Vincent van Gogh - Head of a Peasant 1885

Head of a Peasant 1885
Head of a Peasant
Oil on canvas 47.0 x 30.0 cm. Nuenen: February-March, 1885
Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Friday, 3 August 1877.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your last letter, which I was happy to receive and for which I heartily thank you. What you write about Mr Tersteeg’s loss, that his youngest child has died, moved me, and I felt the need to start corresponding with him again.
Yesterday a letter from Anna, who arrives today at 12:45 with Van Houten, am very much looking forward to meeting them, he seems to have made a good impression on you, as he did on everyone at home, we must simply consider it an asset.
So you were at Mauve’s and had a good time there, did you draw anything while you were there? I was also in Weissenbruch’s studio once, a couple of days before my first trip to London, and the recollection of what I saw there in the way of studies and paintings is still very clear, as is that of the man himself. When next you write, tell me something about the exhibition that will have opened yesterday, how much the artists would be able to find here at the dockyard that’s fit to be painted. The Rev. Meijjes was here a few days ago with 2 of his sons,4 and Uncle gave us permission to go and see the yard and the workshops, the forges and so on were of course in use, everything was standing still that Sunday we were there together. Was also with Uncle Pompe and Jan on the guard-ship the Wassenaar, which is also very interesting. This week the house here was full of people, Uncle and Aunt Pompe and Jan, Uncle Cor and Vincent, Fanny and Bet ’s Graeuwen and Bertha van Gogh from Haarlem, the last is a very sweet girl.
Went last Sunday to the early sermon given by the Rev. Hasebroek, and again in the morning to that Oudezijdskapel I already told you about. The Rev. Van Marken preached very beautifully on Matth. IX:9 &c. Jesus saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow Me, and in the next part of that chapter: Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
So day by day I do my best to settle in, especially in Latin and Greek, and have already written quite a few themes, composed of phrases that remind me of the old school-days, such as ‘Which eminent philosopher was sentenced to death by the Athenians? The very good and wise Socrates. Our life is very similar to a journey, and open to very many and very great catastrophes and accidents. The nature of Odysseus, and the grapes of the vineyard’. I was up early this morning, it had rained a lot during the night, but the sun broke through the clouds very early, the ground and the piles of timber and beams in the yard were drenched, and the sky reflected in the puddles was completely golden due to the rising sun, and at 5 o’clock one saw all those hundreds of workers looking like little black figures fanning out on all sides. I go to Uncle Stricker’s study quite a lot. He’s very clever and has lots of beautiful books, and he has a great love for his work and his position. Got a very cheerful letter last Monday from Pa in Helvoirt.
I heard from home that you got a bill from Dr Coster for 40 guilders, that’s rather a burden, and paying it will remind you of the feeling one has when a tooth is pulled, if only I could help you, but you know that I have neither gold nor silver. I often have to use my cunning to get money for the collection at church, for example by exchanging stamps for cents at a tobacconist’s, but old boy, struggling we stay on top, and you know that it is said of the poor in the kingdom of heaven that they are blessed.
Every time I see Uncle Vincent I’m moved by something indescribably kind and, I might say, something good and spirited in him, I don’t know what it is, Pa has much more of it still, and Uncle Jan has it in another form, and it’s in Uncle Cor as well, among a hundred people one wouldn’t always find even one who calls them to mind, do let us preserve their image and their memory. Could it be that which Fénelon describes as follows in his Télémaque?
The man to whom he had by chance presented himself was a stranger, who had an air of majesty, and yet something that was sad and downcast; at times he appeared dreamy, at others he had something that was either very determined or excited and agitated. At first he hardly listened to Telemachus’s question, but at last he replied: You are not mistaken, Ulysses was received at the home of King Alcinous, as in a place where God is feared and hospitality is practised, but he is no longer there, and you would search for him in vain; he has departed for Ithaca, if indeed the angry Gods eventually permit him to see his household deities again. Telemachus looked at him intently; the longer he looked, the more moved and astonished he was. This stranger, he said to Mentor, answered me like a man who scarcely listens to what is said to him, and who is full of bitterness. I pity the unfortunate since I have become one of them, and I feel that my heart is drawn toward this man, without knowing why. He did not receive me well; he hardly deigned to listen to me, or to reply. And so Mentor said to him, I am not at all astonished, my dear Telemachus, to see you thus moved; the cause of your pain, who is a stranger to you, is not so to Mentor, it is nature that speaks and makes itself felt, it is nature that softens your heart. The stranger who caused you such strong emotion is the great Ulysses. He is sailing straight to Ithaca, he is already very close to port, and at last he sees again those places so long yearned for. Your eyes saw him, but without knowing him; soon you will see him and you will know him — and he will know you, but now the Gods could not allow you to acknowledge each other, away from Ithaca. His heart was no less moved than yours; he is too wise to reveal himself to any mortal, in a place where he could be exposed to treachery. Ulysses, your father, is the wisest of all men; his heart is like a deep well, its secret could not be drawn from it. He loves truth, and never says aught that might wound it, but he speaks it only out of necessity, and wisdom, like a seal, ever keeps his lips closed to needless words. How moved he was when speaking to you! What violence did he do himself, so as in no wise to disclose himself! What did he not suffer, seeing you? That is what made him sad and downcast.
And now, old chap, a hearty handshake in thought, let us but keep our faith in God and continue to worship what we know, give my regards to those at Mauve’s and anyone else you might see, especially your housemates, I wish you the very best, I sincerely hope you find a way of paying that bill, adieu and believe me
Your most loving brother,