Vincent van Gogh - Young Man with a Cap 1888

Young Man with a Cap 1888
Young Man with a Cap
Oil on canvas 47.5 x 39.0 cm. Arles: December, 1888
Private collection

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 22 July 1888.
My dear Theo,
If I was younger I’d certainly feel like suggesting to père Boussod to send us, you and me, to London, without any salary other than 200 francs credit a month, but half of the profit on Impressionist paintings, for which they could deduct this salary of 200. Now — our carcasses are no longer young, and an enterprise to go to London to unearth money for the Impressionists would be a sort of thing in the style of Boulanger, in the style of Garibaldi, in the style of Don Quixote.
And besides, père Boussod would really send us packing if we suggested such a thing to him. Only I’d really rather see you go to London than to New York.
My painter’s fingers are loosening up, though, just at the very time my carcass is breaking down. And your head as a dealer, a salesman, another trade that takes long to learn, is gaining in experience.
In our position— which is, as you rightly say, so precarious — let’s not forget our advantages, and let’s try to keep our patience for doing well, and our acumen. Is it not, for example, true that in every case it’s still better if they were to say to you one day, go off to London, than to kick you out and not to want your services?
I’m ageing faster than you, and what I’m striving for is to be less of a burden to you. Now as far as that goes, if not too monumental a catastrophe occurs, and if it doesn’t rain toads, I hope to achieve that.

I’ve just taken thirty or so painted studies off their stretching frames.
If in business affairs we looked only for our livelihood — would it be such a great misfortune to go to London — where it seems to me that there’s more chance of selling than elsewhere? In any case, I tell myself that, for example, in the case of the thirty studies that I’ll send you, you won’t be able to sell a single one in Paris. But then again, as our uncle from Princenhage used to say, ‘everything sells’. And in our case — what I do isn’t saleable like the Brocharts, say, but it’s saleable to those who buy things because there’s nature in them. Look, a canvas that I cover is worth more than a blank canvas. There — my pretensions go no further — don’t doubt that — my right to paint, my reason for painting, I do have it!
It’s only cost me my broken-down carcass — my mind pretty well cracked as far as living as I could and should goes — living like a philanthropist. It’s only cost you, let’s say, around fifteen thousand francs that you’ve advanced me.
Now — —.. there’s no reason to make monkeys of us.
And that’s the end of my reasoning on the subject of Mister Boussod. Keep your calm and your nerve. And if they talk to you about London — do not say the thing to them bluntly, the way I put it at the beginning of this letter.
But you’re right not to contradict the powers that be (what powers!).
My dear brother, if I wasn’t all washed up, and driven crazy by this bloody painting, what a dealer I’d still make, with the Impressionists, I mean. But there we are, I’m all washed up. London’s good, London’s just what we need — but alas, I feel I can no longer do what I could have done. But broken as I am, I myself see no misfortune if you were to go to London; if there’s fog, well, it seems to be increasing in Paris, too.
What it is — in fact — is that we’ve grown older, and that we’ve got to behave accordingly — none of the rest exists. Now, there’s the pro of this con, and — — we’ll have to turn it to account. It seems really strange to me that at present you should have had no news from Gauguin either — and I presume he’s both ill and discouraged.
If I was reminding you just now what painting costs us, it was only to emphasize what it is that we have to say to ourselves, that we’ve gone too far to turn back — and for the rest, I don’t put the emphasis on anything. Because other than material existence, what could be indispensable to me from now on?
If G. can’t pay his debt nor pay for his journey —
If he guarantees me a cheaper life in Brittany —
Why should I not, for my part, go and live with him, if we want to help him? If he says ‘I’m alive and well and my talent’s in full flow’ — why should I not say the same thing myself? But there you are, our funds aren’t in full flow. And so what works out least expensive is what we must do.
A lot of painting, few expenses is the course we must take.
This to repeat once again that I put aside any preference for either the north or the south.
All the plans we make have deep-rooted difficulties behind them.
How simple it would be with Gauguin — but the move — afterwards — will he still be happy? But as making plans can’t be done, I’m not worrying that the situation is precarious. Knowing it to be such, and feeling it, is what makes us open our eyes and work. If we do things that way and make a balls of it — I dare think it unlikely myself — we’ll be left with something. But look, I declare I’m not expecting anything, when you see people like Gauguin as if up against a wall. Let’s hope there’ll be a way out, for him and for us. If I thought about, if I dwelled on the disastrous possibilities, I could do nothing — I throw myself into work with abandon, I re-emerge from it with my studies; if the storm within roars too loudly, I drink a glass too many to stun myself.
It’s being crazy, compared with what one ought to be.
But earlier on, I felt less of a painter, painting is becoming a distraction for me, like hunting rabbits for the crazy people who do it to distract themselves.
My attention is becoming more intense, my hand steadier.
And that’s why I dare almost give you an assurance that my painting will become better. Because that’s all I have left.
Have you read in De Goncourt that Jules Dupré also gave them the impression that he was crazy? Jules Dupré had found some art lover who was paying him.
If only I could find that, and not be such a burden on you.

After the crisis I went through when I came here, I can no longer make plans or anything else; I’m definitely better now, but hope, the desire to achieve, is broken and I work from necessity, so as not to suffer so much mentally, to distract myself.
Yesterday MacKnight broke his silence a little by saying he very much liked my last two studies (the flower-garden), and chatting about it for a very long time.
Well then — but do you know that if you were in business on your own account, you would perhaps be obliged to look for English connections? This to repeat once again, would it be so great a misfortune to go to London — if, however, it was inevitable, should we be sorry about that? Anyway, there’s no comparison. Except the climate — it’s infinitely better than the Congo. Good handshake, and many thanks for your letter and for the 50-franc note.
Ever yours,