My dear Theo,
I wrote to you yesterday, but I’m doing so again today to report the safe arrival of your letter and to thank you for it, and to tell you that what you wrote raised my spirits.
I was a bit concerned that, because you’ve seen so little of my work recently, this might make you think that I’d begun to slacken off.
I have in fact been slogging away lately, and am still wrapped up in various things in which I begin to see light as to how to do them, but which I haven’t yet got the hang of as I would like.
In my last letter I told you I was experimenting in Black and White with lithographic crayon.
You speak too highly of me in your letter, but the fact that you think highly of me is an added reason for me to try not to be entirely unworthy of it. And as for my saying I believed I had made some progress through those experiments, it may be that I can’t see my own work properly. Perhaps it’s a step forward, perhaps not. Tell me your opinion about that based on the accompanying two studies,1 which I made in the past few days, together with some others.  1v:2
While I search for a more powerful process than the one I’ve worked with up to now, I try to be guided to some extent by the English reproductions made using the process you described — together with the black scratches Buhot made on the sample paper — as to the strength of black.
And if you get a chance, speak to an expert about whether it would be possible to reproduce drawings like these (as distinct from the second question of whether these or similar ones were to their particular taste).
As for their sentiment, I would like to know what YOU think about that, because, as I said, I myself can’t judge whether there’s more in them or not.
Or rather, my position is that for my part I’d rather see studies like these, even though they’re unfinished and even if much is completely neglected, than drawings that have a subject, because through them I get a vivid memory of nature itself. You’ll understand what I mean. True studies have something of life itself, and the person who makes them will respect not himself but nature in them, and hence prefer the study to what he may make of it later. Unless something entirely different arises from it as the final outcome of many studies, namely the type distilled from many individuals. That is the highest art,  1v:3 and in that art is sometimes above nature — — — as, for instance, in Millet’s sower, in which there is more soul than in an ordinary sower in the field.2
But what I’d like to know from you is whether you think that this way of working would perhaps remove some of the objections you had to pencil. They’re a few ‘heads of the people’, and my intention would be to find a large number like these to try to form a sort of entity that wouldn’t be entirely unworthy of the title ‘heads of the people’.
Through working hard, old chap, I hope to make something good one day. I haven’t got it yet, but I’m hunting it and fighting for it, I want something serious, something fresh — something with soul in it! Onward, onward.
You’ll see clearly enough from what I’ve said above that I’m more eager to put together a serious work for reproduction than to have the satisfaction of seeing one drawing printed some day.
But any information and tips as to processes are very welcome.
In the window at G&Cie I saw a large etching by Fortuny, An anchorite, as well as his two beautiful The dead Kabyle and Watching over the dead man3 — then I deeply regretted saying to you not long ago that I didn’t find Fortuny beautiful4this I found extremely beautiful. Well, you’ll understand that yourself.  1r:4
It’s the same with Boldini too.
But that seriousness that Fortuny had, for instance, in those three etchings is just what’s missing with many of his followers, who completely follow in his wake with a manner for which F. set the example in, say, ‘The choice of a model’5 &c.
And that is the direct opposite of the sombre, noble quality of Brion, of Degroux, Israëls &c.
When you can, do send me an issue of the current Vie Moderne, look for one with reproductions like the ones you wrote about. The magazine is nowhere to be found here (and what I have ((a few issues)) is years old).6
I’ll show you more when you come, sooner or later — and then we can talk about the future. You know well enough how little suited I am to approaching either dealers or art lovers, and moreover how it goes against the grain for me. I so dearly wish that we could always carry on as in the past, but I’m often so sad about having to trouble you again and again. But who knows whether in time it mightn’t be possible for you to interest someone or other who could take the load off your shoulders that you’ve borne in the most difficult time. That could be done when it’s clearly evident that my work is serious, at which time it will have more appeal than this. I’m too fond of my very simple life to want to change it, but later on we’ll have to incur greater expenses to do greater things. I believe I’ll always work with a model a lot — always and always. And I must get things to the point where not everything rests on your shoulders.
