To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 4 September 1888.
My dear Theo
I write to you while waiting for Boch, the Belgian, who’s leaving early this morning. He’s already 33 years old, including 10 years of Paris and travels. His sister is even older than he is. Although until now he hasn’t been anything very much as a painter yet, if by returning to his country he can at last shake off his idleness, caused by the enervation in Paris, and by keeping company with idlers, then he’ll find himself on the very threshold of a career as a true painter.
He’s very much of his country, because in his speech and in his manners I recognized very clearly the accent of his country, the timidity of those miners, whom I still think about so often. You’ll probably see his two paintings that he’s bringing; the drawing in them is poor, but the colour is already beginning to be lively. His sister will perhaps make a tour in Holland, and I’ve thought in a vague way that I’d really like it if our own sister and she were to meet. I always have hopes that through us, Wil may be able to marry an artist. Now to bring that about she’d have to be a little bit up to date. If Boch’s sister actually goes to Holland, we’d only have to say to Boch that if she wants to study in Breda, she can stay with our mother and our sister. That’ll put them to some very small expenses at home (they put up enough useless people), but after all, it would be an opportunity to become acquainted. But let’s not press the point.
But at the Bochs’ home, it’s a household of painters; the two children being in the profession, with that they’re not penniless.
Now I sent you an order for colours exactly a week ago. And a letter for Tasset, asking him if he could supply coarsely ground colours more cheaply. At this very moment I’m almost at the end of my supply of colours — altogether I’ve about a dozen and a half different tubes left. So it’s necessary for me to replace the order in question with another. Which you’ll find attached.
If Tasset couldn’t do colours more cheaply, you’d have to send double tubes as usual, but I’d need twice as many tubes of that size. Until I have them I’ll have to draw, because I’ve run out as far as colours are concerned.
Neither Gauguin nor Bernard has written to me again. I believe that Gauguin doesn’t give a damn, seeing that it isn’t happening right away, and for my part, seeing that Gauguin has been managing anyway for 6 months, I’m ceasing to believe in the urgent need to come to his assistance.
Now let’s be careful about it. If it doesn’t suit him, he could reproach me: ‘why have you made me come to this filthy part of the country?’
And I don’t want any of that.
Of course, we can remain friends with Gauguin all the same, but I see all too clearly that his attention is elsewhere.
I say to myself, let’s behave as if he wasn’t there, then if he comes, so much the better, if he doesn’t come, too bad.
How I’d like to set myself up so that I could have a home of my own! I never stop telling myself that if at the start we’d spent even 500 francs on furnishing, we would already have recouped all of it, and I would have furniture and I would be free of lodging-house keepers by now. I’m not pressing the point, but what we’re doing now isn’t wise. There will always be artists passing through here, wishing to escape the harshness of the north. And I feel myself that I’ll always be among that number. True that it would probably be better to go a bit further down, where you’d be more sheltered. True that it won’t be entirely easy to find, but all the more reason; if we set ourselves up here, the costs of moving shouldn’t be enormous. From here to Bordighera, for example, or somewhere near Nice. Once we’d settled, we’d stay there for the rest of our lives. Waiting until you’re very rich is a sorry system, and that’s what I don’t like about the De Goncourts, although it’s the truth — they end up paying a hundred thousand francs for their home and their peace of mind. Now we’d have it for less than a thousand, in that we’d have a studio in the south where we could put someone up.
But if we have to make a fortune first......... we’ll be totally neurotic by the time we reach that sort of tranquillity, and that’s worse than our present state, in which we can still stand all sorts of noises. But let’s be wise enough to know that we’re getting dull-witted all the same.
It’s better to lodge others than not to be lodged ourselves here, especially lodging with an innkeeper, which even when you pay doesn’t provide you with a lodging where you feel at home.
As for Gauguin, he’s perhaps letting himself drift with the current without thinking about the future, it’s likely. And perhaps he’s saying that I’ll always be there, and that he has our word.
But there’s still time to take it back, and truly I feel very tempted to do so, because failing him, I would of course think about another partnership. Whereas at present we’re held to it. If Gauguin finds enough to live on as it is, have we the right to bother him? I’m avoiding writing to Gauguin for fear of saying too bluntly, look, for many months now we’ve been finding enough to live with lodging-house keepers, but claiming that we can’t join together, while at the same time even wearing ourselves out for the future. If you’d wished, why didn’t you tell me to come to the north? I’d have done it by now.
It would have cost a mere hundred-franc note, whereas today, during these months that it’s been dragging on, I’ve already paid that same note to my lodging-house keeper, and you must have done the same with yours, or you’ve gone into debt for 100 francs. Which by now makes at least 100 francs pure waste for absolutely nothing.
That’s what rankles with me, and what makes me say that both he and I are behaving like madmen at the moment. Is that true or not? In fact, the truth is even more serious. If he’s not in need of changing his way of life, he’s either much richer than me or he has considerably better luck. Ruining oneself costs more than succeeding, and it’s certainly our fault if we haven’t more peace.
Handshake and more soon, because I really hope that you’ll still find time to tell me more about our sister’s stay with you.
Boch will probably be with you in a week or ten days. Including the sunflowers, I still have about fifteen new studies here at the moment.
Colours, ground more coarsely, in large tubes like the large tubes of silver white and zinc. For the decoration.
Cobalt large tubes__6
6 -Zinc white__6
6 -Silver white__6