I know it is late, but I really must write you a few lines. You are not here and I miss you, though I feel as if we were not so very far from each other.
I have just decided to pay no further heed to my indisposition, or rather to all that is left of it. Enough time has been lost and I must not neglect my work. Therefore, whether I am well or not, I shall again draw regularly from morn till night. I do not want anybody to be able again to say of my work: “Ah, those are all old drawings!”
…In my opinion my hands have grown too delicate; but what can I do? I shall go out again, even if it cost me a good deal; for my chief concern is that I should not neglect my work any longer. Art is jealous; she will not allow illness to take precedence of her. And I give in to her.
…Men like myself really have no right to be ill. But you must understand what my attitude is to Art. In order to attain to real Art one must work both hard and long. The thing I have set my mind upon as the goal of all my efforts is devilish difficult, and yet I do not think that I am aiming too high. I will make drawings that will amaze some people.
In short I will bring it to such a pitch, that they will say of my work: “The man feels deeply and he is subtle withal”; in spite of my so-called coarseness, do you understand? maybe precisely on that account. At present it sounds presumptuous to speak in this way; but it is for this very reason that I wish to put vigour into my work.
For what am I in the eyes of most people? A nonentity, or an oddity, or a disagreeable man, some one who neither has nor ever will have any place in society—in short something less than the least.
Well, granting that this is so, I should like to show by my work what the heart of such a nonentity, of such an insignificant man, conceals.
This is my ambition which for all that is the outcome more of love than of resentment, more of a feeling of peaceful serenity than of passion. And even though I often have to contend with all kinds of difficulties, yet I feel within me a calm, pure harmony and music.
Art requires resolute and unremitting industry, as well as incessant observation. By resolute industry I mean, in the first place, constant industry, as also the power of maintaining one’s own point of view against the assertions of others.
Latterly I have had precious little intercourse with other painters and have not felt any the worse for it. One should not pay so much heed to the teaching of painters as to the teaching of Nature. I can understand better now than I did six months ago that Mauve should have been able to say: “Do not speak to me about Dupré; speak to me rather about the edge of your ditch, or things of that sort.” It certainly sounds strange, but it is absolutely right. A feeling for things in themselves, for reality, is much more important than a sense of the pictorial. It is more fruitful and animating.
In regard to the difference between ancient and modern Art, I should like to say that I think modern painters are perhaps greater thinkers.
Rembrandt and Ruysdael seem to us great and sublime, just as they did to their contemporaries; but there is something more personal and more intimate in the modern painter, which makes a stronger appeal to us.
I made another study of the little child’s cradle to-day, and have put in colour here and there. I trust I may yet be able to draw the little cradle a hundred times over resolutely.
From a letter Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother. Translated by Anthony Ludovici and collected in The Letters of a Post-Impressionist, Being the Familiar Correspondence of Vincent Van Gogh.