My dear Theo,
You would do me a very great favour if you could manage to get hold of

L’Illustration No. 2174
24 October 1884

for me. It’s already an old No, but they’ll still give it out at the office. There’s a drawing by Paul Renouard in it — a weavers’ strike in Lyon.1 Also one from a series about the Opera — of which he’s also published etchings, it says — The Harpist, which I think very good.2
And then he’s also just made The legal world, which I got from Rappard — you probably know it from Dumas’s Paris Illustré.3
But I find the drawing of the weavers the finest of them all, and there’s so much body and breadth in it that it seems to me this drawing could well hold its own beside Millet, beside Daumier, beside Lepage.
When I think how he reached this height, by working from nature from the start without imitating other people, and how he’s still in harmony with the very clever people, as far as technique is concerned too, although he had his own way of doing things from the start, then I find him another proof that if one just persists in sticking to nature, it gets better every year.  1v:2
What I’m more persuaded of every day is that those people who don’t make wrestling with nature the main consideration do not get there.
I think that if one has tried to follow the masters attentively, one encounters them all at certain moments, deep in reality. I mean — what are called their creations — one will also see in reality to the extent that one — has — similar eyes — similar sentiment — to them. And so I also believe this — if the critics or connoisseurs were more familiar with nature, their judgement would be better than now, when it’s the routine to live only among paintings and to compare them with one another.
Which, of course, is right in its context as one side of the question, but lacks a solid basis if one forgets nature and doesn’t look deeply into it.
Can’t you understand that I may not be wrong in this — and to say even more clearly what I mean by it, isn’t it a pity, for instance, that you seldom — or hardly ever now — go into those interiors, or associate with those people,  1v:3 or see those moods in the landscape that are painted in the paintings you find most beautiful? I don’t say that you can do this in your position — just because one has to look long and hard at nature before one arrives at the conviction that what the great masters painted most movingly still has its foundation in life and in reality itself. A basis of solid poetry that exists eternally as a fact, and can be found if one digs and searches deep enough.
What does not pass in what passes,4 that exists. And what Michelangelo said in an almighty beautiful metaphor,5 I think that Millet said without a metaphor — and one can perhaps best learn to see through Millet, and get ‘a faith’.
If I make better work later, I still won’t work otherwise than now; I mean it will be the same apple only riper — I myself won’t turn from what I’ve thought from the start. And this is why I say for my part, if I’m no good now, I won’t be any good later either — but if later, then now too. For wheat is wheat, even if it looks like grass at first to townsfolk — and the other way round too.
In any event — whether people like or don’t like what I do and how I do it, for my part I know no other way but to wrestle with nature until such time as she reveals her secret.  1r:4
I’m still working on various heads and — hands — I’ve also drawn some more, perhaps you’ll see something in them — then again, perhaps not — what can I do about it? Again — I know no other way.
But I can’t understand you when you say — perhaps we’ll also find something good later in the things you’re doing now.
If I were you, I would have enough self-confidence and independent opinion to know whether or not I could see now what there was in a thing.
In short — decide that sort of thing for yourself.
The month isn’t yet wholly over but my purse is wholly empty — I keep working as hard as I can,6 and I believe for my part that I’ll stay on course just by constantly studying the model.
I wish it were possible for you to send a few days before the first — for the same reason that the ends of the months are always difficult for me, because the work costs me a lot and I don’t sell any of it. This won’t go on for ever, though, because I work too hard and too much not to get at least to the point where I can cover my expenses without being in a dependent position. And for the rest, the mood of nature outdoors and the interiors here is magnificent at present; I’m doing my best not to waste time. Regards.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 483 | CL: 393
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Monday, 26 January 1885

1. Van Gogh is mistaken in the date of L’Illustration by one day: no. 2174 of volume 42 came out on Saturday, 25 October 1884. It contains Paul Renouard, La crise industrielle à Lyon – Sans travail (The industrial crisis in Lyon – Out of work) (p. 268), engraved by Clément Edouard Bellenger. Ill. 399 [399]. Theo sent this issue in February; see letter 483. Van Gogh noted the details of this issue of L’Illustration in one of his sketchbooks. See Van der Wolk 1987, pp. 54, 287-288.
2. Paul Renouard, L’harpiste (The harpist), engraved by Henri Dochy, was on p. 273 in the same issue. Ill. 389 [389].
3. See for the theme issue of Le monde judicaire (The legal world) of Paris Illustré: letter 475, n. 3. F.-G. Dumas was ‘directeur artistique’ of the magazine.
4. This quotation is taken from the introduction to Gavarni’s La mascarade humaine: see letter 294, n.7.
5. It is not clear what metaphor Van Gogh is referring to here. Michelangelo suggested the idea that sculptures transcend time in a series of three madrigals and a sonnet: ‘Here art would have lived on / In just a living stone’. See Gilbert Creighton, Complete poems and selected letters of Michelangelo. Princeton, New Jersey 1980, pp. 133 (sonnet 237), 133-134 (madrigal 238, quotation), 134 (madrigal 239) and 135 (madrigal 240).
a. Means: ‘bepaal’ (decide).
6. Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo on 24 January 1885: ‘It’s a pity that Vincent doesn’t have some fun skating. However, he is hard at work’ (FR b2266).
b. Means: ‘aangezien, omdat’ (since, because).