My dear Theo,
Today I sent off that little crate, containing 1 other painting, Peasant cemetery,1 besides what I already told you.
I’ve left out some details — I wanted to say how this ruin shows that for centuries the peasants have been laid to rest there in the very fields that they grubbed up in life — I wanted to say how perfectly simply death and burial happen, coolly as the falling of an autumn leaf — no more than a bit of earth turned over — a little wooden cross. The fields around — where the grass of the churchyard ends, beyond the little wall, they make a last fine line against the horizon — like the horizon of a sea. And now this ruin says to me how a faith and religion mouldered away, although it was solidly founded — how, though, the life and death of the peasants is and will always be the same, springing up and withering regularly like the grass and the flowers that grow there in that churchyard. Victor Hugo, whom they’ve also just buried, said Religions pass, God remains.2  1v:2
I don’t know whether you’ll see anything in these two things — the cottage with the mossy roof3 reminded me of a wren’s nest. Anyway, you must just look at them.
Now I must take this opportunity of explaining to you again — which I found new, clear words for — why I wrote and write to you that I’m still far from sure whether your present view is your definite conviction.4 The firm of G&Cie isn’t a good school for getting to know paintings, let alone painters. I tell you this as my opinion — that one doesn’t even learn how to look independently there.
Who did they greatly honour? Paul Delaroche.
I don’t have to tell you how Delaroche was one of the people who really didn’t stand up to scrutiny — there’s simply no one left who takes his part.
Someone else who won’t stand up to scrutiny — even though he’s better — although he did make something very fine once or twice — who will also fail — that is — Gérôme.5  1v:3
His Prisoner,6 though, his Syrian shepherd7 are felt, and I think them as fine as anybody, and readily and willingly.
But by far the most often he’s a Delaroche II. Each of them, taking into account the context of their age, is of equal worth. What I’m now asserting is — that I consider it highly likely that the whole situation will bore you more by the year.
What I further assert is that one does both others and especially oneself too a disservice by being bored. In spite of many wise lessons, I’ve never seriously granted that being bored ‘for one’s own good’ can have its good, practical side. Now a MASS of people have reformed themselves at the age of about 30 and changed very considerably.
Just think calmly about this — I tell you that nothing of what I learnt and heard about art at G&Cie stood up to scrutiny. How if one reverses the generalities that count there as the conversation killers in judging art —  1r:4 namely praising the old or present-day Delaroche to the skies and discrediting the unorthodox — if, I say, one reverses certain maxims, then — one takes a breath of fresh air. In short — old chap — such curious turns in situations and affairs are possible — not only that — but even the rule. It’s funny, isn’t it — that, after all, I still doubt whether you’ll stay in the trade.
You don’t have to take any notice of this or reply to it — I say it to you just to express my idea frankly, not to start futile exchanges of words.
But it’s — an enchanted land8 — where one isn’t free.
Anyway — I’ll hear sometime whether you’ve received the little crate and whether you find anything in it.
Tomorrow I’m going to paint a thing in another village — also a cottage — in a smaller size. I found it last Sunday on a long trip I made in the company of a peasant boy9 — in order to get hold of a wren’s nest.10 We found 6; without doubt it was a place that Bodmer would have adored.11 And they were all nests from which the young had already flown, so that one could take them without too many pangs of conscience. It was so real; I also have some other splendid nests. Regards, write soon, with a handshake.

