Vincent van Gogh - Head of a Woman 1885

Head of a Woman 1885
Head of a Woman
Oil on canvas 38.8 x 31.3 cm. Nuenen: March, 1885
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Sunday, 5 August 1877.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter of yesterday, it was a good one, the kind that is of some use, and it was a real comfort to me. Anna left again yesterday for Hengelo, they had a lot to do here, of course, so I wasn’t with them so very much, she also came to my little study in the evening just as it was growing dark and people were leaving the dockyard to go home. It seems to me that that face and those eyes of Van Houten speak of heart and character, and he has entirely the appearance of a man of affairs, has – it appeared to me – something decisive and abrupt which often stems from a firm will and understanding acquired through experience, may she have made a good choice and may time turn that into the love that never faileth but brings our dear sister through life, covering and forbearing everything and making whole hope and faith.
I found a couple of stamps enclosed in your letter, for which I sincerely thank you, you also said you would send a postal order so that I could come to The Hague and see the exhibition of drawings. The postal order indeed arrived today, Sunday morning, I thank you for it and for your kind offer, but I’m sending the money back and am not coming, however much I’d like to see all the beautiful and interesting things you wrote about. Have already refused to go to Baarn, first of all because I’d rather spend my Sunday here going to church several times, and writing and studying some more, secondly because I’d have to ask for travelling money from Uncle Stricker, who has some money of Pa’s to be put at my disposal if necessary, and I hope to go on doing that as little as possible. If I go to The Hague, then I have to go to Baarn as well, and not just once – in any case, it’s better I don’t. Moreover, old boy, I know you really need it yourself. Many thanks all the same. I’m not sorry not always to have money in my pocket. I have a great craving for so many things, and if I had money perhaps I’d quickly spend it on books and other things that I can well do without, and which would pull me away from the studies necessary at the moment, even now it isn’t always easy to fight against distractions, and if I had money things would only get worse. And here in this world one remains poor and needy anyway, I’ve seen that already; one can, however, become rich in one thing and that is the goal of life, one can become rich toward God, and that is a part which shall not be taken away. And there may come a time when we can spend our money more wisely than on the best books and so on, and when one would regret having spent a lot on oneself in one’s youth, namely when we’ll perhaps have our own household and others to care and think for. There was a time when our parents, too, were uncomforted and tossed with tempest.
In the midst of life we are in death, those are words that apply to each of us personally, that is a truth we see reconfirmed in what you told me about Caroline van Stockum, and earlier we also saw it in another member of that family. It affected me, and I sincerely hope with all my heart that she’ll recover. Oh, how much sadness and sorrow and suffering there is in the world, both in the open and in secret. ‘Seek, and ye shall find’ is also one of those truths. How much has changed in that family if one compares it with how it was a few years ago. It was many years ago when we were together. And that was the time of The landlady’s daughter, and Longfellow says ‘there are thoughts that make the strong heart weak’, but it is written above all ‘Let him who has put his hand to the plough not look back’ and ‘Shew thyself a man’.
I looked for it in the illustration after the painting by Ruisdael, Haarlem and Overveen, that painter knew it too.
Should she quickly recover sufficiently for her to be taken back to The Hague and you then see her, give her my regards, and if you can find the words to cheer her up or give her courage and remind her what important reasons she has for being and, as it were, the right to live, especially for her children’s sake, tell her and you will be doing a good deed. Faith in God is renewed in a mother; what she feels for her children is holy and comes from Above and from God, and He says in holy writ to every mother ‘Raise this child for Me and I will give thee thy reward’. A strong word spoken from the heart at the right time can give comfort and do good.
Was up rather early this morning and left around 6 o’clock for the early service, afterwards I walked down all sorts of old streets and would have liked to have you with me. You know the painting (at least the lithograph and woodcut made after it) by Daubigny, The Marie bridge, I thought of that. I like to walk in those old, narrow, rather sombre streets with chemists’ shops, lithographers and other printers, shops with sea-charts and warehouses for ships’ victuals and so on, which one finds near the Oudezijdskapel and the Teertuinen and the end of Warmoesstraat, everything is evocative there. Then went to bid good-day to Vos and Kee, and then to the Eilandskerk where the Rev. Ten Kate – the poet of De schepping and the writer of many beautiful books, such as, for example, ‘Bij brood en beker’ – gave the sermon on Rom. I:15-17: So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. The church was very full, and when one looked at those faces one saw something of the faith, for it was on many a countenance, on those of men and on those of women, written in their features in various ways, something to read. His voice sometimes uttered sounds and expressions like Pa’s, and he spoke very well and from an overfull heart and, although the sermon wasn’t short, church was out almost before one knew it, because his words were so enthralling that one forgot the time.
Made a summary last week, for a change, of the journeys of Paul, and drew a small map to accompany it, that is good to have. Uncle Stricker recently gave me a book on the geography of Palestine (German, by Raumer), of which he had two copies.
This is a nice excerpt from Télémaque. Mentor says, The earth is never ungrateful, she always nourishes with her fruits those who cultivate her with care and with love, she denies her goods only to those who fear giving her their hard labour. The more children the ploughmen have, the richer they are if the Lord does not impoverish them, because their children, from their most tender youth, begin to help them. The youngest take the sheep to the pastures, the others who are older already lead the large flocks, the eldest plough with their father. Meanwhile, the mother of the whole family prepares a simple meal for her husband and her beloved children, who will return weary from the day’s work; she takes care of milking her cows and her ewes, and we see streams of milk flowing; she makes a big fire, around which all the innocent, peaceful family takes pleasure in singing, the whole evening long, while waiting for sweet sleep. She prepares cheeses, sweet chestnuts and fruits preserved with the same freshness as if they had just been picked. The shepherd returns with his flute, and sings to the assembled family the songs he has learned in neighbouring hamlets. The ploughman returns with his plough, and his weary oxen walk, necks bowed, with slow and tardy tread, despite the goad that pricks them. All toil’s evils end with the day. Sleep soothes black care with its spell, and holds all nature in a sweet enchantment; each one falls asleep without foreseeing the morrow’s troubles. It’s especially nice if one imagines it illustrated by the etchings of Jacque.
Your postcard just arrived, fortunately, thanks for the quick reply, I sincerely hope that you had a good Sunday. Fan and Bet ’s Graeuwen and Bertha van Gogh are still here and are flowers in the house, Bertha, in particular, is a nice girl. Give my regards to your housemates, and accept in thought a handshake from
Your most loving brother,
Couldn’t get a money order so have to send it back to you in stamps.