Art dealer Pierre Firmin-Martin, a friend of Van Gogh's brother Theo, displayed some of Van Gogh's paintings. Mother by a Cradle, Portrait of Leonie Rose Davy-Charbuy was made of Martin's niece who lived with her uncle. Reflective of the family's interest in art, paintings hang in the background. In the year the painting was made Theo commented that Van Gogh done a good job painting portraits but had never asked for payment.
To Theo van Gogh. Nieuw-Amsterdam, on or about Wednesday, 3 October 1883.
My dear Theo,
This time I’m writing to you from the very back of beyond in Drenthe, where I arrived after an endless trip through the heath on the barge.
I see no way of describing the countryside to you as it should be done, because words fail me. But imagine the banks of the canal as miles and miles of Michels or T. Rousseaus, say, Van Goyens or P. de Koninck.
Flat planes or strips differing in colour, which grow narrower and narrower as they approach the horizon. Accentuated here and there by a sod hut or small farm or a few scrawny birches, poplars, oaks. Stacks of peat everywhere, and always barges sailing past with peat or bulrushes from the marshes. Here and there thin cows of a delicate colour, often sheep — pigs. The figures that now and then appear on the plain usually have great character, sometimes they’re really charming. I drew, among others, a woman in the barge with crepe around her cap brooches because she was in mourning, and later a mother with a small child — this one had a purple scarf around her head.
There are a lot of Ostade types among them, physiognomies that remind one of pigs or crows, but every so often there’s a little figure that’s like a lily among the thorns. In short, I’m very pleased about this trip, for I’m full of what I’ve seen. The heath was extraordinarily beautiful this evening. There’s a Daubigny in one of the Albums Boetzel that expresses that effect precisely. The sky was an inexpressibly delicate lilac white — not fleecy clouds, because they were more joined together and covered the whole sky, but tufts in tints more or less of lilac — grey — white — a single small rent through which the blue gleamed. Then on the horizon a sparkling red streak — beneath it the surprisingly dark expanse of brown heath, and a multitude of low roofs of small huts standing out against the glowing red streak.
In the evening this heath often has effects that the English would describe as weird and quaint. The spiky silhouettes of Don Quixote-like mills or strange hulks of drawbridges are profiled against the teeming evening sky. In the evening a village like that is sometimes really snug, with the light from the little windows reflected in the water or in mud and puddles.
Before I left Hoogeveen I painted a few more studies there, among them a large farmhouse with a mossy roof. For I’d had paint sent from Furnée’s, because I thought the same
about it as you say in your letter, that by making sure I become absorbed in the work and lose myself in it so to speak, my mood would change, and indeed it’s already a good deal
But at times — like those moments when you think about going to America - I think about going to the East as a volunteer. But they’re those wretched, sombre moments when things overwhelm one, and I would wish that you might see the silent heath that I see through the window here, because such a thing soothes one and inspires more faith, resignation, calm work.
I drew several studies in the barge, but I’m staying here to paint. I’m close to Zweeloo here, where Liebermann, among others, has been, and besides there’s an area here where there are large, very old sod huts where there isn’t even a partition between the barn and the living room. My plan for these first days is to visit that region.
But what tranquillity, what breadth, what calm there is in nature here, one doesn’t feel it until one has miles and miles of Michels between oneself and the everyday.
I can’t give you a definite address at the moment because I don’t know exactly where I’ll be for the next few days, but I’ll be in HOOGEVEEN on 12 October, and if you send your letter at the usual time to the same address I’ll find it there in Hoogeveen on the twelfth. The place where I am now is Nieuw-Amsterdam.
I received a postal order for 10 guilders from Pa, which with what I got from you means that I can now do some painting. I’m thinking of returning to this inn where I am now for a long stay if I can reach the area with the large old sod huts easily from here, since I would have better light and space here. For as to that painting by that Englishman with the thin cat and the little coffin, although the idea first came to him in that dark room, he would have found it very difficult to paint in that same place, at least one usually works too light if one sits in a room that’s too dark, so that when one brings it into the light one sees that all the shadows are too weak. I experienced this only recently, when I painted an open door and the view through into the little garden from inside the barn.
Well, I just wanted to tell you that I’ll also be able to overcome this drawback, because I could get a room here with good light and where a stove can stand in the winter. Now, old chap, if you think no more about America, and I no more about Harderwijk, then I hope things will work themselves out. I admit that your explanation of C.M.’s silence might be the case, but sometimes nonchalance can also be deliberate.
You’ll find a few croquis on the back. I write in haste, or rather it’s already late.
How I wish that we could walk together here and — paint together. I believe that the countryside would win you over and convince you. Adieu, I hope that you’re well and will have a bit of good fortune. I thought about you again and again on this trip. With a handshake.