To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Monday, 17 August 1885.
My dear Theo,
I’ve heard from that colourman — who tells me I can send the paintings. But that he wants me to send them as soon as possible because there are many strangers in The Hague at present.
He’s quite right there. What I want to ask you is that you try to send me enough for me to get the crate made and pay the carriage. Deduct it next month, if you like — but I have nothing, and it’s important to me to get my consignment off immediately.
Your visit really left me with a less than favourable impression — I believe more than ever that more difficulties await you in the next few years than you imagine.
I continue to insist that it’s somewhat fatal that your energy has evidently taken a different direction, rather than working on our getting our heads above water with the painting. And yet it’s such a short while ago that you wrote that you now had more confidence that my work was good.
You take it as though I was doing you wrong or was hostile to you, now I most decidedly have rather a lot of remarks to make. And considerable concerns for the future. I can’t speak other than I did, can I?
To my mind you don’t in the least belong among the rising men now. Take this amiss of me — if you will — and treat me as you will accordingly.
I’m willing to take back my remarks should I see very different things in you, but that I made them during your visit — Yes. But even though you say today, ‘I’m selling 500,000 francs’ worth a year’ — this doesn’t make any impression on me at all, since I’m only too convinced of the precariousness of it all — you keeping up even a half or a fifth of that and delivering in the years ahead.
It’s too up in the air for me, too little at ground level.
And art itself is solid enough, that’s not the trouble.
But, ‘to be a counting-house will pass’ was said, not by me, but by someone whose words came dreadfully true. And I wish you were, or would become, a painter. I put it bluntly, more strongly than before, because I believe so firmly that the large-scale art trade is, in many respects, too much like tulip mania.
And the positions in it dependent on chance and whim. Make a miscalculation — make what may be an insignificant mistake — and — what’s left of that huge figure you’re turning over now? That figure depends on G&Cie’s whim.
And KNOWLEDGE of art, stripped bare, is related, more closely than you think, to the practice of art. TRADE in paintings is something very different when one is on one’s own from when one works for large distributors. And it’s the same with other things, too. Anyway — work hard — but — try to work sensibly too.
The trouble you’ve taken together with me — for providing money is also taking trouble and there’s absolutely no getting away from it — this trouble has at least been an act of personal initiative, and of personal will and energy — but what am I to think or say of it if, little by little, with the decided weakening of the financial aid, something else weren’t to be put in its place? And now, above all, to my mind at any rate, it’s the time to try to push ahead with my work.
I’ve also been looking for addresses in Antwerp, and will hear more precisely about them before long. Then I can probably send things there, too. But if you want these things, help me to bring them about.
You said to me yourself, Where there is a will there is a way;a well then, I’ll take you at your word a little as to whether you’re really seeking for us to make progress. If I were to ask for extravagant things and you refused, then so be it — but where they’re the most essential, the very simplest necessities, and the lack just becomes more and more, and worse and worse, then I think you’re taking economy too far, and in this respect it’s very far from being useful.
Just a word about Serret and about Portier. Tell them as it is, that is that I did have studies ready, but that I had to pay a colourman who was making it difficult for me just now. That in order to put a stop to it, I wrote to tell him that I put his paint in my studies, and that I asked him to take the trouble to sell something for me instead of nagging. That I’ll go through with it, and have to send him things.
That as to the drawings which I said I’d show Serret, since I’m in a hurry to do things, I need them myself. But I do still think it’s of some importance that at any rate he knows that I really did have them when you came, and that you tell him that you saw them at my place, and then also tell him exactly what you think. I won’t influence your own opinion. That I’m sad about your thinking that this is all right, though, yes — that is so.
But I don’t refuse to take such measures — and even if one of these colourmen wanted to sell off my bits and pieces, he would be welcome to go to those lengths. It’s certain that the paint-dealing gentlemen wouldn’t blush to do it.
However, I’m fed up with talking about it; I’ve said what I had to say — and you — you can deal with my suggestion as you see fit.
And if these fellows want to attack me and sell me up, since they expressly threatened me with collection, and that over matters of less than 30 guilders, then I won’t be able to resist them and will let them do as they please, but it will be as if it happens before your very eyes, since you’ve just been here. That I can’t stop the work at the level I now am, that’s true. I need paint &c. every day. I must make progress, and if I want to pay for what I need today, then an outstanding bill from yesterday will have to wait.
For your information, this is how it is with me for the rest of the year, precisely and in detail — I have to pay:
three suppliers who are all pestering me, one 45 guilders, the other 25 guilders, the other 30 guilders. These are the exact sums outstanding on accounts which have of course been much higher over the course of the year, but which I pay off in cash, as much as I possibly can with the utmost effort.
deficit therefore 100 guilders
Add to this rent in November 25
Suppose I get 4 x 150 francs from you for Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.= 600 francs. That then leaves 350 francs to last from now until New Year. And then bear in mind that I have literally nothing left this month, and that I also have to live this month.
So that from Aug. – 1 January, in other words almost 5 months, I have to live and paint on 350 francs. Which I can do on 150 francs a month, but not easily, but anyway it’s possible as a minimum.
However, if in the course of 4 months 250 francs has to be deducted to pay for paint and rent, well then, the work is hampered and obstructed so much that one doesn’t know what to do, and would rather say to the fellows sell my things then! But let me work! Without hesitation I’ve just thrown this month in to calm the fellows down. But the hardship that’s caused is bad enough.
And my last word on the subject is that if my work were weak and awful, I would agree with you if you said — ‘I can’t do anything about it’.
Well — since larger and smaller painted studies as well as new drawings were able to make you understand that we’re making progress with it, I’m not so sure whether ‘I can’t do anything about it’ should be your final word. Talk to Serret, talk to Portier about it — and say how much I want to keep working and how little opportunity I have myself to find art lovers, since painting the peasants means that once and for all the countryside, not the city is my place of work.