vincent van gogh art
Home  |   Shop  |   Van Gogh's Art  |   Van Gogh Biography  |   More Artists  |   Contact Us
  Van Gogh Art Prints  >  Van Gogh Biography  >  Letter to Wil
  Save up to 50%
Free shipping
100% guaranteed

Letter from Vincent to Wil
Summer or autumn, 1887

Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh's Art Collections:
Van Gogh on Canvas
Van Gogh Landscapes
Van Gogh Florals
Van Gogh Rural Life
Van Gogh City
Van Gogh Best Sellers
Van Gogh Art - View All

Van Gogh's Paintings:
Allee des Alyscamps
Barche a emi da affittare
Bivouac of Gypsy
Blick auf Arles
Blossoming Chestnut Branches
The Bridge
Cafe Terrace At Night, 1888
The Church at Auvers
The Cows
Dorfstrasse in Saintes-Maries, 1888
The Draw Bridge
Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles
Field of Poppies
First Steps
The Four Seasons: At the Plough
The Four Seasons: Ox Cart in the Snow
The Four Seasons: Potato Harvest
The Four Seasons: The Sower
Fritillaria in a Vase of Copper
Garden with Flowers
The Green Vineyard
Houses at Auvers
House in Auvers
Houses at Auvers
House and Figure
Il Ponte di Asnieres
Les Irises (Irises)
Mulberry Tree
The Noonday Nap
Oat Field with Cypress
Oat Field with a View of Arles
Oat Field with Mountains in the Back
The Old Mill, 1888
Olive Grove
The Olive Grove
Olive Orchard
The Olive Trees, 1889
The Orchard
Park in Autumn
The Reaping
Restaurant At Sirene
Road to Auvers
Road to St. Remy
Self Portrait, 1889
The Siesta
Snowy Road
Sower with the Setting Sun
Stairway at Auvers
Starlight over the Rhone, 1888
Starlight over the Rhone, 1888
The Starry Night
Sunflowers II
Sunny Path near Auvers
Still Life of Oranges and Lemons
The Stroll, Evening
Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles
Van Gogh paintings on fine porcelain
Vase of Flowers with Poppies
Vase of Irises, Strauss 1890
Vase with Daisies & Anemones
Vase with Daisies & Poppies
View of Arles with Irises
Vineyards at Auvers, 1890
A Wheat Field
The Wheat Field
Wheatfield with a Reaper
Wheatfield with Crows
The Yellow House
Yellow Wheat and Cypresses

My dear little sister,

Thank you very much for your letter, but for my part I hate writing these days. Still, there are some questions in your letter which I should like to answer.

To begin with, I must disagree with you when you say you thought Theo looked 'so wretched' this summer. Personally, I think that on the contrary, Theo's appearance has become a great deal more distinguished during the past year. One has to be strong to stand life in Paris for as many years as he has done.

But might it have been that Theo's family and friends in Amsterdam and The Hague didn't treat him, or even receive him, with the cordiality he deserved from them and was entitled to expect? On that score, I can tell you that he may have felt hurt but is otherwise not at all bothered; after all, he is doing business even in these particularly bad times for the picture trade, so may it not be that his Dutch friends were somewhat affected by jalousie de métier (professional jealousy)?

Now, what shall I say about your little piece on the plants & the rain? You can see yourself that in nature many flowers are trampled underfoot, frozen or scorched, and for that matter that not every grain of corn returns to the soil after ripening to germinate & grow into a blade of corn—indeed, that by far the greatest number of grains of corn do not develop fully but end up at the mill—isn't that so? To compare human beings with grains of corn, now—in every human being who is healthy and natural there is a germinating force, just as there is in a grain of corn. And so natural life is germination. What the germinating force is to the grain, love is to us.

Now we tend to stand about pulling a long face and at a loss for words, I think, when, thwarted in our natural development, we find that germination has been foiled and we ourselves placed in circumstances as hopeless as they must be for a grain between the millstones.

When that happens to us and we are utterly bewildered by the loss of our natural life, there are some amongst us who, though ready to bow to the inevitable, are yet unwilling to relinquish their self-confidence, and determine to discover what is the matter with them and what is really happening.

And if, full of good intentions, we search in the books of which it said that they illuminate the darkness, with the best will in the world we find precious little that is certain, and not always the satisfaction of personal consolation.

And the diseases from which we civilized people suffer most are melancholy and pessimism. So I, for instance, who can count so many years of my life during which I lost any inclination to laugh—leaving aside whether or not this was my own fault—I, for one, feel the need for a really good laugh above all else. I've found it in Guy de Maupassant, and there are others—Rabelais among the older writers, Henri Rochefort among the present-day ones—who provide it as well—and Voltaire in Candide.

If, on the other hand, one wants the truth, life as it is, then there are, for instance, de Goncourt in Germinie Lacerteux (a novel by the de Goncourts), La fille Eliza, Zola in La joie de vivre and L'assommoir, and so many other masterpieces, all portraying life as we feel it ourselves, thus satisfying our need for being told the truth.

The work of the French naturalists, Zola, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, de Goncourt, Richepin, Daudet, Huysmans, is magnificent, and one can scarecely be said to be of one's time if one is not acquainted with them. Maupassant's masterpiece is Bel-ami. I hope to be able to get it for you.

Is the Bible enough for us? These days I think Jesus himself would say again to those who sit down in melancholy, "it is not here, it is risen. Why seek ye the living among the dead?" If the spoken or written word is to remain the light of the world, then we have the right and duty to acknowledge that we live in an age when it should be written and spoken in such a way that, if it is to be just as great and just as good and just as original and just as potent as ever to transform the whole of society, then its effect must be comparable to that of the revolution wrought by the old Christians.

