My dear Theo,
I received your registered letter of 20 Nov. in good order, and thank you very much for sending it. You’ll have seen how welcome it was from my letter, which must have crossed yours.1
But you write that you sent the paper from Buhot at the same time as the letter — yet it wasn’t with it, and up to today, Friday, I don’t have it. Has the post made a mistake again, or do you perhaps still have it? I’ve waited until today to reply to your letter to see whether the post here had forgotten to deliver it, or something like that.
You also received the small roll with the Digger in it, I hope.2
Today and yesterday I drew two figures of an old man with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.3 I did it of Schuitemaker once and always kept the drawing,4 because I wanted to do it better another time. Perhaps I’ll also do a lithograph of it. What a fine sight an old working man makes, in his patched bombazine suit with his bald head.
I’ve finished the book by Zola, Pot-bouille. I thought the most powerful passage was the kitchen maid Adele (scruffy Breton) giving birth in the dark attic room. Josserand is also portrayed with devilish skill and with sentiment. The rest of the characters too, but these two sombre ones, Josserand writing his addresses at night, and that tiny maid’s room, made the most impression on me.5  1v:2 How well constructed the book is — and the words with which it ends are bitter: these days all houses are much of a muchness, it’s all the same, Swinery & Co. everywhere.6 Octave Mouret — actually the main character — couldn’t he be regarded as typical of the kind of people you wrote about recently, if you remember? He’s far better than most people, in many respects, but you won’t find him satisfactory any more than I do, and I sense an emptiness in him. Could he have done differently? Perhaps he couldn’t, but you and I can and must in my view. After all, we have our roots in a family life of a different kind from Mouret’s, and moreover there will always be something of the Brabant fields and heath in us I hope, which is all the less erasable by years of city life because art renews and adds to it. He — O. Mouret — is happy as long as he can sell his bales of novelties quickly (display his bales of goods on the pavements of Paris);7 he appears to have no other aspirations, except for conquests of women, and yet he wasn’t really fond of them, for Zola is right I believe when he says, ‘where his contempt for the female was apparent’.8 Anyway, I don’t know what to think of him. He seems to me to be a product of the time, actually more passive than active — despite his activity.  1v:3
But after Zola’s book I read Quatre vingt treize by V. Hugo9 at long last. That’s entirely different territory. It’s painted, I mean written, like Decamps or Jules Dupré, with expressions as in old Ary Scheffers, such as The man in tears and The cutter of the tablecloth10 — or the figures in the background of Christus Consolator.11 I strongly recommend that you read it sometime if you haven’t read it, for the sentiment in which this book is written is becoming ever more uncommon, and amid the new I see nothing more noble. Truly.
It’s easier to say, as Mesdag did of a certain painting by Heyerdahl done in the sentiment of Murillo or Rembrandt that he didn’t want to buy from you, ‘Oh, that’s the old manner, we don’t need that’, than to replace the old manner by something equivalent, let alone something better. And since many reason like Mesdag these days, without giving it any further thought, it can do no harm if others do reflect on whether we are in the world to pull down rather than to build up. The phrase ‘not needed any more’ — how eagerly people use it and what a stupid and ugly phrase it is. I believe that in a certain fairy tale Andersen puts it in the mouth not of a person but of an old pig.12 People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  1r:4
This week it pleased me very much indeed to see (in the window at G&C) a painting by De Bock that seemed to me far, far better than the one he was working on in the spring.
This was a hut in the dunes with an avenue of trees in front of it. The background sombre and rich in tone, with a beautiful light sky behind. There was something very grand and lively about it.13
I just said, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I fear, Theo, that it will come about that many who have sacrificed the old for the sake of the new will deeply regret it. Especially in the realm of art.
There was a body of painters, writers, artists in short, who were united despite their divisions, and formed one force. They did not walk in darkness but had this light, that they clearly knew what they wanted and did not doubt.14 I’m speaking of the time when Corot, Millet, Daubigny, Jacque, Breton,15 were young, in Holland Israëls, Mauve, Maris,16 &c. One thing reinforced the other, it was powerful and noble. The shops were smaller then, the studios perhaps had a greater abundance than now, since beautiful things soon went. Those crammed studios, those smaller shop windows, collier’s faith17 of the artists above all, their warmth, their fire, their enthusiasm — what sublime things they were. Neither you nor I actually witnessed it, but through our love for that time we know of it what we know of it — let us not forget it — it may be useful — particularly if people go on saying so eagerly, not needed any more.
Adieu, with a handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 288 | CL: 247
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, Friday, 24 November 1882

1. The previous letter, 285.
2. For the sending of the lithographs Digger (F 1656 / JH 262 [2412]) and Old man drinking coffee (F 1657 / JH 266 [2415]), see letter 285, n. 1.
[2412] [2415]
3. These are studies like ‘Worn out’ (F 997 / JH 267 [2416]) and (the compositionally different) ‘At eternity’s gate’ (F 998 / JH 269). It is clear from letter 287, however, that there must have been at least one more study, so that there is no way of knowing which two drawings Van Gogh meant here. It is less likely that he meant F 997 / JH 267 [2416], because this is the final version, after which a lithograph was made some time later. Cf. Van Heugten and Pabst 1995, p. 52, cat. no. 5.