Yours truly,

I’d like you to give both the paintings a varnish before you show them to Portier or Serret.12
The peasant cemetery has sunk in particularly badly, because it was very different on the canvas at first and I scraped the first thing off completely.13 It was a total failure at first — then I gave it short shrift and started from the beginning, went and sat on another side and painted early in the morning instead of in the evening. Well, and the other — the one of the cottage — was originally a shepherd.14 The sheep were shorn last week; I saw it — on a table in a barn.
I’m glad that this time I can show Portier something very different again. I’m busy drawing, by the way, so as to send a few full-length figures in a little while. But working on the cottages — perhaps you’ll say imitations of Michel,15 although they aren’t — and searching for subjects, I’ve found such splendid cottages that  2v:6 I now really must go bird’s nesting with a number of variations of these ‘people’s nests’, which remind me so much of the nests of wrens — that’s to say, paint them.
Oh — one mustn’t doubt — anyone who paints the peasants nowadays and has his heart in his work, he wins — at least a part, and not the worst although it’s not the largest — of the public.
This doesn’t alter the fact that my end or second half of the month — can still work out remarkably meagre. But the same happens to the peasant lads too, and — they still have fun.
I wish you’d been here on Sunday when we went on that trip. I came back covered in mud because we had to spend a good half hour wading through a stream. But for me painting is now becoming as stimulating and enticing as hunting — it is a hunt, after all, for models, and beautiful places too. Regards again, and best wishes to you. It’s already late and I have to be at the place16 at 5 o’clock, so — adieu.


Br. 1990: 510 | CL: 411
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Tuesday, 9 June 1885

1. See for the contents of the little crate: letter 506, nn. 4-7. It emerges from the present letter that Van Gogh also added The old church tower at Nuenen (‘The peasants’ churchyard’) (F 84 / JH 772 [2512]).
2. Victor Hugo died on 22 May 1885; on 31 May his body was placed under the Arc de Triomphe and on 1 June he was buried in the Panthéon, watched by large crowds. The newspapers and magazines devoted an extraordinary degree of attention to this story.
See for this dictum, taken from Jules Michelet, La sorcière: letter 294, n. 6.
3. The cottage (F 83 / JH 777 [2513]).
4. Van Gogh wrote this in letter 506.
5. Both Delaroche and Gérôme had become big names as a result of Goupil’s promotional activities.
7. There were two versions of Jean Léon Gérôme’s Le troupeau en marche (Le berger syrien à cheval) (The flock on the move (The Syrian shepherd on horseback)), 1865, but both have been lost. See Ackerman 1986, pp. 216-217, cat. nos. 153-154. The Berger syrien was no. 357 in Goupil’s series ‘Galerie Photographique’. Ill. 128 [128].
a. Means: ‘het kader, de context’ (the frame of reference, the context).
b. Read: ‘en dat niet alleen’ (and not only that).
8. Most probably an allusion to Bunyan: see letter 407, n. 4.
9. This peasant boy was Driek Dekkers. See De Brouwer 1984, pp. 92, 109.
10. There are several eyewitness accounts by boys whom Van Gogh paid to get bird’s nests for him at this time, including those of the said Driek Dekkers and Piet van Hoorn. Kerssemakers and Vincent’s sister Elisabeth remembered the nest collection – wren’s nests were rare. See De Brouwer 1984, pp. 109-112, and cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 198-203, cat. nos. 38-39.
11. Karl Bodmer made numerous depictions of birds in and around their nests, but not of individual bird’s nests. Hector Giacomelli, though, did. His illustrations appeared in Jules Michelet, L’oiseau. Paris 1881. See cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 201.
12. The old church tower at Nuenen (‘The peasants’ churchyard’) (F 84 / JH 772 [2512]) and The cottage (F 83 / JH 777 [2513]).
[2512] [2513]
13. Traces of this earlier version can be seen on an X-ray photograph of The old church tower at Nuenen (‘The peasants’ churchyard’) (F 84 / JH 772 [2512]). See cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 157.
c. Variant of ‘korte metten maken’.
14. This shepherd can be seen on an X-ray photograph under The cottage (F 83 / JH 777 [2513]). Ill. 2149 [2149]. See cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 148.
[2513] [2149]
15. A reference to the quarrel that had blown up when Theo described Vincent’s work as Michel imitations: see letter 432.
16. Van Gogh means ‘ter plekke zijn’ (being on the spot), that is to say near the cottage he just mentioned (ll. 88-89).