At the cool Van Gogh exhibit in Philadelphia, there was a quote from a letter he wrote to his sister that I loved and promptly forgot. All I could remember after leaving the exhibit was the word “battle.” Occasional Google searches since hadn’t turned up much, but I enjoyed the other Van Gogh “battle” quotes I ran across. In a letter to his brother, Theo:
When we are working at a difficult task and strive after a good thing, we are fighting a righteous battle, the direct reward of which is that we are kept from much evil. As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.
And in another letter (both quotes via Wikiquote):
I feel a certain calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? It will be a hard pull for me; the tide rises high, almost to the lips and perhaps higher still, how can I know? But I shall fight my battle, and sell my life dearly, and try to win and get the best of it.
But then I found VanGoghLetters.org. The site is a research stunner, 15 years of work by Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum and Huygens ING, a humanities-focused tech lab. More than 900 Van Gogh letters have received digitization, annotation and authorized English translations.
It’s wild. It’s even a usability winner. The biggest element in the site navigation goes not to the site’s homepage but to the letter archive.
A minute with the site search engine, which gave rollover previews of your keyword’s place in the letter, and the “battle” quote turned up.
Writing to his sister Willemina in July 1889, a year before his death:
So if you want to do as artists do, gaze upon the white and red poppies with the bluish leaves, with those buds raising themselves up on stems with gracious curves. The hours of trouble and battle will assuredly come and find us without our going to look for them.