My dear sister,
In haste I’m adding a line for you, it’s exactly a year since I had that attack, I certainly have no reason to complain about it too much, as things are going better at present. But from time to time, though, it’s to be feared that it may return. And this leaves the mind in a latent state of sensitivity.
I hope that you’ll quite like the canvas I’m doing for Mother and you at the moment. It’s a repetition of a painting for Theo, Women picking olives.1 For this past fortnight I’ve worked hard continuously.  1v:2
Do you know the poetry I’ve written down for you opposite?2
There’s a painting that Whistler did of his mother3 which is like that. But above all in our old Dutch paintings we find it sometimes. When I think of Mother she too appears like that to me.
Life isn’t always very jolly here, and my companions in misfortune quite often feel bored, but there’s a lot of resignation and patience here. But many of them do nothing, they remain self-absorbed all day, and I sometimes think that if they were in an asylum where manual work was compulsory they would feel better for it. More soon, I kiss you in thought.

Ever yours,

Who is the maid my spirit seeks
Through cold reproof and slanders blight
Has she loves roses on her cheek
Is hers an eye of calm delight?
No, wan and sunk with midnight prayer
Are the pale looks of her I love
And if by times a light be there
That light was kindled from above
I choose not her mine hearts elect
Amongst those that seek their makers shrine –
In gems and garlands proudly decked
As if themselves were things divine
No heaven but faintly warms the breast
That beats beneath a broidered veil
And they who come in glittering dress
To mourn their frailty – yet are frail
Not so the form of her I love
And love because her bloom is gone
But ne’er was beauties bloom so bright
So touching as that forms decay
That like the altars wavering light
In holy lustre fades away.


Br. 1990: 832 | CL: W18
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willemien van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 23 December 1889

a. Read: ‘puisqu’actuellement’.
1. Women picking olives (F 655 / JH 1869 [2879]) is a repetition of Women picking olives (F 654 / JH 1868 [2878]). Van Gogh had yet another version of it: Women picking olives (F 656 / JH 1870 [2880]).
[2879] [2878] [2880]
2. At the end of the letter, Van Gogh copied the poem ‘Who is the maid? St. Jerome’s love’ by Thomas Moore. See Moore 1910, pp. 255-256. Van Gogh deviated from the source text several times, and omitted two lines. He knew the poem from Beecher Stowe’s We and our neighbours. See RM12.
In Saint-Rémy he recorded these lines of verse again, probably piecing them together from memory as he went along. The estate contains a sheet torn around the text, with part of a letter to Theo on the back; this sheet was probably never sent (see RM18).
3. James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in grey and black no. 1; Portrait of the artist’s mother, 1871 (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). Ill. 1425 [1425]. Richard Josey made a mezzotint after it, and reproductions of it appeared in magazines and catalogues. The Illustrated London News of 21 May 1872 featured a wood engraving of it. See A. McLaren Young et al., The paintings of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. New Haven and London 1980, vol. 1, pp. 59-63, cat. no. 101.