I, for my part, am always glad that I have read the Bible more carefully than many people do nowadays, just because it gives me some peace of mind to know that there used to be such lofty ideals.

But precisely because I find the old beautiful, I find the new beautiful à plus forte raison (with greater reason) becasue we are able to take action in our own time while the past and the future concern us but indirectly.

My own adventures are confined above all to making swift progress towards growing into a little old man—you know, with wrinkles, a tough beard, a certain number of false teeth, &c. But what does all that matter? I have a dirty and difficult trade, painting, and if I were not as I am, I should not paint, but being as I am, I often work with pleasure and can visualize the vague possibility of one day doing paintings with some youth and freshness in them, even though my own youth is one of the things I have lost.

If I didn't have Theo, I should not be able to do justice to my work, but having him for a friend, I'm sure I shall make progress and things will fall into place. As soon as possible I plan to spend some time in the south, where there is even more colour and even more sun. But what I really hope to do is to paint a good portrait So there.

To get back to your little piece, I have qualms about adopting for my own use, or about advising others to do so for theirs, the belief that there are powers above us that interfere personally in order to help or console us. Providence is such a strange thing, and I must confess that I haven't the slightest idea what to make of it. And well, there is still a degree of sentimentality in your little piece, and its form is reminiscent above all of tales about the above-mentioned providence, or let us say the providence under consideration. Tales that so often do not hold water, and to which a great many objections might be made.

And above all I find it alarming that you believe you must study in order to write. No, my dear little sister, learn how to dance, or fall in love with one or more notary's clerks, officers, in short, any within your reach - rather, much rather commit any number of follies than study in Holland. It serves absolutely no purpose than to make people slow-witted, so I won't hear of it.

For my part, I still continue to have the most impossible and highly unsuitable love affairs, from which as a rule I come away with little more than shame and disgrace. And in my own opinion I'm absolutely right to do this, since, as I keep telling myself, in years gone by, when I ought to have been in love, I gave myself up to religious and socialist affairs, and considered art holier than I do now.

Why are religion or justice or art so sacred? People who do nothing but fall in love are perhaps more serious and saintly than those who sacrifice their love and their hearts to an idea. Be that as it may, in order to write a book, do a deed, make a picture with some life in it, one has to be alive oneself And so, unless you never want to progress, study is a matter of very minor importance for you. Enjoy yourself as much as you can, have as many amusements as you can, and remember that what people demand in art nowadays is something very much alive, with strong colour and great intensity. So intensify your own health and strength and life, that's the best study.

I should be most obliged if you could let me know how Margot Begemann is and how things are with the De Groots, how did that business turn out? Did Sien de Groot marry her cousin? And did her child live?

Of my own work I think that the picture of peasants eating potatoes I did in Nuenen is après tout (after all) the best I've done. But since then I've had no chance of getting models, though on the other hand I did have the chance to study the colour question. And if I should find models again for my figures later, then I would hope to be able to show that I am after something other than little green landscapes or flowers.

Last year I painted almost nothing but flowers so as to get used to colours other than grey, viz. pink, soft or bright green, light blue, violet, yellow, orange, glorious red.

And when I was painting landscapes at Asnières this summer, I saw more colour in them than I did before. Now I'm going to try it with a portrait. And I must say that I'm not painting any the worse for it, perhaps because I could tell you a very great deal that's wrong with both painters and paintings if I wanted to, quite as easily as I could tell you something that's good about them ...

I don't want to be included among the melancholy or those who turn sour and bitter and bilious. 'Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner" (to understand everything is to forgive everything), and I believe that if we knew everything we should attain some serenity. Now, having as much of that serenity as possible, even when one knows little or nothing for certain, is perhaps a better remedy for all ills than what is sold in the. pharmacy. Much of it comes by itself, one grows and develops of one's own accord. So don't study and swot too much, for that makes one sterile. Enjoy yourself too much rather than too little, and don't take art or love too seriously - there is very little one can do about it, it is chiefly a question of temperament.

If I were living near you, I should try to drive home to you that it might be more practical for you to paint with me than to write, and that you might be able to express your feelings more easily that way. In any case, I could do something personally about your painting, but I am not in the writing profession.

Anyway, it's not a bad idea for you to become an artist, for when one has fire within and a soul, one cannot keep bottling them up - better to burn than to burst, what is in will out. For me, for instance, ies a relief to do a painting, and without that I should be unhappier than I am.

Give Mother much love from me,

I was deeply moved by A la recherche du bonheur. I've just read Mont-Oriot by Guy de Maupassant.

Art often seems very exalted and, as you say, sacred. But the same can be said of love. And the only problem is that not everyone thinks about it this way, and that those who do feel something of it and allow themselves to be carried away by it have to suffer a great deal, firstly because they are misunderstood, but quite as often because their inspiration is so often inadequate or their work frustrated by circumstance. One ought to be able to do two or even more things at once. And there are certainly times when it is far from clear to us that art should be something sacred or good.

Anyway, do weigh up carefully if those with a feeling for art, and trying to work at it, wouldn't do better to declare that they are doing it because they were born with that feeling, cannot help themselves and are following their nature, than make out they are doing it for some noble purpose. Doesn't it say in A la recherche du bonheur that evil lies in our own nature - which we have not created ourselves? I think it so admirable of the moderns that they do not moralize like the old. Thus many people are appaled and scandalized by "Le vice et la vertu sont des produits chimiques, comme le sucre et le vitriol". (Vice and virtue are chemical products, like sugar and vitriol).

Home  |  Contact Us   Privacy
Resources: Van GoghMonet Art PrintsSite Map
Site design, text and images © Copyright 2002 - 2009 Goldensight, Inc. All rights reserved.