Vincent van Gogh - Head of a Peasant Woman with Dark Cap 1885

Head of a Peasant Woman with Dark Cap 1885
Head of a Peasant Woman with Dark Cap
Oil on canvas 32.0 x 24.5 cm. Nuenen: February, 1885
Haifa: Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Wednesday, 30 May 1877.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter of today, I have to do a few things and so am writing in haste. Gave your letter to Uncle Jan, accept his warm regards and he thanks you for writing.
There were some words in your letter that touched me, ‘I should really like to get away from everything, I’m the cause of everything and only make others sad, I alone have caused all this misery to myself and others’. Those were words that touched me – because that same feeling, exactly the same, nothing more and nothing less, is also on my conscience.
When I think of the past – when I think of the future, of nearly insurmountable difficulties, of much and difficult work which I have no passion for, which I – the evil part of me, that is – would prefer to avoid, when I think of the eyes of so many that are fixed upon me – who, if I do not succeed, will know the reason why – who will not utter any ordinary reproaches but who, because they have been tried and are well versed in what is good and proper and fine gold, as it were, will say it by the expression on their faces: we helped you and have been a light unto you – we did for you what we could. Did you sincerely desire it? What are our wages and the fruits of our labours? You see, when I think of all that and of so much else, all manner of things – too many to mention, of all the troubles and worries which do not become less as one progresses through life, of suffering, of disappointment, of the danger of failing to a scandalous extent, then that desire is no stranger to me either – I would really like to get away from everything!
And yet – I go on – but with caution and in the hope that I’ll succeed in warding off all these things, so that I can somehow answer all the reproaches that threaten, trusting that in spite of everything that seems to be against me I shall attain that thing that I desire, and, God willing, shall find grace in the eyes of some whom I love, and in the eyes of those who shall come after me.
It is written, lift up the feeble hands, and the knees which hang down, and when the disciples had toiled all night and had taken nothing, it was said unto them, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets again.
My head is sometimes numb and is often burning hot, and my thoughts are confused – how shall I ever get all that difficult and detailed study into it? – I don’t know – after those turbulent years, becoming accustomed to plain, well-ordered work and persevering in it isn’t always easy. And yet I go on, if we’re tired, isn’t it because we’ve already gone a long way, and if it’s true that man’s life on earth is a struggle, isn’t feeling tired and having a burning head a sign that we have struggled? When one labours at difficult work and strives for good results, one fights the good fight, the reward of which, surely, is already this: that one is preserved from much that is evil. And God beholds the labour and the sorrow, and can help in spite of everything.
Faith in God is for me a certainty – not some notion, not an idle belief, it is so, it is true – there is a God that lives – and He is with our parents, and his eye is also upon us, and I am certain that He intends us for something, and that we do not belong entirely to ourselves, as it were – and that God is none other than Christ of Whom we read in our Bible, whose word and story are also deep in your heart. If only I had worked at it sooner with all my might, yes, it would be better for me now – but even now He will be a mighty help, and it is in His power to make our life bearable, to keep us from evil, to let all things work together for good, to make the end of us peace. There is evil in the world and in ourselves, terrible things, and one doesn’t have to have gone far in life to dread much and to feel the need for unfaltering hope in a life after this one, and to know that without faith in a God one cannot live – cannot endure. But with that faith one can long endure. And now, there are words in our Bible that are emphatically repeated in various places, on various occasions, under various circumstances, Fear not, our Father took that to heart and he says ‘I never despair’, let us repeat it after him. Isn’t it your experience, too, that whenever you wanted to do something bad, you were held back – that whenever there was something upsetting you and you saw no way out, you came through it all unharmed? A book by Bunyan tells of a traveller who sees a lion lying at the side of the road he must traverse – and yet he continues on his way – there is nothing else he may or can do – and when he arrives at the place he notices that the lion is chained up and is only there to test the travellers’ courage. Thus it is in life more than once. There is much in store for us, but others have lived, and so whosoever loves his parents must follow them on life’s path. If you value the love and esteem of young people, declare your beliefs openly whenever suitable, and admit that you love Christ and the Bible, doesn’t a son love his Father better for this reason than for any other? Women and children and the simple often feel and know these things so deeply, and there is hidden in so many a heart a great and vigorous faith. We, too, are in need of this when we think of much that is in store for us, He spoke from all His experience of life, and we know how much must have been going on in the heart whose plenitude made His mouth utter the words ‘in the Heavenly Kingdom they do not marry, and are not given in marriage’, and who said, he who hate not, even his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. Yes, those words of the Lord, surely they are the words issuing from the mouth of God whereby man shall live – and not by bread alone and the more one seeks in those words, the more one shall find therein. When I was standing next to Aertsen’s body, the calm and seriousness and solemn stillness of death contrasted so greatly with us who were living, that everyone felt what his daughter said in her simplicity: he is delivered from the burden of life which we must still bear. And yet we are so attached to that old life because there is cheerfulness to counter despondency, and our heart and our soul are gladdened, just as the lark who cannot help singing in the morning, even if our soul is sometimes cast down within us and is disquieted in us. And the memory of everything we have loved remains and returns in the evening of our life. It is not dead, but sleepeth and it is good to collect a great store of it. Accept a handshake in thought, and I wish you the very best, and write again soon to
Your most loving brother