My dear Theo,
I have a few of the heads I promised you ready, but not completely dry yet. But as I already wrote, they were painted in a dark cottage and they are — studies — in the true meaning of the word.
I had already made a start on sending you study drawings in the past.
It wasn’t my intention that this shouldn’t continue.1
I work hard and — suppose that only 1 in 10 or 20 of the studies that I make have something that makes them worth the trouble of looking at them — those few, be it more, be it fewer in number — although they’re worth nothing now, may well be later.
Not so much in themselves as in conjunction with other studies.
Be this as it may — I want to try it again, and so as soon as they’re completely dry and I can varnish them, I’ll send you a few heads and also a little sketch of a yarn-winder.2 And it certainly doesn’t have to stop there — for since I’ve devoted myself almost exclusively to painting for more than a whole year, I dare assert that these have something different from the first painted studies that I sent you.3
For instance, when I saw those magnificent woodcutters by Lhermitte4 recently, then I know very well that a great distance still separates me from making something like that myself. Yet as regards my views and manner of searching — that is, always directly from nature or in the poor, smoke-blackened5 cottage — seeing his work encourages me, for I see (in details in heads and hands, for instance) how artists like Lhermitte must have studied the peasant figure not only from a fairly great distance but from very close to, not now, while they create and compose with ease  1v:2 and certainty, but before they did that.
They think I imagine — it isn’t true — I remember — said one whose composition was masterly.6
Now for myself, I can’t yet show a single painting, not even a single drawing yet.
But I’m making studies, and precisely because of this I can very well conceive of the possibility that a time will come when I, too, will be able to compose readily.
And after all, it’s difficult to say where study stops and painting begins.
I’m thinking about a couple of larger, more worked-up things, and should I get a clear idea of how to achieve the effects I have in mind — in that case I would still keep the studies in question here, because then I would certainly need them for it. It is, for example, something like this:7

Namely figures against the light from a window.
I have studies of heads for it, both against the light and facing the light, and I’ve already worked on the whole figure several times, seamstress winding yarn, or peeling potatoes. Full face and in profile.8 I don’t know whether I’ll get it finished, though, because it’s a difficult effect.
Still, I think I’ve learned a few things from it.

Regards, I didn’t want to put off writing again any longer.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 489 | CL: 396
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, between about Monday, 9 March and about Monday, 23 March 1885

1. After the brothers had agreed in March 1884 that Vincent would send Theo work in return for a monthly allowance, Vincent made a number of works for Theo; see letters 440 ff. Because of the tensions between them this had come to a dead end.
2. Van Gogh is probably referring here to Woman winding yarn (F 36 / JH 698 [2498]); it measures 40.5 x 31.7 cm and is the only known painting of this subject dating from this period. Cf. cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 114-117, cat. no. 21.
3. The first painted studies that Vincent had sent Theo were works from Drenthe, at the end of September and in November 1883 (see letters 389 and 406).
5. In view of his choice of words in letter 484, l. 51, it is possible that Van Gogh wrote ‘bemoste’ (moss-grown) rather than ‘berookte’ (smoke-blackened).
6. Given that Van Gogh attributed the saying ‘je me souviens’ (I remember) to Gustave Doré in letter 537, this is who he must mean here. See letter 537, n. 16.
7. The letter sketches Head of a woman and Seated woman (both F - / JH 713) are after Head of a woman (F 70 / JH 715) and Head of a woman (F 70a / JH 716).
8. There are several known works in which these light effects occur; it is not possible to identify the ones Van Gogh is referring to here.