This is only a beginning — later you’ll get fine things from me, old chap! For the time being, let me know whether you think some of the objections to using pencil alone could be removed somewhat by using crayon as well. Don’t you also agree that by making these drawings I may also indirectly learn things about lithography proper?
Adieu, thanks again for your letter, with a handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 299 | CL: 257
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, Wednesday, 3 January 1883

1. It is not known which studies these are. They are heads in any case, ‘heads of the people’: see l. 67 and letter 300.
2. For Millet’s Sower [1888], see letter 156, n. 3. In ‘Salon de 1861’ E.J.T. Thoré had written about the idea that the type was the highest that could be attained, and he also linked it to The sower: ‘Millet does not have Courbet’s brilliance as a colourist; he is more monotonous, but no less precise in his sobriety. He does not seem to be preoccupied with practice, although he achieves a solidity of form that has something statuesque about it; his figures are generous, and in some way fully modelled. What preoccupies him is the essential character of the figure he is trying to create. Doing a sower, for example, he would have the ambition that it would be the sower, in general, the very type of the thing, just as in the Bible, or in Homer. And truly, he has grandeur, by dint of sheer simplicity. And yet he also lacks a certain distinction of taste, which holds him back, like Courbet, on a rung of the ladder that the great artists have climbed’. (Millet n’a pas l’éclat de Courbet comme coloriste; il est plus monotone, mais non moins juste dans sa sobriété. La pratique ne semble pas le préoccuper, quoiqu’il arrive à une solidité de formes qui tient de la statuaire; ses figures sont pleines et en quelque sorte modelées jusqu’à au fond. Ce qui le préoccupe, c’est le caractère essentiel du personnage qu’il entend créer. Faisant un semeur, par exemple, il aurait l’ambition que ce fût le Semeur en général, le type même de la chose, toujours comme dans la Bible ou dans Homère. Et vraiment, il a de la grandeur, à force de simplicité. A lui aussi cependant manque je ne sais quelle distinction de goût, ce qui l’arrête, comme Courbet, à un certain degré de l’échelle qu’ont escaladée les grands artistes). See Salons de W. Bürger, 1861 à 1868, vol. 1. Paris 1870, pp. 100-101. It is evident from letter 534 that Van Gogh had read this review.
In a letter of 15 February 1873 to Camille Lemonnier Millet said that he wanted to express the true in the type: ‘I assure you, sir, that if it were only a matter of my purpose, I would express very forcefully the type, which is, to my mind, the most potent truth. You are entirely right in attributing to me the intention of doing so’. (Je vous assure, monsieur, que, s’il n’en tenait qu’à ma volonté, j’exprimerais bien fortement le type qui est, à mon sens, la plus puissante vérité. Vous êtes bien dans le vrai en m’attribuant l’intention de le faire). Sensier 1881, p. 354.
3. Mariano José Maria Bernardo Fortuny y Carbó, An anchorite, c. 1867 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 93 [93]; Kabyle mort (The dead Kabyle) 1867 (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 94 [94]. La garde du mort (Watching over the dead man) refers to Arabe veillant le corps de son ami (An Arab watching over the body of his dead friend) (1866) (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 95 [95]. From 1878 Goupil published 27 etchings by Fortuny, including the three mentioned. See Cat. Goupil 1878 (Octobre), p. 2 (without dimensions). Goupil published the fourth state (26.6 x 45 cm). See Vives 1991, pp. 85-92, 133-137, cat. nos. 1, 2, 16.
[93] [94] [95]
4. Van Gogh wrote this in letter 291.
5. Mariano José Maria Bernardo Fortuny y Carbó, The choice of a model, 1866-1874 (Washington, Corcoran Gallery of Art). Also included as a photograph in the series Oeuvres de Fortuny published by Goupil, Galerie photographique (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 2025 [2025]. See also Eugène Montrosier, Les artistes modernes, part 1. Paris 1881, p. 36.
6. For the issues of La Vie Moderne that Van Gogh had, cf. letter 283, n. 9.