My dear Theo,
I wanted to let you hear a word from me around your birthday.1 May the year you are beginning be a good one for you, and may you have good fortune at work — and I hope above all that in this year you’ll find some satisfaction in what you’ve done for your patient, and that she may recover and find new life.
Do you realize it’s almost a year since you were here? I long so much for you to come. It’s work from that whole year that I must show you — that we must discuss in connection with the future.
Do you think it will be about the same time as last year that you come — or will it be postponed because you think it undesirable, perhaps, to leave your patient alone? Anyway, if you can say anything about your arrival, write to me.
In the past you told me a great deal about the Swedish painters — HeyerdahlEdelfelt.2 This week I found a reproduction of a painting by Edelfelt, a divine service on the beach.3 There’s a touch of Longfellow’s poetry about it. The work is very fine. That’s a movement I’m very fond of and which does more good in the world, I believe, than the Italians and Spaniards with their ‘Cairene armourers’4 and so on, which I find so tedious in the long run.  1v:2
This week I worked on a figure of a woman gathering peat on the heath.5
And a kneeling figure of a man.6
One must know the structure of figures so well to get expression — at any rate that’s how I see it.
Edelfelt is quite beautiful in his expressions — but he too is concerned not only with the facial expressions but with the whole posture of the figures.
Do you know who is perhaps the cleverest of all those Swedes? It may be a certain Wilhelm Leibl, a man who is entirely self-taught.7
I have the reproduction of a painting by him which he suddenly produced, I believe, at the Exhibition in Vienna in ’82. It shows 3 women in a pew: one seated figure of a young woman in a check dress (Tyrol), two kneeling old women in black with headscarves.8
Splendid in sentiment and drawn like Memling or Quinten Massys.
Apparently, that painting caused a great stir among artists at the time — I don’t know what’s happened to the man since. I thought it was a lot like Thijs Maris. In England there’s a German of that type but not as clever, Paul de Gassow,9 who’s a little like Oberländer, whose heads you no doubt remember. Anyway, there are still good people in that Sweden, it seems.
I’m again longing for your letter.
What I wrote to you in short about women’s relationships with their mothers — in my case I can assure you that 9/10 of the difficulties I had with the woman had their origin there, directly or indirectly.10
And yet, although their actions are inexpressibly  1v:3 wrong, those mothers aren’t exactly bad. But they know not what they do11 — women around the age of 50 are often somewhat distrusting, and it’s precisely their own craftiness and suspicion that entraps them. If you like, I can give you more particulars sometime. I don’t know whether all women become more serious as the years pass — and then they want to control and correct their daughters, and go about it completely the wrong way.
Yet in some cases their system may have some raison d’être, but they shouldn’t make it their principle and assume a priori that men are deceivers and fools, and that from that it follows that women must deceive them and have a monopoly of wisdom. If the mothers’ system is unfortunately applied to a man who’s honest and in good faith, he’s in an unhappy position. It’s one of the things that are so common these days that everyone can call to mind enough of them from his own experience, and we shouldn’t imagine something unusual is happening to us.
Still, we’re not yet in the age when reason (in the sense not only of reason but also of conscience) will be respected by everyone. It’s our duty to work to bring that age about, and one of the first things required by the love of humanity is to take into account the circumstances of present-day society when judging characters.
How beautiful Zola is — it’s L’assommoir above all that I often think of.12 Tell me — how are you getting on with reading Balzac?13
I’ve finished Les misérables.14 I know that Victor Hugo analyzes in a different way from Balzac and Zola, but he sees through things too.  1r:4
Do you know what I’d prefer to the woman’s relations with her mother? — in my case, where they have decidedly unfortunate consequences — that the mother should move in with me completely. I suggested that once this winter when the mother was very hard pressed, and I said if you’re so attached to each other, come and live together. But it’s just that they, I believe, do not find good enough the simplicity which I want on principle and which is also necessitated by the circumstances, even when they themselves can’t get by on it. Many people pay more attention to the outward appearance of a family than to its inner life, and imagine they do good in that way. Society is full of that, seeming instead of being. Again, these people are not bad because of this, but they are foolish.
However great the difference between the people in question, keep an eye on the relations between your patient and her mother. Don’t think for a moment that I suspect the mother of anything particularly bad — no, but it would surprise me if she doesn’t share in the general foolishness. And your patient the general female tendency to make a mistake when deciding what they’ll be guided by.
In some cases the mother of a woman is the representative of a meddlesome and malicious and insufferable family — and as such definitely harmful and hostile, even if she isn’t that bad in herself. In my case she’d be much better if she was in my house rather than in the houses of the other members of the family — where she’s sometimes brazenly duped by them and incited to intrigue.
