During the years 1882 and 1883, Vincent van Gogh lived in the Hague with a woman named Clasina Maria Hoomik. Van Gogh called her “Sien”. Sien had been working as a prostitute, and was ill and pregnant with her second child when she and Vincent met. She became his model, and appears in over fifty of his drawings and a lithograph from that period. Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo – on whom he was financially dependent – about how much he loved Sien, and about how he wished to marry her, despite how it would lower his own class standing. Theo was against the marriage, and commanded that Vincent leave Sien, which he eventually did, though he swore in his letters that he never would. Some time after, Sien drowned herself. Vincent, of course, eventually took his own life as well.
letter 193 14 May 1882
“I ask you, Am I free to marry – yes or no? Am I free to put on a workman’s clothes and live like a workman – yes or no? Whom am I responsible to, who will try to force me?
To hell with anyone who wants to hinder me.”
“What I mean is, one feels best what love is when sitting by a sickbed, sometimes without any money in one’s pocket. It is no gathering of strawberries in spring – that lasts only a few days, and most of the months are grey and gloomy. But in that gloom one learns something new”
letter 194 4-12 May 1882
“…neither she nor I is living in a rose garden or dreaming in the moonlight; we have a hard time ahead of us, so much the better”
letter 201 2,3 June 1882
“I ask nothing, not even an old cup and saucer. I ask but one single thing: to let me love and care for my poor, weak, ill-used little wife as well as my poverty permits, without their trying to separate, worry, or hurt us.”
letter 193a, late December 1883
“But if something is broken, I feel it. And I say, What is broken, is broken. If I do, at least I regain my serenity; I should lose my serenity if I were not frank enough. I am not afraid to face the future as long as I need not be involved in things which I feel to be dishonest.”
“And as I see it the situation is this: under the circumstances, if I get no support, e.g. from you, I can do practically nothing for the woman; for I think myself that it is not in my power to assist her, at least not at once. So you have me at your mercy, you particularly, along with many others, none of whom can care to agree with me. And yet you will not be able to force me to renounce her, whatever your financial power. And seeing that I shall make no concessions in the matter of the woman – and I will clearly declare it, loud enough for even ears that are most hard of hearing – I announce in advance that I have resolved to share with her all that is my property and I do not wish to accept any money from you, except what I may regard as my property without arriere pensee.”
“In short, rest assured that I believe I am entitled to do anything which does not hurt anyone else and it is my duty to live up to the liberty which not only I myself but every human being has an unlimited and natural right to – this liberty, I say, being the only station in life one should live up to. Before I act, I most decidedly ask myself, Shall I hurt anyone by doing this or that? but unless it is irrefutably proved to me that I shall hurt someone by doing a particular thing, I need not refrain from doing it.”