Vincent van Gogh - Cottage with Peasant Coming Home 1885

Cottage with Peasant Coming Home 1885
Cottage with Peasant Coming Home
Oil on canvas 63.5 x 76.0 cm. Nuenen: July, 1885
Mexico City: Soumaya Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Etten, Friday, 18 November 1881.
Dear Brother,
When I sent my letter to you this morning, meaning when I put it in the post-box, I had a feeling of relief. For a moment I’d hesitated, should I tell him or not? But thinking it over later it seemed to me that it really wasn’t unwarranted. I’m writing to you here in the little room that’s now my studio because the other is so damp. When I look round it’s full of all kinds of studies that all relate to one and the same thing, ‘Brabant types’.
So that is work started, and if I were wrenched from this environment I’d have to start all over again doing something else and this would come to a standstill, half-finished! That mustn’t happen! I’ve now been working here since May, I’m getting to know and understand my models, my work is progressing, though it’s taken a lot of hard work to get into my stride. And now that I’ve got into my stride, should Pa say, because you’re writing letters to Kee Vos, thereby causing difficulties between us (because this is the fundamental cause, and no matter what they might say: that I don’t obey the ‘rules of decorum’ or whatever, it’s all just idle talk), so because difficulties have arisen I curse you and drive you out of the house.
That’s really too bad, after all, and it would indeed be ridiculous to stop working for such a reason on a project that’s already started and progressing well.
No, no, one can’t just let that happen. Anyway, the difficulties between Pa and Ma and myself aren’t so terrible, aren’t at all of the kind that would keep us from staying together. But Pa and Ma are getting old, and sometimes they get a little angry, and they have their prejudices and old-fashioned ideas that neither you nor I can share any more.
If, for example, Pa sees me with a French book by Michelet or V. Hugo in my hand, he thinks of arsonists and murderers and ‘immorality’. But that’s just too silly, and of course I don’t let idle talk of that kind upset me. I’ve already said so often to Pa: just read a book like this, even if only a couple of pages, and you’ll be moved by it. But Pa stubbornly refuses to do so. Just now, when this love was taking root in my heart, I read Michelet’s books L’amour and La femme again, and so many things became clear to me that would otherwise remain a mystery. I also told Pa frankly that in the circumstances I valued Michelet’s advice more than his, and had to choose which of the two I should follow. But then they come with a story about a great-uncle who had become obsessed with French ideas and had taken to drink, thus insinuating that such will be my career in life. What misery!
Pa and Ma are extremely good to me inasmuch as they do what they can to feed me well &c. I appreciate that very much, but that doesn’t alter the fact that eating and drinking and sleeping isn’t enough, that one yearns for something nobler and higher, indeed, one simply can’t do without it.
That higher thing I can’t do without is my love for Kee Vos. Pa and Ma reason, She says no, nay, never, so you must remain silent.
I can’t accept that at all, on the contrary. And if I write to her or something like that then there are ugly words like ‘coercion’ and ‘it won’t help anyway’ and ‘you’ll spoil things for yourself’. And then they’re surprised if someone doesn’t just resign himself to finding his love ‘indelicate’! No, truly not! In my opinion, Theo, I must stay here and quietly go on working and do everything in my power to win Kee Vos’s love and to melt the no, nay, never. I can’t share Pa and Ma’s view that I shouldn’t write or speak either to her or to Uncle Stricker; indeed, I feel the exact opposite. And I’d rather give up the work started and all the comforts of this house than resign myself one iota to leaving off writing to her or her parents or you. If Pa curses me for it, then I can’t prevent His Hon. from doing so. If he wants to throw me out of the house, so be it, but I’ll continue to do what my heart and mind tell me to do with respect to my love.
Be assured, Pa and Ma are actually against it, because otherwise I can’t explain why they went so far this morning, so it now seems to me that it was a mistake for me ever to think that they didn’t care one way or the other. Anyhow, I’m writing to you about it because, where my work is involved, that is definitely your concern, since you’re the one who has already spent so much money on helping me to succeed. Now I’ve got into my stride, now it’s progressing, now I’m starting to see something in it, and now I tell you, Theo, this is hanging over me. I’d like nothing better than simply to go on working, but Pa seems to want to curse me and put me out of the house, at least he said so this morning. The reason is that I write letters to Kee Vos. As long as I do that, at any rate, Pa and Ma will always find something to reproach me with, whether that I don’t obey the rules of decorum or that I have an indelicate way of expressing myself or that I’m breaking ties or something of the kind.
A forceful word from you could perhaps straighten things out. You will understand what I tell you, that to work and be an artist one needs love. At least someone who strives for feeling in his work must first feel and live with his heart. But Pa and Ma are harder than stone on the point of ‘a means of subsistence’, as they call it.
If it were a question of marrying at once, I’d most certainly agree with them, but now it’s a question of melting the no, nay, never, and a means of subsistence can’t do that.
