My dear Theo,
I felt as you did, in so far as when you write that the work didn’t yet proceed as usual the very first few days, I had the same experience.
They have therefore been days that none of us will forget, and yet the overall impression isn’t terrible but only grave.1 Life isn’t long for anyone, and the question is just — to do something with it.2
The painting went better again today; the first two heads went wrong — today’s is a head of a young girl, almost a child’s head.3
As to colour, it’s a contrast of bright red and pale green against the colour of the little face; there’s already a head like it among those you took with you. I’d like to hear sometime whether those rolled-up ones arrived safely.4
If I thought that C.M. meant it when he asked for heads of children, I could send him this one I did today, but..... I can’t say I feel much inclined to enter into correspondence (unless he asks for something more specifically).
It can do no harm, though, that he’s been to the studio. I don’t mind starting a new still life of those honesty heads and dry leaves against blue either, because he said something about that too.
Of course I intend to keep working hard, but it’s very necessary for me to square my paint bill as soon as possible. Every other year, I’ve been able to get square at about this time and buy myself some new equipment. And this year I’ve painted so much the last few months that I actually need it more.
I didn’t want to keep talking about it or contradict you much when you were here — but when you said that I would change some day and, no more than Mauve stayed in Bloemendaal for ever,5 would I stay here for ever either — maybe — but — I don’t see any advantage myself in moving, because I have a good studio here and the countryside here is very beautiful.  1v:2
Don’t forget that I’m definitely convinced that a painter of peasant life can do no better than follow the example of Barbizon – dwelling and living right in the midst of what one is painting, for it’s new and different outside every day.6
In short, the two reasons for living in the country are that one can do more work and has fewer expenses.
There are about 3 months, let’s say, between now and the time you come back here in the summer.
If I work hard day after day, I can have another 20 or so studies for you by then, and moreover another twenty or so to take to Antwerp if you want. But — it’s very necessary for me to pay off my paint bill as soon as possible. You know I didn’t say another word to you about it either in February or in March.7
But I didn’t have it easy in those months, I can tell you that.
It has become colder again here. As soon as we have a few fine days, I’ll make something of the churchyard.8
I think the little head I made today is certainly as good as the one you have with a large white cap, which is something like this9[After ‘this’ (dit) Van Gogh drew a little arrow pointing to the sketches]

And could serve as a pendant to it.
If you mount these two on gilded Bristol they might perhaps look good in the gold, do better than by themselves.
Regards, with a handshake, and still thinking often of your visit

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 492 | CL: 397
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Saturday, 4 April 1885

1. Mr van Gogh was buried on Monday, 30 March; Theo went back to Paris on the afternoon of Wednesday, 1 April. This emerges from a letter – undated, but written shortly after that day – from Uncle Jan van Gogh to Uncle Vincent van Gogh and Aunt Cornelie. On 28 March he informed his sister Maria (Mietje) Johanna van Gogh: ‘Vincent behaves well enough, obviously rather withdrawn but bearable all the same, apart from that a tendency to cool reasoning’ (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum Documentation, bd 15. Nebbeling/Weenink Ladies Collection, De Bilt).
2. Elisabeth van Gogh later recalled: ‘When Father died and Mrs Poots wanted to see Father once again, Vincent stood beside her and said: “yes, Mrs Poots, dying is hard, but living is harder still”’ (FR b2002). See Pickvance 1992, p. 68.
3. Probably Head of a woman (F 160 / JH 722 [2500]). See cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 94-95.
4. Theo took several works with him, among them Head of a woman (Gordina de Groot) (F 130 / JH 692 [2496]) – letter sketch A corresponds with this – and probably also Head of a woman (F 69 / JH 724 [2501]), which in type and colouration is akin to Head of a woman (F 160 / JH 722 [2500]). The batch also included Honesty in a vase (F 76 / JH 542 [2491]), as we know from letter 490. Head of a woman (F 80a / JH 682) is the only other portrait of an old woman in Theo’s collection, and could therefore probably be identified with the head of an old woman Vincent had intended to send Theo in March (letter 484) Cf. cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 11-13, 94-95, 98-99, 238-239.
[2496] [2501] [2500] [2491]
a. Means: ‘vereffenen’ (settle).
5. This remark relates to Mauve’s apprenticeship in 1855-1857 with P.F. van Os in Haarlem, near Bloemendaal. Cf. Saskia de Bodt, Anton Mauve en de Haagse School. The Hague 1997, p. 11 (Openbaar Kunstbezit 4).
6. In the mid-nineteenth century a group of painters worked in the French village of Barbizon in the Forest of Fontainebleau. They are known as the Barbizon School – their intimate scenes and sedate landscapes were usually painted outdoors.
7. Theo had probably given Vincent his allowance for April in person.
8. Van Gogh was later to depict the church in the field with the peasants’ churchyard in Nuenen many times. At the beginning of June this resulted in The old church tower at Nuenen (‘The peasants’ churchyard’) (F 84 / JH 772 [2512]), which was painted over another scene and had been preceded by three watercolours. See cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 152-159, cat. no. 28. Cf. also letter 259, n. 6.
9. See notes 4 and 3 respectively for the paintings after which the letter sketches Head of a woman and Head of a woman (both F- / JH 723) were done.