London, Oct. 1873

Dear Caroline and Willem,
Many thanks for your letter of this morning. It was a wonderful surprise, I’m happy you’re doing so well.
Our Anna has passed her examinations in English and in needlework, you can imagine how delighted she and all of us are.1 Pa and Ma have suggested that she stay at school until next April, and in that case attempt French, but if she’d rather not she needn’t do it. I’d like it so much if something could be found for her here; we’ve talked about this before, as you know.
You already know that Theo is coming to The Hague, I think it a good change for him, even though it will be difficult for him  1v:2 to leave beautiful, convivial Brussels.
I also received a letter from your Pa2 some time ago and have already answered it, so you’ll probably have heard that things are continuing to go well for me here, and also know a thing or two about my new lodgings.
What you say about winter is quite right, I think so too. I myself almost don’t know which season I like best; I believe all of them, equally well.
It’s striking that the old painters almost never painted the autumn and that the moderns have such a particular preference for it.
Herewith a couple of small photos which I hope will be to your liking. Here there are practically no albums like those we have in Holland, but rather so-  1v:3 called ‘scrapbooks’ in which one puts photographs, as I’ve done in this letter (which explains why we don’t put the photos in mounts here),3 the advantage of which is that one can arrange all shapes and sizes on the same sheet however one wants. I would advise you to buy a kind of writing-book with blank pages and to put these in it, for a start.
‘A baptism’ is after Anker,4 a Swiss, who has painted all manner of subjects, all equally sensitive and intimate.
‘Puritans going to church’ is after Boughton,5 one of the best painters here; an American, he’s very fond of Longfellow, and rightly so. I know 3 paintings by him based on ‘The courtship of Miles Standish’.6 Seeing the paintings prompted me to read Miles Standish and Evangeline7 again, I don’t know why, but I never knew they were as beautiful as I find them now.
‘The good friar’ is after Van Muyden, a Swiss painter,8 having ‘as yet more modesty than talent’.9  1r:4 Mr Post in The Hague has this painting.10 If you visit our gallery ask to see his (Van Muyden’s) ‘Refectory’.11 There are no more than 4 or 5 copies of this photograph,12 because the negative is broken. Show it to Mr Tersteeg when you have the opportunity.13 ‘The honeymoon’ is after Eugène Feyen,14 one of the few painters who paint intimate modern life as it really is and don’t turn it into fashion plates. I know the photo of ‘The landlady’s daughter’15 and I find it very beautiful. It’s good that you find Bouguereau beautiful. Not everyone is as capable as you are of noticing and feeling good and fine things. And now I’ll stop; I’m enclosing another picture of autumn, by Michelet.16
I hope you’ll be able to read this; I just kept on writing without thinking that one should take care to make a letter legible. Adieu, I wish you both the best; many regards to those in the Poten17 and to any other friends you might see.


From here I see a lady,18 I see her walking, pensive, in a garden that is not very big and has lost its flowers quite early, but is sheltered, like the ones one sees behind our cliffs in France or the dunes of Holland. The exotic shrubs have already gone back into the greenhouse. The fallen leaves reveal some statues. A sumptuousness of art, which contrasts slightly with the very simple attire of the lady — modest, grave — the black (or grey) silk of which is barely brightened by a plain lilac ribbon.
Unadorned, this we can say, she is no less elegant. Elegant for her husband and simple for the benefit of the poor. She reaches the end of the avenue, turns. We can see her. But have I not seen her before in the museums of Amsterdam or The Hague? She reminds me of a lady by Philippe de Champaigne (NB in the Louvre), who had found  2v:6 her way into my heart, so ingenuous, so honest, sufficiently intelligent, yet simple, without the subtlety to extricate herself from the snares of the world. This woman has remained with me for thirty years, obstinately returning to me, worrying me, making me say, ‘But what was she called? What became of her? Did she have a little happiness? And how did she manage to get through life?’ She reminds me of another portrait, a Van Dyck, a poor woman, very pale, unhealthy. The pale satin of her incomparably delicate skin clothes a sickly body, which is beginning to slacken. A great melancholy fills her lovely eyes, the melancholy of old age? Of heartbreaks, of the climate too, perhaps. It is the vague, distant look of someone who has lived within sight of the vast North Sea, the great grey sea, deserted but for the flight of the seagull.