Have you ever thought of your patient’s mother in this role, which she may well take on to some degree? So be on the alert. And as for the Soeks,15 you yourself perhaps foresee that it isn’t certain that they’ll have the same notions of discretion that you and your patient have and that are desirable. In relation to your patient you’ve been absolutely honest and in good faith — that’s the most important thing, you see, and that keeps the future bright, whatever it may be. Yet even when one has acted rightly, one can sometimes face unpleasantness all the same. Anyway, I wish you as little as possible of that in this year that you are beginning today — and, on the contrary, every good wish again. Now, write soon — if you haven’t already done so — which I hope is the case.
Adieu, old chap, with a hearty handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 340 | CL: 281
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, Monday, 30 April 1883

1. Theo was 26 on 1 May 1883. His father also wished him many happy returns, ‘You have been a spring flower for us, dear Theo! And long may you be so!’, and he wondered, ‘How is Vincent getting on? Oh, I think so often of him, but fortunately his work keeps him occupied. And you are such a help to him, may you see the fruits! How will you spend your birthday? People won’t forget you’ (FR 2243, 29 April 1883).
2. Theo sold work by these painters.
3. Charles Baude made the engraving Service divin au bord de la mer (Finlande) (Religious service on the beach (Finland)), published in Le Monde Illustré 26 (15 July 1882), pp. 40-41 (Ill. 91 [91]), after Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt’s painting Service religieux dans l’archipel de Nyland (Religious service in the Nyland archipelago), 1882 (Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts). Van Gogh is mistaken about Edelfelt’s nationality: he was Finnish.
4. Here Van Gogh is criticizing the fashionable works of the so-called Orientalists. Perhaps he was thinking of Un marchand d’armes au Caire (A Cairene armourer) (private collection) by Jean Léon Gérôme, which was also available in reproductions at the times. See Ackerman 1986, p. 226, cat. no. 194, and Cat. Goupil 1877, p. 52, cat. no. 897.
5. This drawing of a woman gathering peat is not known.
6. Probably the drawing Old man, kneeling in prayer (F 1027 / JH 354 [2436]).
7. Van Gogh is wrong about the nationality of Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl, who was born in Cologne in Germany. He borrowed the details that follow – namely the fact that Leibl was self-taught and that his painting caused a great stir, even in Paris – from what K. Raupp wrote in the Illustrirte Zeitung 79 (1 July 1882), pp. 9, 12 (cf. n. 8 below).
8. A print after Wilhelm Leibl’s Die drei Frauen in der Kirche (The three women in the church), 1882 (Hamburg, Kunsthalle). In the estate there is the engraving by Hugo Kaeseberg & Kaspar Erhardt Oertel from the Illustrirte Zeitung 79 (1 July 1882), p. 14. The caption reads: ‘Aus der Internationalen Kunstausstellung in Wien: in der Kirche. Gemälde von Wilhelm Leibl’. Ill. 1043 [1043] (t*777). Cf. Illustrierter Katalog der ersten Internationalen Kunst-Ausstellung im Künstlerhause. 2nd ed. Vienna 1882, p. 232, no. 97. The women, painted in a church at Dachau, are wearing traditional Bavarian costume.
9. Van Gogh most probably means Karl (Charles) Gussow, who studied and worked in Germany (no painter called Paul de Gassow is known). Karl Gussow was represented at the International Exhibition in London in 1874 by the realistic ‘The spectators’, as is evident from The Graphic 10 (24 October 1874), p. 394; the wood engraving after this work by Eugène Froment is in the estate. Ill. 2094 [2094]. (t*435). Both below the print and in the commentary Gussow’s name is misspelt as ‘Gassow’, which may explain Van Gogh’s mistake. Cf. also letter 311, n. 6.
10. Van Gogh had written about this in letter 337. These letters (see also later in the present letter) contain the first signs of conflicts with Sien’s family, which become exacerbated in the coming months and contribute to the final break between them.
12. It is clear from this that Van Gogh had read Zola’s novel L’assommoir (1877), although letter 260 of 3 September 1882 had already suggested that. The novel is set among the poor of Paris, and Zola portrays their cheerless and hard life. The main character is the humble washerwoman Gervaise Macquart, who is abandoned with two children by her lover Auguste Lantier. She marries a labourer, but he has an accident and is unable to work, which drives him to drink. Lantier, now a drunk too, comes back to her but drinks himself to death. By then the naturally cheerful, hard-working and good-natured Gervaise is inwardly broken and she also resorts to alcohol, ending up as a streetwalker.
13. After this Van Gogh crossed out: ‘That is all in the same spirit and is to Zola as, say, Brion is to Heyerdahl and Edelfelt’.
15. The widow Soek and her mother; cf. letter 336, n. 15.