Dear Brother,
It’s already late, but I wanted to write to you again. You aren’t here, yet I’m in need of you, and it seems to me as if we aren’t far apart sometimes.
Today I made an agreement with myself, which was to regard my illness, or rather what’s left of it, as non-existent. Enough time has been lost, the work must be carried on.
So, well or not well, I’m going to draw again regularly from morning till evening. I don’t want anyone else to be able to say, ‘Oh, those are only old drawings.’1
I’ve drawn a study of the cradle today with touches of colour in it.2
I’m also working on a ditto like the meadows I recently sent you.3
My hands have become rather whiter than I care for, but what can I do about it? I’ll also go outdoors again. It matters less to me that it may strike me down than that I’m kept longer from my work. Art is jealous; she won’t allow illness to be placed above her.4 So I’ll let her have her way. I hope, therefore, that you’ll soon have a few reasonable ones.
People like me aren’t really allowed to be ill. You must really understand how I regard art. One must work long and hard to arrive at the truthful. What I want and set as my goal is damned difficult, and yet I don’t believe I’m aiming too high. I want to make drawings that move some people. Sorrow5 is a small beginning — perhaps small landscapes like the Laan van Meerdervoort,6 the Rijswijk meadows7 and the Fish-drying barn8 are also small beginnings. At least they contain something straight from my own feelings.  1v:2
Whether in figures or in landscapes, I would like to express not something sentimentally melancholic but deep sorrow.
In short, I want to reach the point where people say of my work, that man feels deeply and that man feels subtly. Despite my so-called coarseness — you understand — perhaps precisely because of it. It seems pretentious to talk like this now, but that’s why I want to push on.
What am I in the eyes of most people? A nonentity or an oddity or a disagreeable person — someone who has and will have no position in society, in short a little lower than the lowest.
Very well — assuming that everything is indeed like that, then through my work I’d like to show what there is in the heart of such an oddity, such a nobody.
This is my ambition, which is based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion.
Even though I’m often in a mess, inside me there’s still a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest little house, in the filthiest corner, I see paintings or drawings. And my mind turns in that direction as if with an irresistible urge.  1v:3 As time passes, other things are increasingly excluded, and the more they are the faster my eyes see the picturesque. Art demands persistent work, work in spite of everything, and unceasing observation.
By persistent I mean in the first place continued labour, but also not abandoning your approach because of what someone else says. I have hopes, brother, that in a few years, and even now already, you’ll gradually see things by me that will give you some recompense for your sacrifices.
I’ve had very little conversation with painters lately. I felt none the worse for that. It isn’t the language of painters one ought to listen to but the language of nature.9 I can now understand, better than six months ago or more, why Mauve said: don’t talk to me about Dupré, talk to me instead about the side of that ditch, or something like that. It sounds crude and yet it’s perfectly correct. Feeling things themselves, reality, is more important than feeling paintings, at least more productive and life-giving.
Because I now have such a broad, such a large sense of art and of life itself, of which art is the essence, it sounds to me so shrill and false when there are people like Tersteeg who are always on the hunt.  1r:4
For my part I find a peculiar charm in many modern paintings that the old ones don’t have. For me one of the highest and noblest expressions of art is always that of the English, for instance Millais and Herkomer and Frank Holl. What I mean to say as regards the difference between old and contemporary art is: perhaps the new artists are deeper thinkers.10
There’s another great difference: in sentiment, between Chill October by Millais11 and the Overveen bleaching grounds by Ruisdael,12 for example. And equally between the Irish emigrants by Holl13 and the women reading the Bible by Rembrandt.14
Rembrandt and Ruisdael are sublime, for us as much as for their contemporaries, but there’s something in the moderns that strikes us as more personally intimate.
That’s how it is with the woodcuts by Swain, and those by the old German masters too.
So it was a mistake a few years ago when there was a vogue among the moderns for imitating the old masters.
This is why I think what père Millet says is so right: I think it absurd that people want to appear to be something other than they are.15 That seems to be an unremarkable observation and yet it’s as unfathomably deep as the ocean, and I for one think it advisable to take it to heart in all things.
I just wanted to tell you that regular work will and must be resumed, come what may — and I want to add that I’m longing so much for a letter from you, and also to wish you good-night.
Adieu, with a handshake.

Ever yours,

Please remember the thick Ingres if you can, a sample is enclosed.16 I still have enough of the thin. I can wash in watercolour on the thick Ingres; on the sans fin, for example, it always gets muddy without it being entirely my fault.

I’ll draw the cradle, I hope, a hundred times apart from the one today. With persistence.


Br. 1990: 250 | CL: 218
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, on or about Friday, 21 July 1882

1. A reference to Tersteeg’s remark as noted in letter 247.
2. In De brieven 1990 it was assumed that Child in a cradle by the stove (F - / JH 155) was also sent. However, Van Gogh talks about touches of colour, but there are none to be seen – the possibility that they have disappeared over time cannot be ruled out.
3. ‘The meadows’ refers to one of the views from Van Gogh’s house. Around this time he was working on Rooftops (F 943 / JH 156 [2378]), which he describes in letter 250 and of which he would send a letter sketch in letter 251. The drawing of the meadows that Vincent ‘recently’ sent to Theo was Carpenter’s yard and laundry (F 944 / JH 153 [2376]). See letter 235.
[2378] [2376]
4. For this pronouncement, known from Delacroix and Emerson, see letter 236, n. 2.
5. There were four versions of Sorrow; see letters 216, n. 3 and 222, n. 1.
6. This drawing of vegetable gardens in Laan van Meerdervoort, mentioned earlier in letters 218, 222 and 231, is not known.
7. The Rijswijk meadows can be seen in the background of several drawings: Carpenter’s yard and laundry (F 939 / JH 150 [2375]); Carpenter’s yard and laundry (F 944 / JH 153 [2376]) and Rooftops (F 943 / JH 156 [2378]); Theo probably had the second (cf. n. 3 above).
[2375] [2376] [2378]
8. Fish-drying barn (F 940 / JH 154 [2377]); see letter 235.
9. Given what follows, this idea is borrowed from Mauve.
10. This remark may be based on a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor resartus. See Dorn in exhib. cat. Vienna 1996, pp. 33, 48 (n. 13). Van Gogh does not mention Sartor resartus until March 1883, but he already knew the book in 1875, when he quoted from it in a poetry album (Pabst 1988, p. 25).
[1906] [1907]
15. This observation does not occur in exactly this form in Sensier’s book about Millet, but the picture of him that emerges is that of a sincere and modest artist, who does not pretend to be other than he is.
16. Van Gogh had already asked for the thick Ingres in letter 243. He had sent a sample then too.