That’s an entirely different matter, an affair of the heart, for to make the no, nay, never melt, she and I must see each other, write to each other, speak to each other. That’s as clear as day and simple and reasonable. And truly (though they take me to be a weak character, ‘a man of butter’), I won’t let anything in the world deter me from this love. May God help me in this.
No putting it off from today to tomorrow, from tomorrow to the next day, no silent waiting. The lark can’t be silent as long as it can sing. It’s absurd, utterly absurd, to make someone’s life difficult for this reason. If Pa wants to curse me for it, that’s his business – my business is to try and see Kee Vos, to speak to her, to write to her, to love her with everything in me. You’ll understand that a father shouldn’t curse his son because that son doesn’t obey the rules of decorum or expresses himself indelicately or other things, assuming this were all true, though I think it’s actually very different.
But unfortunately it’s something that happens all too often in many families, that a father curses his son because of a love the parents disapprove of. that’s the rub, the other — rules of decorum &c., expressions, the tone of my words — those are just pretexts. What should we do now?
Wouldn’t it be foolish, Theo, not to go on drawing those Brabant folk types, now that I’m making progress, just because Pa and Ma are vexed by my love?
No, that mustn’t happen. Let them accept it, for God’s sake, that’s what I think. It really would be mad to expect a young man to sacrifice his energy to the prejudice of an old man. And truly, Pa and Ma are prejudiced in this.
Theo, I still haven’t heard one word of love towards her, and to tell you the truth that is what bothers me more than anything else.
I don’t think that Pa and Ma love her deep down, at any rate in the mood they’re in now they can’t think of her with love. But I hope this will change in later and better days. No, no, no, there’s something wrong with them, and it can’t be good that they curse me and want me out of the house at this very time. There are no grounds for it and it would thwart me in my work. So it can’t be allowed to happen for no good reason.
What would she think if she knew what happened this morning? How would she like it, even though she says no, nay, never, if she heard that they called my love for her indelicate and spoke of ‘breaking ties’ &c. No, Theo, if she’d heard Pa cursing me, she wouldn’t have approved of his curse. Ma once called her ‘such a poor wee thing’ in the sense of so weak, so nervous or whatever.
But be assured that lurking in ‘that poor wee thing’ is strength of mind and pride, energy and resoluteness that could change the minds of many towards her, and I maintain that sooner or later one might see things from ‘that poor wee thing’ that very few now expect! She’s so good and friendly that it pains her deeply to say one single unfriendly word, but if such as her, so gentle, so tender, so loving, rebel — piqued to the quick — then woe betide those they rebel against.
May she not rebel against me, then, dear brother. I think that she is beginning to see that I’m not an intruder or bully, but rather quieter and calmer on the inside than I seem on the surface. She didn’t realize that immediately. At first, for a time, she really had an unfavourable opinion of me, but lo and behold, I don’t know why, while the sky clouds over and darkens with difficulties and curses, light rises up on her side. Pa and Ma have always passed for such gentle, quiet people, so kindly and good. But how can I reconcile that with this morning’s scene or that matter of Geel last year?
They really are good and kindly, but even so, they have prejudices they want to impose. And if they want to act as the ‘wall of partition’4 between me and her, I doubt whether it will do them any good.
Now, old chap, if you send me some ‘travelling money’ you’ll soon receive 3 drawings, ‘Mealtime’, ‘the fire-lighter’ and ‘an almsman’. So send the travelling money, if you can, for the journey won’t be completely in vain! If I have but 20 or 30 francs, at least I can see her face once again. And write a word or two, if you will, about that certain (terrible?) curse and that banishment, because I’d like so much to go on working quietly here, that’s what I’d like best. I need her and her influence to reach a higher artistic level, without her I am nothing, but with her there’s a chance. Living, working and loving are actually one and the same thing. Now, adieu with a handshake,
Ever yours,
A word from you ‘from Paris’! That would possibly carry some weight, even against prejudices.
That matter of the asylum happened last year ‘out of a conscientious conviction’, as they call it, now it’s another ‘conscientious conviction’ that’s forbidding me to write to Kee Vos. But that’s simply a ‘conscientious conviction’ based on very slight grounds, one that doesn’t hold water. No, it can’t be allowed to happen for no good reason!
And if one asks Pa, ‘Explain to me the basis of your conviction’, he answers, ‘I don’t owe you an explanation’, ‘it’s not fitting to ask your father such a question’. That, however, is no mode of reasoning!
Another mode of reasoning that I don’t understand either is Ma’s: You know that we’ve been against it from the beginning, so stop going on about it! No, listen to me, brother, it would really be too bad if I had to leave my field of work here and waste a lot of money elsewhere, where it’s much more expensive, instead of gradually earning some ‘travelling money’!
That matter of Geel last year, when Pa wanted to have me put in an asylum against my will!!! taught me to be on the qui vive. If I didn’t watch out now, Pa would ‘feel compelled to do’ a thing or two.