Vincent van Gogh - The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the Snow 1885

The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the Snow 1885
The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the Snow
Oil on canvas on panel 51.0 x 77.0 cm. Nuenen: January, 1885
Pasadena, California: The Norton Simon Museum of Art

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From The Norton Simon Museum of Art:
Van Gogh’s father was a Protestant minister; the artist himself had studied theology and pursued missionary work briefly before settling with his parents in the vicarage of a remote Dutch town in 1883. In this view across the vicarage garden, a lone figure clears a path, though the leafless bushes—or perhaps markers at left give us pause: is this man shoveling snow, or digging a grave? From bare trees to dirty snow, to wintry, scumbled sky, the landscape is willfully, unremittingly bleak, a painted equivalent to Émile Zola’s grim Naturalist novels of the same period.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 28 May 1877.
My dear Theo,
Today Uncle Jan found some clothes that were Hendrik’s which he’s grown out of, and asked if I could use them, and I said if I might share them with you I’d gladly take them. So herewith a pair of duffle trousers which may well be of use to you in the autumn and winter, by which time you’ll likely be in need of them. I have a black pair.
Today was stormy, on my way to my lessons this morning I looked towards the Zuiderzee from the bridge. There was one white stripe on the horizon with dark grey clouds above it, the rain pouring down from them in slanting lines in the distance, standing out against this was the long row of houses with the Oosterkerk.
Uncle Jan went to Leiden yesterday, so I was alone that day. In the morning I went to the Oosterkerk and heard a sermon4 on Isaiah 55:8 and 9, ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts’.
Walked to the seaside in the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day writing. The work and writing don’t yet go as fast and easily as I’d wish, but I hope to learn by practice, but, old boy, if I could I’d like to skip over a few years, though I trust that I shall succeed and that my lips shall speak the fullness of preaching the gospel and that my hand shall write it, and I pray that that be given me, but first one must get some rest when one already has several years of work behind one and feels one is on the way and is doing the same thing as those whom one loves.
This morning I was in Uncle Stricker’s study, it’s beautiful and he has a portrait of Calvin after Ary Scheffer hanging there, although I should have liked very much to see more prints on the wall.
Last week I got as far as Gen. XXIII, the burial of Sarah in the field that Abraham bought to bury her there in the cave of Machpelah, and I couldn’t help making a little drawing of how I imagined that place to be, it’s nothing very special but I’m enclosing it anyway.
A good letter from home yesterday, wrote back today, also to Anna. You must also write again soon, for I’m longing to hear from you.
Right now all the people are leaving the dockyard to go home, that’s nice to see. One hears them already early in the morning, I think there are around 3,000 of them, the sound of their footsteps is something like the sound of the sea. This morning bought from a Jew ‘Tobias’ after Rembrandt, a small engraving, for six cents.
Uncle Jan sends you many regards, write him a word or two, or else write a sentence in a letter to me that I can read to him to thank him for the clothes.
How is Mrs Tersteeg doing? I’m also eager to hear whether you’ve been to see Mauve.
Aunt Mina and Paul’s girl will soon be going to Etten, that will be nice for them at home. Pa wrote that the church had been whitewashed and the organ painted. Yesterday 3 children were baptized. Lips is still no better, and Willem van Eekelen’s wife is also very ill. Did you hear that Uncle Vincent has bronchitis again, and it seems to be serious? It’s fortunate that Uncle is back in the country, and in his own house, and that Pa and Ma visit him almost every day.
Now, old boy, I wish you the very best, give my regards to your housemates, please forgive me for not being able to pay the postage on the parcel, old chap, do write soon and accept in thought a hearty handshake, and believe me
Your most loving brother