Amsterdam, 9 January 1878

My dear Theo,
I should so very much like to know if you’re better, and I’m just writing quickly to ask you to write soon, by postcard if necessary, whether your condition has returned to normal.1
Arrived here safe and sound on Monday evening2 and found Uncle Cor’s family playing cards at Uncle Jan’s. When Uncle Cor heard that Uncle Cent was thinking of leaving so soon, he went again to Princenhage to see Uncle again.3 He returned today and was satisfied with the journey. Had spoken to the doctor in Princenhage and he said that Uncle Cent was not in any immediate danger. Had also seen both Pa and Ma and they are well, so fortunately all that preaching hasn’t worn Pa out.4
Was at Uncle Stricker’s yesterday, Paul left with the ship De Liberaal, they haven’t had a letter from Paul himself for quite some time, but Mr Scheffer writes that his health is improving, may they see him again as soon as possible.
Started taking lessons again on Tuesday morning, intend to do all those themes that I’ve written over again, at least inasmuch as I can find the time, what with my other work. Pa advised me to do it, because once one is well grounded in the rudiments and verbs &c., one makes rapid progress with translation. I suppose I’ll find the time when it begins to grow light a bit earlier in the morning and is a little less cold, so that I can start early. One can accomplish quite a lot in a few months if one works at something from early in the morning till late at night, and so I hope to be ready for the exam around October.
Saw a great many good drawings at Uncle Cor’s, including a new one by Rochussen, a diplomatic soirée, very clever.5 Mauve is giving that art presentation at Arti this evening,6 should really like to be there, but it’s likely I already saw many of the drawings that evening we visited him.7 Uncle Cor also had a very nice painting by Valkenburg, the interior of a peasant’s house with four small figures.8  1v:2
I’ll hang up The oven by T. Rousseau9 and the Trekweg at Rijswijk by Weissenbruch10 which I got from you. I’m sorry I didn’t leave The Hague by a later train, then we would have been together a little longer, but now I hope to see you again when you make the trip in the spring.11
I recently went to see Hillen again, the last time I visited him I’d given him a pair of that Christus Consolator and pendant, such as I got from you,12 and now they were already hanging in his room, for he had put them under glass himself, I’m glad they’re hanging there. It was already growing dark when I arrived and he also showed me his living room, it looks very pleasant indeed and it’s a good house to remember. He’s a man one can really trust, for he’s very uncomplicated and does his work well and has persevered in it for a long time, I’ll be happy when I’m also that far along.
It’s terribly cold here these days, and this morning there was snow on the ground, it’s good that Uncle Cent is away (because he left today at 3 o’clock to be in Paris tonight).
If you visit Mauve, remember to ask for that piece by Jules Breton, The labourer,13 and send it when you get it.
C.M. asked me if I didn’t find the Phryné by Gérôme14 beautiful, and I said I would much rather see an ugly woman by Israëls or Millet or a little old woman by E. Frère, for what does a beautiful body such as Phryné’s really matter? Animals have that too, perhaps more so than people, but animals don’t have a soul like the one that animates the people painted by Israëls or Millet or Frère, and hasn’t life been given to us to become rich in our hearts, even if our appearance suffers from it? I feel very little sympathy for that statue after Gérôme, for I see not one sign of reason in it, and a couple of hands that bear the signs of work are more beautiful than such as are seen on that statue.
And much greater still is the difference between such a beautiful girl and a man like Parker15 or T. a Kempis or those painted by Meissonier,16 and just as one cannot serve two masters, one cannot love two things that are so very different and feel sympathy for both.
And then C.M. asked if I wouldn’t feel anything for a woman or a girl who was beautiful, but I said I would have more feeling for and would prefer to be involved with one who was ugly or old or impoverished or in some way unhappy, who had acquired understanding and a soul through experience of life and trial and error, or sorrow.  1v:3
At C.M.’s there was also a beautiful drawing by Maris, townscape with water in the foreground and a vast sky,17 you no doubt know it.
Uncle Jan and Uncle Cor send you their warm regards, Uncle Jan is well again, you know that he wasn’t well at Christmas.
So write soon, and I wish you the very best, and bid good-day to your housemates. Just received a good letter from Pa, everything is all right at home, adieu, accept in thought a hearty handshake, and believe me ever

Your loving brother


Br. 1990: 138 | CL: 117
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Amsterdam, Wednesday, 9 and Thursday, 10 January 1878

