letter sketch D.
4. Neither of these drawings is known; letter sketch C probably shows one of them (F - / JH 405).
5. Probably Adriaen van Ostade.
6. Van Gogh knew the theories of Lavater and Gall about physiognomy and phrenology via Alexandre Ysabeau, Lavater et Gall. Physiognomonie et phrénologie rendues intelligibles pour tout le monde (Paris 1862). Cf. for the comparison of people with animals: letter 291, n. 7.
7. Song of Sol. 2:2.
8. Three Salon works by Charles-François Daubigny – engraved by Ernest Philippe Boetzel – are known to have appeared in the Album Boetzel; they are Effet de lune (Moonlight effect) (1865), Une mare dans le Morvan (A pond in the Morvan) (1869) and Le pré des Graves; Villerville (The meadow at Graves; Villerville) (1870). Cf. Henriet 1875. In view of the nature of the picture, Effet de lune would seem to be the most likely. Ill. 48 .
9. Reference to the windmills that feature in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s novel Don Quixote. There are numerous illustrations of this episode, among them one by Gustave Doré.
10. This painting is not known. See cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 44.
11. As will be discussed in greater detail in letter 394, there had been tensions between Theo and his employers for some time. In his last letter Theo had raised the idea of emigrating to America for this reason. The problems may have been related to Theo’s very poor sales figures in the preceding months; see exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 35. It would also seem clear that Theo’s employers disapproved of his living with Marie.
12. Volunteer in the service of the Koninklijk Nederlands Indische Leger (Royal Netherlands Indonesian Army (KNIL)); cf. also n. 20 below.
a. Means: ‘will remain here for some time’.
13. Max Liebermann stayed in Zweeloo from June to October 1882; this small village lies approximately six km to the north-west of Nieuw-Amsterdam/Veenoord. While he was there he made several village views and scenes from everyday life, such as Die grosse Bleiche – Die Rasenbleiche (Bleaching field), Het boerenkind (The farmer’s child) and the etching ‘The weavers’. The first work is mentioned in letter 395, n. 10. See exhib. cat. The Hague 1980, Eberle 1995, and Michael F. Zimmermann, ‘“...which dazzle many an eye”: Van Gogh and Max Liebermann’, in Van Gogh Museum Journal. Amsterdam and Zwolle 2002, pp. 90-103.
14. It is possible that Van Gogh meant the so-called ‘straw village’, a number of huts to the south of the de Verlengde Hoogeveensche Vaart, close to the house known as ‘La Paix’. See Dijk and Van der Sluis 2001, pp. 185, 206.
15. Although Van Gogh moved into Scholte’s in Nieuw-Amsterdam/Veenoord, he kept the lodgings in Hoogeveen as his postal address. Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo on 15 October 1883: ‘he seems to be making distant trips, but still keeps the first house as his address’ (FR b2246).
16. Strictly speaking the lodging-house is in Veenoord, not Nieuw-Amsterdam; for many years it was precisely on the border between the two districts.
17. On Monday, 1 October 1883 Mr van Gogh told Theo: ‘I have written to Vincent and sent him 10 guilders by postal order. If you think he needs more, I can do it, do keep me informed in this regard’.
Uncle Vincent evidently did not agree with these remittances: ‘Uncle Cent advised against sending Vincent too much money, in order to reduce the risk of prolonging that connection. But make no mistake – we will happily cooperate for what he needs, for it must not burden you too greatly!’ (FR b2245). ‘That connection’ must refer to Sien Hoornik. From letter 395 it appears that Vincent sent Sien money. Mr van Gogh moreover told Theo on 15 October 1883: ‘Had a hurried word from Vincent recently, the 10 guilders had come in handy for him, he wrote, for paints that he needed’ (FR b2246).
18. The formulation ‘that painting’ seems to indicate that Vincent is responding here to a description Theo gave. It may have been a work at the Salon – Theo had after all previously written about a Liebermann that hung there – but no painting with a title that would clearly qualify has been found in the catalogue. Cf. exhib. cat. Paris 1883, cat. nos. 1597, 1980, 2077, 2184 and 2254.
19. No painting of a view through a barn door is known.
20. Van Gogh mentions Harderwijk because it was there that volunteers enlisted at the Colonial Recruitment Depot of the Royal Netherlands Indonesian Army (KNIL).
21. Locations have been suggested for several of the letter sketches. Letter sketch A: the little house with the peat walls at top left may have been in Nieuweroord; letter sketch B: the spot where the man on the towpath was drawn, with the Drift Bridge in the background, may have been near Zwinderen; letter sketch F: the sketch of a road with houses and huts on either side could have been made in Nieuw-Amsterdam. See Dijk and Van der Sluis 2001, pp. 148-152.
Van Gogh probably based the composition of the various little frames on a print like Percy Thomas Macquoid’s The mackerel fishery : see letter 304, n. 81.