To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Wednesday, 12 February 1890.
My dear Theo,
I was in the middle of writing to you to send you the reply for Mr Aurier when your letter arrived. Am very pleased that Jo and the newborn are well and that she expects to be able to get up in a few days from now. Then what you write about our sister also interests me a great deal. I consider that she was lucky to see Degas at his home. I still think that she would above all make a good doctor’s wife. Anyway, one can’t exactly force these things, nevertheless it’s good to have one’s eyes open if the opportunity were to present itself. And so Gauguin has come back to Paris – I’m going to copy my reply to Mr Aurier to send it to him, and you can let him read the article from the Mercure. For really I consider that one should say things like that about Gauguin, and about me nothing except very secondarily.
Gauguin wrote to me that he’d exhibited in Denmark and that this exhibition had been very successful. To me it seems a shame that he didn’t continue here a bit longer. The two of us together would have worked better than myself all alone this year. And at present we’d have a little cottage of our own to stay in and work, and could even accommodate others.
Did you notice in that newspaper you sent me an article on the fruitfulness of certain artists. Of Corot, Rousseau, Dupré &c.; do you remember how many times when Reid was there that we talked about that, even of the necessity to produce a lot.
And that shortly after I came to Paris I said to you that before I had two hundred canvases I wouldn’t be able to do anything. What would appear to some people to be working too fast is in reality completely the ordinary run of things, the normal state of regular production, considering that a painter must work really just as hard as a shoemaker, for example.
Would it not be a good idea to send Reid, and perhaps also Tersteeg, or rather C.M., a copy of Aurier’s article?
The thing is that it seems to me that we ought to take advantage of it to try to place something in Scotland, either now or later.
I think you’ll like the canvas for Mr Aurier, it’s in terribly thick impasto and worked like certain Monticellis, I’ve kept it for almost a year.
But I consider that I must try to give him something good for that article, which is in itself a very artistic thing; and it really serves us well for the day when we, like everyone, will be obliged to try and recover what the paintings cost.
Everything beyond that leaves me quite cold, but recovering the money it costs to produce, that’s the very condition of being able to continue.
For the Impressionists’ exhibition in March I hope to send you a few more canvases which are drying at the moment. If they didn’t arrive in time you would have to make a choice from those that are at père Tanguy’s.
I’ve tried to copy Daumier’s Drinkers and Doré’s Penitentiary, it’s very difficult.
In the next few days I hope to begin on Delacroix’s Good Samaritan and Millet’s Woodcutter.
Aurier’s article would encourage me, if I dared let myself go, to risk emerging from reality more and making a kind of tonal music with colour, as some Monticellis are. But the truth is so dear to me, trying to create something true also, anyway I think, I think I still prefer to be a shoemaker than to be a musician, with colours.
In any event, trying to remain true is perhaps a remedy to combat the illness that still continues to worry me. Lately my health is quite good, however, and I’d dare to believe that if I were to spend a while with you that would have a lot of effect upon me to counteract the influence that the company I have here necessarily exerts. But it seems to me that there’s no hurry about this, and that we must consider calmly if this is the moment to spend money on the journey. Perhaps by sacrificing the journey one could be useful to Gauguin or Lauzet.
A few days ago I bought a suit that cost me 35 francs, I must pay for it towards the end of March. With this I’ll have sufficient for the year, for when I came here I also bought a suit for around 35 francs, and it has served me all year. But I’ll need a pair of shoes and a few pairs of drawers in March as well.
All things considered, life here isn’t very expensive, I think that in the north one would spend rather more.
And that’s why – even if I came to you for a while – the best policy might still be to continue the work here. I don’t know – and either is good to me – but we mustn’t hurry to move.
And don’t you think that in Antwerp, if we put Gauguin’s plan into practice, one would have to maintain a certain rank, furnish a studio, in short do as the majority of established Dutch painters do? It’s not as simple as it appears, and would fear for him as well as for myself a regular siege by the established artists, and he would have the same story as he had before in Denmark.
Anyway, we’d have to begin to say to ourselves that it’s still through the same procedure that the established painters can cause troubles for adventurers, as we’d be in Antwerp, and even oblige them to decamp. And as for the dealers there, we mustn’t count on them at all.
The academy there is better, and they work more vigorously there than in Paris. And then Gauguin is still in Paris at the moment, his reputation is holding up there, and if he leaves for Antwerp he could find that it’s rather difficult to come back to Paris. Going to Antwerp I would fear for Gauguin rather than for myself, for naturally I can get by in Flemish, I resume the studies of peasants I began before and abandoned with much regret – there’s no need to tell you that I have a great love of the Kempen. But I foresee that for him the battle could be very tough. I think that you’ll tell him the pros and cons of this absolutely as I would tell him, I’ll write to him one of these days, especially to send him the reply to Mr Aurier’s article, and I’d think that if he wanted we could still work here together if his steps to find a position were to come to nothing. But he’s skilful, and perhaps he’ll come through it in Paris itself, and if he holds on there for his reputation he does well, for he always has this, that he was the first one of all to work in the heart of a tropical land. And one will necessarily come back to that matter. Above all, give him my warm regards, and if he wants he can take the repetitions of the Sunflowers and the repetition of the Berceuse in exchange for something of his that would give you pleasure.
If I came to Paris I would have to rework several canvases done in the beginning here, I wouldn’t have any lack of work then. Warm regards to Jo, and good handshake in thought.
Please send the enclosed letter to Mr Aurier after you’ve read it.