To Willemien van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Monday, 20 January 1890.
My dear sister,
The other day I saw some people sick with influenza and I’m so curious to know if you’ve had it too, as I’m inclined to believe. I saw a female patient who had a rather worrying nervous complication, and a distressing change of life.
Are you enjoying yourself in Paris? I could very well imagine that it would strike you as being an over-large city, too muddled. That’s what always vexes us, we who are rather accustomed to simpler surroundings.
Write to me one of these days if you’d like to, for I very much want to hear you say that you’re better.
I fear a little the effect that Paris will have on me should I return there, as will probably be the case in the spring. For all through the year I’ve forced myself to forget Paris as much as I could from the point of view of the disturbance and excitement a prolonged stay causes.
No matter what people say; we painters work better in the country, everything there speaks more clearly, everything holds firm, everything explains itself, now in a city when one is tired one no longer understands anything and feels as if one is lost.
I hope that the painting of the women in the olive trees will be a little to your taste – I sent the drawing of it to Gauguin just recently and he told me that he thought it good, and he knows my work well, and he isn’t embarrassed to say so when it isn’t right. You would naturally be quite free to take another of them in its place if you wished, but in the long run I almost dare believe that you’d return to this one. It hasn’t been at all cold here lately, and next month I’ll go and work outdoors with all my strength. Ah, speaking of the difference between the city and the fields, what a master Millet is. That fellow, so wise, so moved, does the countryside in such a way that even in town one continues to feel it. And then he has something unique and so good right down to his depths that it consoles one to look at his works, and one wonders if he did them this way expressly to console us. Now, better than in the beginning, I see the real countryside of Provence – and as regards people it’s so very very much the same thing as in our native country, while it manifests itself quite differently, while the farming practices and labours of the fields aren’t the same as in our northern heaths and fields. I think a lot about Holland and about our youth back then – precisely because here I feel right in the middle of the countryside. However I’m getting old, you know, and it seems to me that life passes more quickly and the responsibilities are more serious, the question of working to make up for lost time more critical, the day more difficult to do and the future more mysterious, and my word a little more gloomy too.
One of these days I also hope to write a line to Mother, we all owe a great deal to you, to you who care for her so faithfully and will keep her for us for as long as possible. I imagine that Theo is probably going to be very happy one of these days, only I do have something of an idea that the days of vigil before and during have their great anxieties. Which, moreover, I cannot completely refrain from sharing. And from what he writes to me, Jo is so brave and so lively. Anyway, that is moreover how one should always take things. I like friend Gauguin so much because he has found the means to make both children and paintings at the same time, at the moment he’s horribly in distress and has this worry that one of his children has had a misfortune and he not there and in no condition to come to its aid.
Have you met Emile Bernard now – I’d very much like him to come and see some of my canvases one of these days, I ought to write to him, but just now I’m expecting a letter from him at any moment. He must have a lot of difficulty getting by, he’s a complete Parisian by birth, that one, and he’s an example of vivacity for me, he looks as if he comes straight out of Daudet, but then much more immature, and naturally much more incomplete.
However my dear sister, how much more practical and solid are the ideas of doctors, mechanics, in fact of heaps of people, than those of artists. I myself often sigh deeply that I should have been better than I am. I’ll shut up quickly so as not to discourage myself. Anyway, one can’t retrace one’s steps, and the steps one has taken have a lot of influence on the future. I hope that you’ll see lots of beautiful things, and above all that you’re well now.
Have you read anything these last few days or lately: I haven’t at all.
If you have a spare half hour I recommend myself heartily to have news from you. I kiss you affectionately in thought.
Above all, tell me what you think of Isaäcson, myself I think very highly of him, and heartily recommend him to you.