Vincent van Gogh - Head of a Young Peasant in a Peaked Cap 1885

Head of a Young Peasant in a Peaked Cap 1885
Head of a Young Peasant in a Peaked Cap
Oil on canvas 39.0 x 30.5 cm. Nuenen: March, 1885
Brussels: Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 18 and Tuesday, 19 February 1878.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter of 17 February, which gave me not a little pleasure, as I had been longing for it so very much. And I’m going ahead and writing again so soon, old chap, because I think of you so often and also long for you, and every morning the prints on the wall of my study remind me of you, Christus Consolator and pendant, that wood engraving after Van Goyen, Dordrecht, the portrait of the Rev. Heldring, The oven by T. Rousseau and so on, because I got them all from you, and so the pot called the kettle black when you wrote that it was so wrong of me to give you a print for your room now and then, if I find something that goes with what you already have. So enough about that, I say in turn, but write and tell me whether you’ve added some good thing or other to your collection, do continue with it, because the way you do it and set about it, it’s most certainly a good work.
Yesterday evening at C.M.’s I saw a whole year of that magazine L’Art, of which you have the issue with the woodcuts after Corot. What especially struck me were woodcuts after drawings by Millet, including The leaf-fall (shepherd guarding his flock), The flock of crows, donkeys in a marsh (misty effect), The woodcutters, Housekeeper sweeping her house, Farmyard (nocturnal effect) &c., also an etching after Corot, The dune, and after Breton, The feast of Saint John and others, by Chauvel, among others, and also one after Millet, The beans.
Was with Uncle Jan the whole afternoon and evening of Sunday, 17 Feb. at Uncle Cor’s, where Aunt Antje is staying these days.
It was Anna’s birthday, and it was also a good day for me. Got up quite early and went in the morning to the French church, where a minister from the vicinity of Lyon was preaching, he’d come to collect money for an evangelical mission. His sermon consisted mainly of stories from the lives of factory workers there, and although he wasn’t especially eloquent as far as ease of expression goes, and though one even noticed how difficult it was for him and a little awkward, as it were, his words were moving nonetheless, because they came from the heart, and that alone has the power to make an impression on other hearts. Afterwards, at 1 o’clock, I had to be at a Sunday school given by an English minister, Adler, in Barndesteeg, he has a small but very respectable old church there. The school, though, was held in a small room where the light had to be lit even at that hour, i.e. in the middle of the day. There were perhaps some children from that poor neighbourhood. Although he’s a foreigner he nevertheless preaches in Dutch (though the English service), and also gives confirmation classes in Dutch, but very charmingly and capably. Had taken along the sketch of that map of the Holy Land that I’d made for Pa’s birthday (with red chalk on heavy brown paper) and I gave it to him, because I thought that little room a nice place for it, and I’m glad it’s hanging on the wall there.
Had met him at Mr Macfarlane’s, the minister of that little English church in the Begijnhof, where I had ventured to pay a visit. Was received with kindness and hope to go there again sometime. I then paid a visit on Sunday afternoon to Vos, who is but poorly and was lying in bed to rest a little, so I couldn’t see him. And then on to Uncle Stricker and after that to Uncle Cor.
This morning I went back to see Vos, for I really wanted to see and speak to him myself. This time I found him up, but he doesn’t look at all well and Kee looked rather tired and pale too. Spent a long time there, they have a lot of worries, he brings up blood now and then and coughs a lot. Jan is staying at Uncle Stricker’s for a few days.
Apart from visiting the English minister, I also ventured to pay a visit to the Rev. Gagnebin. Now that I’m really getting down to work and have thrown myself into the fight, it’s important to try to do it boldly and to set to work with relative forthrightness, even though there are still many obstacles to be overcome. By working and doing, one grows into the work and the doing of it, and perhaps the best way to acquire sufficient enthusiasm is to take the enthusiasm one has in oneself and to employ it and expend it and use it.
The Rev. Gagnebin took it well and said that I should come back one evening, deciding on this evening, so I have to go there directly, and hope still to write and tell you how it was.
