Vincent van Gogh - Head of a Woman with her Hair Loose 1885

Head of a Woman with her Hair Loose 1885
Head of a Woman with her Hair Loose
Oil on canvas 35.0 x 24.0 cm. Antwerp: December, 1885
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

« previous picture | Nuenen - van Gogh's paintings | next picture »

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Thursday, 8 June 1882.
Municipal hospital (4th class, Ward 6, no. 9)
My dear Theo,
Should you come here towards the end of June, I hope you’ll find me back at work, but at present I’m in hospital, although I’ll only be here for about a fortnight. For some 3 weeks I’d been suffering a good deal from sleeplessness and chronic fever, and felt pain on passing water. And now it turns out that I’ve got a very mild case of what’s known as ‘a dose of the clap’. So I have to stay quietly in bed, swallow a lot of quinine tablets and from time to time have instillations of pure water or alum water, thus as harmless as could be. There’s no reason for you to be in the least concerned about this, but as you know one has to take this sort of thing seriously and act immediately, because neglect can make it incurable or exacerbate matters. Take the case of Breitner, who’s still here, though in another ward, and will probably leave soon — he doesn’t know I’m here.
I’d be grateful if you didn’t mention this, because people sometimes think it’s terribly serious or make it sound serious by telling exaggerated tales. Of course I’m telling you exactly what it is, and you needn’t keep silent if someone asks you directly, and in any event you needn’t worry. Naturally I had to pay for a fortnight in advance, 10.50 guilders for nursing costs. There’s no difference in food or treatment between those whose nursing is paid for by poor relief and those who pay the 10.50 guilders themselves. There are 10 beds in a ward, and I must say that the treatment is very good in every respect. I’m not bored, and the rest and proper, practical medical treatment are doing me good.
If it’s convenient, be so good as to send around 20 June to the above address, but not by registered letter, 50 francs without registering the letter. As you know, I received 100 francs on 1 June, so I’m taken care of in any event. If I have to stay longer, I’ll pay the extra and stay on, and otherwise I’ll have enough to carry on with.
I’d prefer to get back to work in a fortnight, of course, and I’ll be dying to go back to the dunes in a fortnight.
Sien comes to see me on visiting days and is keeping an eye on the studio. Now I must tell you that the day before I came here I received a letter from C.M. in which he writes a good deal about the ‘interest’ that he takes in me and which, he says, Mr Tersteeg has shown, but, he continues, he didn’t approve of how ungrateful I was for H.G.T.’s interest. So be it. I’m lying here completely calmly and quietly now, but I assure you, Theo, that I would be put in a very bad mood if someone again dished me up with the same sort of interest as H.G.T. on certain occasions. And when I think how His Hon. took that interest to the point of daring to compare me to an opium smoker, I’m still amazed that for my part I didn’t show my interest by telling him to go to hell. Talking of smoking opium, the comfort and luxury, the sort of glory in which H.G.T. moves and the fairly strong doses of flattery that his visitors bring for him — those are things that perhaps befuddle His Hon. now and again more than he realizes.
In short, with all his superficially refined politeness, with his superficially civilized manners, his smart clothes and so on and so on, on consideration and also looking back on it, I find something malicious in His Hon.’s character. I wish it weren’t so, but I can’t say otherwise. I don’t doubt for a moment that His Hon. is a clever man, but another question comes first before I can respect him: is he a good man? Namely someone who doesn’t deliberately and on principle cultivate hatred, rancour, bickering and sarcasm inside himself. That is the question.
I haven’t replied to C.M.’s last letter, nor shall I. I appreciate His Hon.’s telling me that he’ll also take something else later, no doubt out of interest too, but especially if he means it, which time will tell.
Another reason for not regretting lying here quietly for a few days is that, should I need it, I can get an official statement from the doctor here that I’m absolutely not the sort of person who should be sent to Geel or made a ward of court.
And if that isn’t enough, I can also get another, if I make an effort, from the professor in charge of the lying-in clinic in Leiden.
But perhaps those people who might possibly get it into their heads to declare that the family or society would be so much better off if someone like me were to be declared mad or made a ward of court are so extraordinarily brilliant that in such cases they know far better than, for example, the doctor here.
Anyway, a letter from you would of course give me great pleasure at the moment.
Sien is getting ready to leave. I think of her a great deal — I expect her again later. May she come through it safely.
I resisted as long as I could and carried on working, but in the end I realized I needed to see a doctor urgently. But he told me just this morning that I would soon be rid of it. Did you get the two little drawings?
Adieu with a handshake, and wishing you as much good fortune as anyone could deal with.
Ever yours,
I must tell you again that the precedent of Geel, at which time they were minded to make me a ward of court on physical grounds, makes it difficult for the family suddenly to change their story now and look for financial rather than physical reasons. Such arguments won’t hold water. Again, I hope they won’t go that far.
But write soon, for I’m longing for a letter.
You do understand, Theo, that I don’t discuss family matters with the doctor here or the professor in Leiden — but because I’m being treated by the former and Sien by the latter, it will only take a word from me in the last resort to secure the testimony of these two gentlemen to set against any possible statements by a few people of which you spoke.