My dear Theo,
Today I sent you 1 drawing1 by post which I’m sending to you as a token of gratitude for so much that you’ve done for me during this otherwise hard winter. Last summer, when you had that large woodcut by Millet, ‘the shepherdess’,2 I thought: how much one can do with one single line! Naturally I don’t presume to say as much as Millet with a single outline. But I’ve nevertheless tried to put some sentiment into this figure. Now I only hope that this figure is to your liking.  1v:2 And now you see at the same time that I’m hard at work. Now that I’ve started, I’d like to make around 30 studies of the nude.
The enclosed is, I think, the best figure I’ve drawn, that’s why I thought I’d send it to you.
This isn’t the study from the model and yet it’s directly from the model. You should know that I had two sheets underneath my paper. Well, I’d toiled to get the outlines right and when I took the drawing off the plank it was very cleanly impressed on the two underlying sheets  1v:3 and then I immediately worked it up after the first study, so that this one is even fresher than the first.
I’ve kept the other two and wouldn’t like to part with them.3 At the same time you’ll see from this that it isn’t without reason that I wrote to you that I wished the money for H.G.T. could wait, I need it so much myself now, and working hard with a model seems to me to be the quickest way of getting right on top of it. The model I have isn’t at all expensive, but because the expense recurs day after day it’s often difficult for me to pay it. Anyway, arrange it as best you can, but if it’s convenient for you, send what you spoke of not too late in the month. Adieu, with a handshake.

Ever yours,

It seems to me that this drawing would do well in a simple grey mount.4

Naturally I don’t always draw like this. But I’m extremely fond of those English drawings that are done in this style,5 so it’s no wonder that I tried to do the same for once, and because it was for you, who understands these things, I didn’t hesitate to be somewhat melancholy. I wanted to say something like

But the heart’s emptiness remains
That nothing will make full again

as it says in Michelet’s book.6


Br. 1990: 215 | CL: 186
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, on or about Monday, 10 April 1882

1. As may be inferred from what follows, the drawing in question must be Sorrow. The outline is an important aspect (ll. 9-14) and it is evidently a study of a nude; cf. l. 23. The following letters confirm this identification: see, for example, letter 217, l. 69. Two versions of Sorrow have survived (see n. 3). The version sent to Theo is not known.
2. Jean-François Millet, La grande bergère assise (The large shepherdess seated), engraved by Jean Baptiste Millet, was in Van Gogh’s possession. The print measures 27.3 x 21.9 cm. Ill. 267 [267]. See exhib. cat. Paris 1998, pp. 121-123, figs. 36-37.
3. Van Gogh thus had at this time three versions of Sorrow: the actual study and two copies made by tracing over its lines hard enough to make an impression of it on two other sheets. Two of the three drawings have survived: one in pencil, with wash (F 929 / JH 129 [2364]) and one in black chalk (F 929a /JH 130 [2365]).
It is unlikely that Vincent sent Theo the last version. In the following letter he specifically mentions a ‘pencil drawing’ and advises Theo to consider applying milk as a fixative (letter 217, l. 27). The hard-handed way in which he handled the paper (cf. ll. 32-34) indicates that this version is the original study made from the model, which he says he kept for himself. The sheet also bears traces of a grid. If such squaring was intended for the lithograph made later (see letter 282 ff.), this is another reason why Van Gogh would not have sent it to Theo. See also exhib. cat. Vienna 1996, pp. 62-63, 70, cat. no. 5.
Below Sorrow (F 929a /JH 130 [2365]) he wrote: ‘Comment se fait-il qu’il y ait sur la terre une femme seule – délaissé. Michelet’. (Why is there a woman alone on earth – abandoned). These words were taken from Michelet’s La femme; ‘délaissé’ is Van Gogh’s own addition (Michelet 1863, p. 37). Regarding the connection between the drawing and the quotation, see Soth 2004, pp. 179-180. Van Gogh quotes the same line from Michelet in letter 316.
The other extant version of Sorrow (F 929 / JH 129 [2364]) comes from the estate of Van Rappard, to whom Van Gogh must have given it as a present.
Vincent later made a larger version of the drawing, which he sent to Theo (see letter 222).
[2364] [2365] [2365] [2364]
4. It is not impossible that Van Gogh, who at this time was reading Edmond and Jules de Goncourt’s Gavarni, l’homme et l’oeuvre, based this advice to Theo to put the drawing in a simple grey mount on a remark made by Gavarni, who in 1852 had advised an Englishman, to whom he had sent some drawings: ‘when these drawings have arrived safely they will have to be remounted and reglazed, following the instructions I shall give you, and edged with a simple strip of grey paper’ (‘ces dessins, arrivés à bon port, il faudra les faire recartonner et revitrer, selon les indications que je vous donnerai, et border d’une simple bande de papier gris’). Goncourt 1873, p. 328; the italics are ours. Cf. also letters 217 and 434.
5. By ‘in this style’ Van Gogh must have meant ‘likewise working with a rather heavy dose of socio-realist sentiment’.
6. Michelet’s L’oiseau (‘L’hirondelle’): ‘But the heart’s emptiness remains; its emptiness remains, / And nothing will make it full again’ (Mais le vide du coeur reste, mais reste le vide du coeur, / Et rien ne le remplira) (Michelet 1861, p. 153). This is an adaptation of Friedrich Rückert’s ‘Aus der Jugendzeit’:

Once the heart is emptied, once the heart is emptied,
it never becomes full again.

(Ist das Herz geleert, ist das Herz geleert,
wird’s nie mehr voll.)

The words quoted were taken from the seventh verse. See Pabst 1988, p. 14 and cf. letter 39, n. 2.