Sunday afternoon

My dear Theo,
As I wrote to you yesterday, I went to Leiden. Sien gave birth last night, had a very difficult delivery but thank God she survived, together with a jolly nice little boy.1 Her mother and child and I went there together — you can imagine how tense we were, not knowing what we’d hear when we enquired after her from the nurse at the hospital, and how delighted we were to be told: gave birth last night..... but you mustn’t talk to her too much... I shan’t soon forget that ‘you mustn’t talk to her too much’, because that meant ‘you can still talk to her’ and might equally well have been ‘you will never speak to her again’. Theo, I was so happy when I saw her again, and she was lying right by the window with a view of the garden full of sun and greenery in a sort of exhausted drowse in between sleeping and being awake, and then she looked up and saw us all. Ah, old chap, she had such a look on her face and she was so glad to see us, and because by chance we were there exactly 12 hours after it happened, while visitors are allowed only 1 hour a week. And she was so cheered up and came to her senses in every respect in a second, and asked about everything.  1v:2
But what I can’t get over is the child, in particular because although it was delivered with forceps it wasn’t the least bit harmed, and lay in its cradle with a sort of air of worldly wisdom. They’re so clever, those doctors. By all accounts it was a critical situation. There were 5 professors present when it happened, and she was given chloroform. Before that she had endured an enormous amount because the baby was stuck from 9 in the evening until half past one. And she’s still in considerable pain. But she forgot it all when she saw us, and even said to me that we’d soon be drawing again, and I have absolutely no objection if her prediction proves entirely accurate. There’s no tearing or anything, which can easily happen in such a case.
By Jove, I’m so thankful. But the sombre shadow still threatens, and the master Albrecht Dürer knew that when he placed Death behind the young couple in the wonderful etching you know.2 But we must hope that the sombre shadow remains only a shadow that will pass. Well, Theo, as you well know, if I hadn’t had your help Sien probably wouldn’t be here. Another thing — I asked Sien  1v:3 to ask the professor to give her a proper examination, because she often has what they call a white discharge.3 He did so, and advised her on what she must do to be completely cured.
And he says that she had been at death’s door more than once, especially during her previous throat illness, in an earlier miscarriage, and then last winter, that she has been profoundly weakened by a life of turmoil and agitation, year after year, that now that she no longer needed to lead that life she’d recover of her own accord, provided there are no complications, with rest, tonics, plenty of fresh air and no heavy labour.
When she’s past her old misery, there will be a completely new period in her life: she won’t get back her spring — that is over, and was cruel anyway — but her second growth can be all the fresher. You know how, in the middle of summer when the greatest heat has passed, the trees throw out fresh young shoots, a new layer of young green over the old, faded one.
I’m sitting writing to you next to Sien’s mother at a window looking out on a sort of courtyard.  1r:4 I’ve drawn it twice, once large and once smaller. C.M. has both and they were the ones, especially the large one, that Rappard liked.4 I’d like you to see them if you visit C.M. because I would particularly like to know what you think of the large one. When are you coming?
I long to see you. Well brother, you have it on your conscience that I’m so happy today that it made me cry. Thanks for everything, old chap, and believe me, with a handshake in thought,

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 242 | CL: 210
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, Sunday, 2 July 1882

1. On 4 July the director of the University Hospital in Leiden registered the birth of Willem Hoornik on 2 July 1882; Sien’s occupation was given as ‘seamstress’. When Sien married Arnoldus Franciscus van Wijk (deceased 12 March 1916) at Rotterdam on 4 September 1901, he recognised Willem as his son. Willem van Wijk, as he was known from then on, died on 4 November 1958 at Maastricht (GAM). See also letter 224 and Hulsker 1993-2, pp. 41-53; cf. Wilkie 1978, pp. 181-207 (he insinuates that Van Gogh was the father).
2. Albrecht Dürer, The promenade, c. 1497-1498, engraving (H83, B94). Ill. 87 [87].
3. ‘White discharge’ is an abnormal, profuse mucous secretion from the vagina and the womb, also known as fluor albus.
a. St John’s growth is the new growth on trees around St John’s day, i.e. 24 June.
4. The two drawings are Sien’s mother’s house (F 941/ JH 146 [2373]) and Sien’s mother’s house (F 942/ JH 147); the second is the larger. Van Gogh wrote his letter in this house at Slijkeinde, corner of Breedstraat 31a.
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