Vincent van Gogh - Still Life with Three Books 1887

Still Life with Three Books 1887
Still Life with Three Books
Oil on panel 31.0 x 48.5 cm. Paris: March-April, 1887
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, on or about Tuesday, 24 July 1883.
My dear Theo,
Coming home from Scheveningen just now, I found your letter, for which many thanks.
Many things in it give me pleasure. In the first place I’m glad that dark passages in the future can’t change our friendship in any way nor have anything to do with it. I’m also glad that you’re coming soon — and that you detect progress in the work. The division of your income, directly and indirectly, among no fewer than 6 people is indeed remarkable.
But the subdivision of my 150 francs among 4 living beings, while all the expenses for models, drawing materials, painting requisites and rent must be paid from them, also makes one think, don’t you agree?
It would be a splendid thing if we could raise those 150 francs from the work in the coming year — I take your visit as marking its start. We must confer about this. It’s a pity that I haven’t got a little further with painting, I must explain that again from the beginning. When you were here last summer, I had money from you to enable me to make a big effort. From that I had to pay Stam and Leurs, and I made some extra purchases and paid for them immediately and started work. Then, in addition, you wrote some time later that you were going to have some money coming in and that then ‘there’d be no lack of paint in the painting box’. But that was not to be, for if you remember from that time on you yourself weren’t without your reverses. Nonetheless, at the beginning of the winter, or rather at the end of the autumn, I again received a little extra. Money for Leurs again had to be deducted from that; I’d painted on those autumn days, including when we had storms on Scheveningen. We were then facing the winter and I thought it inadvisable to involve myself in new expenses, given the higher spending on fuel &c., since little of the extra amount was left. Well, I then took lots of models again, and the period from then until recent days has most certainly been one in which I feel I’ve made progress with the figure.
But when making these figure studies it was absolutely impossible to buy paint or to do watercolours. For if you think back, you will remember how you thought you would be able to send several times, but it wasn’t possible, first you thought in March, but before that you had to withdraw money yourself. And had to take care of the woman and had the matter with H. van G., and later business was rather at a standstill.
Well, I still wanted to do it sometimes if I thought there was any chance of managing it. Rappard advanced me some money, I had a little extra from Pa. But what happens? — like the May bug tied to a string, which can fly a little way but then comes up against something fatal.
I started things but as soon as the month ended I had to bend over backwards for weeks to pay the bill, sometimes almost unbearably hard up.
So I wasn’t always able to do what I wanted and want to do in my heart.
Still, not disheartened, we must hammer away at it again.

I’ve just brought back some studies for seascapes that could serve as the basis for watercolours like the very small one of the last visitors that I once sent you in a letter. We’ll do our best, but these are certainly difficult times.
What I had just started on, which is actually more pressing than anything else, is painting figure studies, but I’m baffled as to how to pay for it.
I had the studio altered as well. The position is that I myself have long lived on hope.
But you’re coming soon — that’s a good thing — at any rate you’ll then see what I still have here — and will see that I haven’t been idle.
I must, however, make sure I get my strength up, for if I recover some of that it’ll be high time to use it. For my strength has disappeared; it isn’t normal for me to be tired after a short walk, such as from here to the post, but that’s how it is at present. Oh, I carry on of course, but I must do something about it.
My health doesn’t suffer (fundamentally or chronically) due to excesses, but due to a long period of too little or too insubstantial food.
Well, the urgent thing for making progress this year will be that there must be painting. Now I again ask you to consider something that I wrote about briefly last year but which I believe has slipped your mind.
Here I have to pay the retail price for paint &c.
Wouldn’t it be possible for you to get hold of paint from Paillard or someone like that in a certain quantity at the net price first hand, thus from the maker himself?
That would certainly be a step closer to having no lack of paint. And I’d be very glad if we could make an arrangement whereby you held back, say, 10 francs each time you sent. That makes 30 francs a month, 90 every three months, and I wouldn’t bother you for a few tubes each time but, if I had the net price list, say what was needed for 3 months. Could you give this some thought? I believe it would be a good measure. Whether it’s Paillard or Bourgeois or whoever isn’t important. As a dealer you’re probably eligible to buy at net prices. I planned to speak to someone about supplying me with paint at net prices, but now that I’ve raised the subject I hear from him that he can’t do so.
You must see to it that you come soon, brother, for I don’t know how long I can keep it up. Things are a little too much for me, I feel that I’m giving way under them.
I tell you frankly that I’m beginning to fear I shan’t get through in this way, for my constitution would be good enough if I hadn’t had to fast for a long time, but again and again it was a question of either fasting or working less, and as far as possible I chose the first, so that now I’m too weak. How to endure that? I see the effects so clearly and distinctly in my work that I get worried about how to move forwards.
You mustn’t say anything about this, brother, for if certain persons knew such a thing it would be: oh, see, we foresaw and foretold that long in advance, and not only would they still not help me but they’d also cut me off from the possibility of patiently regaining my strength and recovering.
Given my present circumstances my work can’t be other than it is. If I can overcome my physical weakness, we’ll try to make progress; I’ve already postponed and postponed getting my strength back because I have to take care of others and of the work. But now I’m at my wits’ end. Progress in the work isn’t to be expected before I’m stronger; it has become all too clear to me of late that my physical condition has an influence on it.
I assure you that it’s NOTHING other than a weakening due to exertion and poor nourishment. Some who have talked about me on occasion as if I had some kind of complaint would start all over again, and that is gossip that’s very ugly, and so keep it to yourself without saying anything about it when you come here. But the dryness in the work is largely beyond my control, and will change if I can get back on my feet.
What I long for most is your coming, and for us to go through the work together and see each other again.
Regards, and in the meantime see that you write more often now and again, for I have need of it. And thanks for this last letter, mind — I wish you the very best.
It will no doubt be a question of having to fast again for the coming days until your letter arrives, write as soon as you possibly can.