Les aspirations de l’automne.19


Br. 1990: 014 | CL: 11a
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willem van Stockum and Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek
Date: London, between about Thursday, 16 October and Friday, 31 October 1873

1. Anna had passed her exam in English around 3 October (FR b2666), and her exam in needlework shortly before 13 October (FR b2669).
3. After writing this letter, Van Gogh made sixteen incisions, in which he mounted the four photographs he sent with the letter. Such photographs, which measured 6 x 9 cm, were usually glued to pieces of cardboard and sold as ‘Cartes de visite’.
4. Albert Anker, A baptism, 1864 (Lagnau, formerly Amtsersparniskasse). Also published in the ‘Galerie photographique’ of Goupil, no. 303 (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 1655 [1655]. Van Gogh sent the version from the ‘Carte de visite’ series.
6.The courtship of Miles Standish’, a narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first appeared in 1858 in The courtship of Miles Standish and other poems. See Longfellow 1886-1891, vol. 2, pp. 283-348. The poem relates a love story that took place at the time of the first Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth, North America.
Van Gogh probably knew ‘3 paintings’ by Boughton from reproductions. One of them will have been The march of Miles Standish, which was exhibited in the Royal Academy (no. 493) in 1869. The print made after it by George C. Finden appeared in The Art Journal, N.S. vol. 11 (1 May 1872), between pp. 140-141. Ill. 1656 [1656]. It is not clear which other two paintings Van Gogh had in mind. Boughton made a number of depictions of ‘The Puritans in America’ and related subjects, and it is possible that Van Gogh associated several of them with the story of Miles Standish. See Werness 1985.
7.Evangeline, a tale of Acadie’ (1847). See Longfellow 1886-1891, vol. 2, pp. 7-106. The story takes place in the early period of British colonization in Acadia (Nova Scotia in North America), when the Acadians were driven from their land during the Anglo-French War in Canada (known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War and in America as the French and Indian War).
8. Le bon frère (The good friar) is a reference to Jacques Alfred van Muyden’s Le bon moine (The good monk), a photograph of which was included in the ‘Carte-album’ series (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 1657 [1657]. Van Gogh sent the version from the ‘Carte de visite’ series.
9. Possibly a quotation from a contemporary art critic’s comments on Van Muyden’s work.
10. The banker Franciscus Hermanus Marinus Post. The canvas was offered for sale under the title Le frère quêteur (The friar collector) (1866) at the sale of the Post Collection in 1891 and sold for 910 guilders to F. Muller & Co. See Catalogue de la collection de tableaux modernes de monsieur ‘P***’, amateur, à la Haye ... Amsterdam 1891, p. 65, cat. no. 63.
11. Van Muyden, Refectory of the Capuchins at Albano, near Rome (1855), a reproduction of which appeared in L’Illustration 33 (5 February 1859), p. 85 (at that time in the possession of ‘General Dufour’). Ill. 1658 [1658]. Refectory does not occur in the ledgers (RKD, Goupil Ledgers)
12. Van Gogh is likely referring to the photograph of The good monk.
13. At this time Van Gogh was also writing to H.G. Tersteeg. Mrs van Gogh remarked to Theo: ‘Mr Tersteeg also wrote very kindly about Vincent. He could tell from his letters that he was feasting his eyes and ears to the full’ (FR b2668, on or about 4 October 1873).
14. ‘Carte de visite’ by (Jacques) Eugène Feyen, La lune de miel (The honeymoon), 1869 (Bordeaux, Musée Goupil). Ill. 1659 [1659].
15. No reproduction of an art work with this title has been found. (The title is undoubtedly connected with Ludwig Uhland’s poem ‘Der Wirthin Töchterlein’, which Van Gogh knew; see Pabst 1988, pp. 34, 41-45.)
16. See the appendix at the end of the letter.
17. Lange Poten 10 in The Hague, Caroline’s parental home.
18. A parenthetical expression has been omitted here: ‘(celle que ce livre a prise jeune et conduite au déclin de l’âge)’ (‘the one this book took up when she was young and has followed into the twilight of her life’).
19. The quotation was taken from the chapter ‘Les aspirations de l’automne’ (The longing for autumn) of L’amour (1858) by Jules Michelet, part 5, chapter 5 (see Michelet, L’amour, pp. 388-389). Van Gogh added ‘(NB au Louvre)’ (l. 235). The painting referred to, known as Portrait of a woman (Paris, Musée du Louvre), was previously attributed to Philippe de Champaigne but is now viewed as anonymous French, seventeenth century. Ill. 1661 [1661]. This prose excerpt had a special meaning for Van Gogh and will be mentioned again later; see letters 35, 89, 90, 102, 132 and 133. Cf. also Pabst 1988, pp. 65, 90.
Many of Van Gogh’s ideas about love and women prove to have been inspired by the literature he read: above all by the books L’amour (1858) and La femme (1860). He went so far as to describe these didactic treatises on the ideal relationship between man and woman – they should become two-in-one and together bring about something real – as his gospel.
Michelet argues that a woman can only really be happy within marriage and under the guidance of the right man. He sets out the tasks and duties of each party and explains how the security and support provided by the husband, combined with the devotion and purity of the wife, can lead to a ‘divine unity’. Michelet advocated a vigorous and active love. Men who were not prepared to protect and rescue a woman should be ashamed of themselves.
Van Gogh had a copy of L’Amour. Paris (Hachette) 1861 with his name ‘Vincent’ inscribed at the front. See V.W. van Gogh, Les sources d’inspiration de Vincent van Gogh. Exhib. cat. Paris (Institut Néerlandais). Paris 1972, p. 22 (cat. no. 56).