Vincent van Gogh - Still Life with a Basket of Potatoes,
Surrounded by Autumn Leaves and Vegetables 1885

Still Life with a Basket of Potatoes, Surrounded by Autumn Leaves and Vegetables 1885
Still Life with a Basket of Potatoes,
Surrounded by Autumn Leaves and Vegetables
Oil on canvas 75.0 x 93.0 cm. Nuenen: September, 1885
Liege, Belgium: private collection

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Sunday, 22 January 1882.
My dear Theo,
I may have written to you only yesterday, but I’m writing again even so. For although I still have some measure of courage, it’s sometimes difficult for me always to bear up bravely in the presence of Mauve and Tersteeg and others. And I must do so, for even though I don’t pretend to be without worries, still, I don’t have to tell them all their details and depths.
But it happens often enough that I’m at my wits’ end. This morning I felt so miserable that I took to my bed, I had a headache and was feverish from nervous exhaustion, because I dread this week so much and don’t know how I’ll manage. And then I got up again and went to bed again and now it’s subsided, but I wanted to tell you that I didn’t exaggerate in yesterday’s letter. If I only go on working hard, it won’t be long before I’ll be earning something with my work, but until then I’ve got terrible worries.
Then, too, I have relatively few drawing materials, or otherwise inadequate ones. Well, I have my box and easel and brushes, enough in fact for the time being, but this week, for instance, my drawing board warped, becoming as curved as a barrel, because it was too thin, and my easel was also damaged during shipment here, which is bothersome enough. In short, there are heaps of things I still have to get or replace, and naturally it needn’t be all at once, but it means that nearly every day little things are necessary which, taken altogether, worry me greatly. Sometimes my clothes need things done to them, regarding which Mauve has already told me a thing or two, which I’ll certainly do, though not all of it can be done at once. You know that my clothes are mostly altered things of yours, and a couple of poor-quality fabric which were bought ready-made. So they look shabby, and especially all that messing about with paint makes it much more difficult even to keep them wearable.
With boots it’s exactly the same. My underclothes are also starting to wear out, some of them are still all right, but some are in tatters and don’t fit me. You know of course that for a long time I’ve been short of money, and then lots of things fall apart. And then it sometimes happens that one can’t help being terribly depressed at times, even if only briefly, just when one is in good spirits, as I actually have been these days and still am even. And that’s how it was this morning, it was one of those unfortunate hours when one is powerless and weak with nervous exhaustion. I believe it was actually caused by my having arranged with Mauve to do things with the model and outdoors, and then I suddenly thought... perhaps I can’t do it because I won’t have a penny in two days’ time and then M. will think that I haven’t done it through cowardice. And so I got up again to write to you again because I had no peace of mind. And it hinders me so much in my work if I have too many other things on my mind that I don’t want to think about, and am in a stew while sitting in front of the model about how I’m going to pay and whether I’ll continue the next day or won’t be able to. And I must, I must be able to stay composed and calm when at work, it really is hard enough as it is. And now, especially, I must keep my wits about me, but this morning I felt so clearly that my strength was beginning to ebb, not my desire or my courage, and that’s why I’m telling you this again.
I thoroughly understand that you might also be having a hard time of it, but it seems to me that an agreement could be made with Tersteeg if necessary so that everything would be settled. Now that I can draw from the model at Pulchri two evenings a week, if it’s necessary 4 days of model should be enough from now on, and now that I’ve found that little old woman, it needn’t be so expensive as it was those first few days when I was bargaining with this one or that one, for I’ve already had a number of models, but they’re too expensive or they think it too far to come, or they complain later and can’t come back regularly. But I think I’ve done well to find this woman.
Yesterday I had a lesson from Mauve on drawing hands and faces, on keeping the paint layer thin. Mauve knows it all so well, and when he says something, he makes an effort and doesn’t just say something for the sake of saying it, well, I also make an effort to listen and take pains to put it into practice. Yesterday I again told Mauve that it was so necessary for me to earn something on the side, but I don’t want to ask him for money because he gives me something that’s much better than money, and besides, he helped me to buy my furniture and that’s more than enough. Now that I’ve written to you, I’ll set to work again tomorrow in good faith. When you were in Etten this summer you talked about wanting me to start working in watercolour. At the time I saw no way to do it and didn’t know how to set about it. Now it’s beginning to dawn on me, and in spite of everything, the sun is rising.
Well, adieu Theo, accept a handshake in thought, and believe me
Ever yours,