[2416] [436] [2416]
4. This drawing, done around mid-September 1881 in Etten, is Man sitting by the fireplace (‘Worn out’) (F 863 / JH 34 [2345]) (see also letter 172). It depicts Cornelis Schuitemaker. On him: C. de Bruyn-Heeren, ‘Cornelis Schuitemaker (1813-1884), model for Vincent van Gogh.’ In: Brabantse biografieën. Levensbeschrijvingen van bekende en onbekende Noordbrabanders. Vol. 4. J. van Oudheusden et al. Amsterdam and Meppel 1996, pp. 109-112; and FR b3648.
a. A workman’s suit in strong cotton that is patched.
5. For Zola’s Pot-bouille, see letter 283, n. 14. The Breton maid Adèle manages to keep secret her pregnancy and delivery at night in her attic room. She at once abandons the child out of shame and fear of losing her job. See Zola 1960-1967, vol. 3, pp. 366-371 (chapter 18). The detailed and realistic description of the birth was highly controversial at the time.
Josserand is the father of three daughters who, together with his wife, spend so much to keep up appearances in their bourgeois circle that he has to work at night as well as doing a day job as a cashier. For the address writing (chapter 2), see pp. 24-25. Cf. also Sund 1992, p. 66.
6. This verdict comes from Julie, a maidservant, when she is congratulated on finding a new post. The end reads literally: ‘She shrugged and ended with this philosophical reply: “Dear God, mademoiselle, this one or that, every hovel’s like every other one. In this day and age, whoever has done one of them has done the other. They’re all a shoddy lot.”’ (Elle haussa les épaules et conclut par cette réponse philosophique: “Mon Dieu! mademoiselle, celle-ci ou celle-là, toutes les baraques se ressemblent. Au jour d’aujourd’hui, qui a fait l’une a fait l’autre. C’est cochon et compagnie.”) Zola 1960-1967, vol. 3, p. 386 (chapter 18).
7. A reference to the passage in Pot-bouille where Octave Mouret is judged by Mme Hédouin, his future wife: ‘Elle avait fini pourtant par lui témoigner une véritable estime, gagnée à ses idées larges, à ses rêves de grands comptoirs modernes, déballant des millions de marchandises sur les trottoirs de Paris.’ (Elle avait fini pourtant par lui témoigner une véritable estime, gagnée à ses idées larges, à ses rêves de grands comptoirs modernes, déballant des millions de marchandises sur les trottoirs de Paris.) Zola 1960-1967, vol. 3, p. 165 (chapter 9).
8. Octave Mouret’s conquests are mentioned more than once in Pot-bouille (see Zola 1960-1967, vol. 3, pp. 68, 235, 408). Van Gogh’s ‘quotation’ about Mouret’s contempt for women is not literal, but there are several passages in which it is expressed, such as: ‘he gave way to his streak of brutality, the fierce scorn he felt for women’ (il céda à son fond de brutalité, au dédain féroce qu’il avait de la femme) (chapter 1, p. 21; a similar quotation in chapter 12, p. 245) and ‘then he rose, full of contempt’ (alors, il se leva, plein de mépris) (chapter 4, p. 72).
9. Victor Hugo’s broadly conceived historical novel Quatre-vingt-treize (1874) is set in the period after the French Revolution. It is a fictional story in a historical setting: royalist peasants in the Vendée rise up against the republican government in Paris. Their leader, the Marquis de Lantenac, is overpowered after he saves three children from a burning castle instead of fleeing from the republican leaders Gauvain and Cimourdain. Gauvain admires this humanitarian deed and helps Lantenac to escape. Gauvain is then arrested as a traitor and condemned to the guillotine by the blinkered Cimourdain, who is his friend but also president of the court martial. At the moment Gauvain is beheaded by the guillotine, Cimourdain shoots himself through the heart out of remorse.
10. Ary Scheffer, Count Eberhard von Württemberg mourning beside the lifeless body of his son Ulrich, 1831. And Ary Scheffer, Count Eberhard von Württemberg dividing the tablecloth between himself and his son Ulrich, 1851. Ill. 416 [416]. and Ill. 413 [413] (Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen).
[416] [413]
12. Possibly an allusion to something said by the old snail (not a pig) in the tale ‘The happy family’ by Hans Christian Andersen: ‘“There is nothing beyond it!” quoth Father Snail ... “No place can be better than this; we have nothing to wish for”’. See Andersen 1861, p. 388.
13. In view of Van Gogh’s description this is probably De Bock’s Road and cottage, which was sold a short time later, namely on 5 December 1882. It was bought by the dealer Thomas Richardson of London (RKD, Goupil Ledgers). The painting The oak, in a private collection in the USA in 1932 (RKD), comes close to matching the description given.
16. Probably Jacob Maris, for whom Van Gogh had a strong preference.
17. The uncomplicated perseverance of humble folk, automatic faith. In letter 397 Van Gogh says that Millet used this expression often, but it is not recorded in Sensier’s book on Millet. The only time it is found is in the introduction by Paul Mantz, Sensier 1881, p. vi; it is cited in letters 358, 368, 396, 397, 403, 404 and 494.