1. Theo had influenza and a fever. The family were alarmed, because little more than a year before he had been dangerously ill. Mr van Gogh wrote: ‘To our great sorrow I heard yesterday from Uncle Cor, whom I met at Princenhage, that you are not well and were staying indoors and were feverish. I’m glad that you immediately stayed at home, and I cannot urge you too strongly to be careful. You once suffered from it so terribly, and many people have been so hard hit by it these days. Poor chap! How sorry I am and how I hope that we’ll soon hear something from you. It’s a comfort to think that good Miss Roos is so conscientious – and that you will be sensible enough to spare yourself, if that is necessary’ (FR b961, 9 January 1877). His concern – which was nothing out of the ordinary – was unwarranted: ten days later Theo was fully recovered (FR b963, 19 January 1877).
2. On Monday, 7 January, Vincent travelled from Etten to Amsterdam (FR b960), stopping off at The Hague, where he met Theo, who later informed his parents that the visit had gone well (FR b961 and b966); Lies reacted somewhat scornfully: ‘And so the church-trotter has been to see you. It was certainly a treat to see him again ... And I must also tell you that Vincent gave me a serious scolding, because I was so worldly. Well, if he is godly, I hope never to become it, and you?’ (FR b962 to Theo, 13 January 1877).
3. For reasons of health, Uncle Vincent van Gogh and Aunt Cornelie left the Netherlands on 10 January for the town of Menton in the south of France (FR b961 and b964).
4. Owing to the holidays and the necessity of standing in for a colleague, Mr van Gogh had had to preach nearly every day for the past several weeks (FR b960); cf. also letter 138.
5. Charles Rochussen, Une soirée chez un diplomate. Fin du 18e siècle (A diplomatic soirée. End 18th century), 1877 (present whereabouts unknown). This watercolour was described as follows: ‘In a richly decorated and furnished room four diplomats have gathered around a gaming table. Their game is interrupted for a moment by a servant who brings one of them a sealed envelope, which the other three regard with veiled curiosity, as though trying to divine its contents. A servant stands near the fireplace. In an adjoining room: ladies and gentlemen, officers, invited guests. A magnificent, highly polished watercolour of extraordinary characterization, as much in the details as in the players’ heads.’ See Franken and Obreen 1894, p. 126, cat. no. 843.
6. Lectures on art, illustrated by examples, were given at regular intervals at artists’ societies. Anton Mauve was to speak on Thursday, 10 January at Arti et Amicitiae, Rokin 112. See Groot and De Vries 1990, p. 80.
7. The brothers’ visit to Anton Mauve could have taken place on Monday, 7 January, when Vincent was in The Hague, or during his stay there shortly before Christmas 1877, when he travelled to Etten via The Hague; see n. 2 and letter 138, l. 41.
8. It cannot be said with certainty which work by Hendrik Valkenburg is intended here. A painting that comes close to Van Gogh’s description is the undated Twente interior (Warffum, R. de Boer Collection). Ill. 1398 [1398].
9. Auguste-Paul-Charles Anastasi made a lithograph after Théodore Rousseau, Four dans Les Landes (Oven in Les Landes). It also occurs in a scrapbook in the estate (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, t*1487, 10). Ill. 1866 [1866].
10. It is not clear which reproduction Van Gogh is referring to. Although J.H. Weissenbruch painted a number of canals with tow-paths, the depiction referred to here is most likely a print after either View of the Trekvliet (1870), or View near the Geestbrug (1868). Another possibility is the lithograph Molen langs de Trekvaart [461] (Mill by the Trekvaart); see letter 11, n. 16.
[128] [129] [461]
11. The sales trip undertaken to interest booksellers, print dealers and art galleries in Goupil & Cie’s products.
12. Prints after Ary Scheffer’s Christus Consolator [1771] and Christus Remunerator [1772] (see letter 85, n. 7), of which Theo had found two sets; see letter 137.
[1771] [1772]
13. Van Gogh is probably referring to the poem ‘Le retour des champs (à François Millet)’ (Returning from the fields (to François Millet)). See Breton 1875, pp. 51-53.
14. Jean Léon Gérôme, Phryné before the Areopagus, 1861 (Hamburg, Kunsthalle). A photograph of the painting Phryné before the tribunal (no. 562), one of the pictures published by Goupil & Cie, appeared in L’Oeuvre de J.-L. Gérôme (Paris n.d.), and was sold separately in the ‘Musée Goupil’ series. However, because Van Gogh mentions a ‘statue’ a few lines later, as well as ‘that statue after Gérôme’, he is more likely referring to the scaled-down bronze reproduction of a marble which Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguière made after Gérôme’s painting (Baltimore, Museum of Art). Ill. 131 [131]. A replica was put on the market by Goupil, and it is possible that Uncle Cor owned one. See Ackerman 1986, pp. 54-55, 59, 210-211, 308, cat. no. 132 and cat. no. S.2. At the exhibition held to mark the opening of Goupil’s London branch in 1875 (see letter 29), the sculpture by Prosper d’Epinay after Gérôme’s Phryné was on display. See The Art Journal 14 (1875), NS, pp. 245-246.
15. It is not known which Parker Van Gogh is referring to. There are several possibilities, including Matthew Parker, Elizabethan Archbishop of Canterbury, General William Parker and the art historian John Henry Parker, as well as John Parker, the father of the family with whom Van Gogh boarded in Kennington. In connection with Thomas a Kempis, the first-mentioned Parker seems the most likely candidate. Matthew Parker represented the classical Anglican standpoint, midway between Rome and Geneva, and stressed the importance of the traditions of the old church. Since 1835 the Parker Society, which was named after him, has devoted itself to reissuing the source material connected with the English Reformation.
16. In letter 38, Van Gogh said of Meissonier: ‘he painted men.’
17. Presumably Matthijs Maris, View of Rouen, 1869-1877 (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 1867 [1867].