Pa also advised me to try and make the acquaintance of a person or two. I did find it pleasant to speak French and English again; it’s a strange feeling if one hasn’t done it for a long time. Old boy, Dickens knew it, didn’t he, when he prayed, Lord keep my memory green yea evergreen. Amen. Twice I got up early in the morning to work on a sketch of the map of the journeys of Paul that I still had, making it more complete, so that now it looks good, with the names in French even better than on the ones I made for Pa and for my study, with the idea of giving it to him, for if possible I wanted to highlight this visit, because he’s a clever man from whom I may get good advice later on, once he notices from one thing and another that I take it seriously. Also showed him the map of Brittany and Normandy and some French texts I have.
Last week Nico Mager, who’s here in town, came to visit, and that pleased me. The contract he has with Mr Braat will expire in October or November, so he is free, but also compelled by necessity, to seek another position. He’s thinking of venturing abroad and had his eye on Geneva, where he’s been before, perhaps that isn’t such a bad plan after all. If now, meaning by October, there was a vacancy at Goupil’s, that would help him out immediately. He was planning to write to Uncle Cent again, around Uncle’s birthday on 28 March. I’ve seen that he can work well. He’s a nice chap, he asked me to send you his regards if I wrote. From him I also heard some news from Dordrecht. Lord keep my memory green. I took a walk with him as well. Also told him that I thought that a young man who knew what he knew – namely what one learns when one has worked diligently for some years in a bookshop or similar position – is almost sure to find, after a time of searching and difficulties in London or some other large English city, a position in which he could earn enough to support himself while also learning to speak good English. That once he had found something like that he could count on its being permanent, and that he would thus be secure, as it were, for a few years.
One can profit a great deal, especially when one does more than the shop assistants there tend to do, and England certainly has an advantage over Paris in that one has a better chance of finding decent lodgings and a kind of home in middle-class surroundings, which is rather difficult in Paris. And I also told him to ‘hold fast to that which you have already’ and to go forth and see with your own eyes, because having been in a bookshop for so long and having worked there faithfully, as he has done, is an asset.
You must write again soon, and as soon as you know when you’ll be making the trip, I’ll no doubt hear it, and I sincerely hope that when you’re here we’ll be able to spend some time together and that you won’t be too busy. Was just at the Rev. Gagnebin’s, but was told he was too busy to receive me (and yet he’d stipulated this hour and this day). I heard music in the house, so apparently something or other was going on. I left what I’d made for him and asked for it to be given to him.
I feel the need to do something like that now and then, for it’s most certainly in doubt whether I’ll pass, i.e. all of the requirements, 5 years at the least is a long time, if one begins younger then one succeeds much more easily. Though I can work more and am better able to keep clear from distractions, and I have no desire for those things which many another craves, even so, I notice that I have difficulty learning. And in case I don’t pass, I want nevertheless to be sure of having left a sign of life here and there.
It’s an amazing amount that one has to know, and even though they try to reassure me, it constantly gives me an indescribably strong feeling of fear, and there’s nothing for it but to get back to work again, for it has been clearly shown that I must do it, no matter what the cost. Onwards, then, because standing still or going downhill are things I’d rather not think about. If one did that, one would make things even more difficult and become confused, and actually end up having to start all over from the beginning.
It’s already rather late and I’m really quite tired, for I’ve also walked a lot today. What would it be like at Vos’s? At night he probably often has a bad time of it, what with coughing and bringing up blood.
A good letter from home, fortunately it appears that the journey agreed with Pa. I’m longing to hear how Anna’s birthday was, in all likelihood she’ll celebrate her next one in her own house.
I wish you the very best and blessings on your work and everything you do, write again soon if you can. Give my regards to everyone at the Rooses’, and accept in thought a hearty handshake. Good-night, and believe me
Your most loving brother

Tuesday morning.
Apropos. Have you sent those maps to Gladwell, i.e. to London? Haven’t heard from him lately, and should like to know how he is and what his plans are.
It’s wonderful weather this morning, must go to Mendes in a little while.