My dear Theo,
Before the year ends, I feel a need to thank you again for all your help and friendship. I’ve sent you almost nothing for a considerable time, but I’m saving up for when you come some day.
I’m sorry that I haven’t managed to make a saleable drawing this year — I really don’t know why it is that I haven’t managed this.
I wish you were in the studio once more. I believe I wrote to you recently that at present I’m occupied with large heads because I felt I needed to study the structure of a skull and the composition of a physiognomy more intimately.
The work is most absorbing, and the other day I found some things that I had long looked for in vain.1 Anyway, you’ll see everything when you come.
The past few days I’ve had a constant, troublesome toothache that sometimes affects my right eye and ear, and may perhaps involve the nerves too. One becomes indifferent to many things when one has toothache, but it’s curious that Daumier’s drawings, for example, are so striking that one almost forgets about the toothache. I have two more sheets by him, ‘Excursion train’,  1v:2 passengers with pale faces and black coats in raw weather who get to the platform too late. Women with howling infants between them.2
Do you know the little book Croquis à la plume written by the draughtsman Henry Monnier (who invented Mr Prudhomme)? In it I read a ‘journey by diligence’, amazingly true to life.3
You’ll still be busy with your inventory and I shan’t hold you up. I heartily wish you the very best in the New Year.
Will we have more luck making saleable drawings in the new year, or finding work for an illustrated magazine, say?
I continue to believe one thing: wrestling with nature is not working in vain, and though I don’t know what the result will be, there will be a result.
I do wish you were in the studio again, not because I can’t make progress or don’t know what to do, but mainly because I’m so afraid that you may think I’m not making progress. And although I can’t show you a definitive result as yet, you would see that it’s gradually developing. And you would see that I’m searching for a great thing.  1v:3
I agree entirely with what you wrote recently, ‘there comes a time when one has mastered drawing to the degree that the format becomes immaterial and one has the proportions in one’s head, so that one can work just as well on a large or a small scale.’
Not only do I agree about that, but on top of that I believe that one can and must raise oneself to a level where one has mastered composition, effects, chiaroscuro to the extent that one can master the most diverse themes and subjects in the field one has chosen — such as today doing a 3rd-class waiting room, tomorrow a rainy day in a poor neighbourhood, another time an almshouse for old men, then a pub or a soup kitchen.
I haven’t got that far yet, but perhaps it’s a long process precisely because I search for the root or origin of many things at the same time.
Thanks for all your loyal friendship, old chap, which I again experienced the whole year long. May I, for my part, be able to give you some pleasure in turn. One day I’ll succeed in that. In thought a handshake, write again when you can find a moment — best wishes once more, and believe me

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 297 | CL: 255
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, on or about Wednesday, 27 December 1882

1. In this week, on 25 December 1882, Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo: ‘It is a better Christmas for us this year than last, with that sad business with V. But we are getting good letters from him and always full of satisfaction with his work’ (FR b2238).
2. Given the other Daumier engravings Van Gogh acquired from De Hollandsche Illustratie and a print after Jacque mentioned elsewhere, in this case two prints are possible candidates, namely, Reizigers met een pleiziertrein (On a day out by train), in De Hollandsche Illustratie 2 (1865-1866), no. 21, p. 168; and Met den pleiziertrein – Te laat! (On a day out by train – Too late!), in De Hollandsche Illustratie 2 (1865-1866), no. 4, p. 32. Both are in the estate. Ill. 57 [57] and Ill. 2023 [2023]. (t* 1056 and t*15). Het eerste april-gras [1954] (The first grass in April) after Jacque was on the same page as Reizigers met een pleiziertrein; above Met den pleiziertrein was De vier leeftijden van den drinker [51] (The four ages of the drinker). For these prints, see letter 267, n. 32 and 33.
[57] [2023] [1954] [51]
3. Henry Monnier’s Croquis à la plume (1858) consists of 28 dramatised conversations. The story ‘Un voyage en diligence’ is set ‘in the offices and in the interior of the diligence. Parents, friends, acquaintances, porters, messenger boys and idlers throng about the travellers. The horses are harnessed’ (dans les bureaux et dans l’intérieur de la diligence. Les parents, les amis, les conaissances, les portiers, les commissionaires et les oisifs se pressent autour des voyageurs. Les chevaux sont à la voiture). Ed. Brussels 1858, pp. 5-98 (quotation on p. 5).
Monnier used the figure of Joseph Prudhomme to caricature the bureaucracy. Prudhomme personifies the arrogant, puffed-up petit-bourgeois, the prototype of self-important futility, and first appears in Scènes populaires dessinées à la plume (1830). He also figures in Grandeur et décadence de M. Joseph Prudhomme. Comédie en cinq actes et en prose. Par MM. G[ustave] Vaez [= Jean Nicolas van Nieuwenhuysen] et H[enry] Monnier. Brussels 1853, and in Mémoires de Monsieur Joseph Prudhomme. 2 vols. Paris 1857.