To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, on or about Wednesday, 25 July 1883.
My dear Theo,
A man comes to me this morning who had repaired the lamp for me 3 weeks ago, and from whom at the same time I bought some earthenware that he himself pressed me to take.
He came to tell me off because I had just paid his neighbour but not him. Accompanied by a lot of noise, swearing, ranting &c. I tell him I’ll pay him as soon as I receive money but that I don’t have it at the moment, and that adds fuel to the flames. I ask him to leave, and in the end I push him out of the door but, perhaps deliberately letting things get to this point, he grabs me by the neck and throws me against the wall and then flat on the floor. You see, this is the sort of thing from which you can see the petty vexations one is faced with. A chap like that is stronger than I am, right? — they aren’t at all ashamed. Well, all the small shopkeepers &c. one deals with for daily necessities belong to the same type. They come themselves to ask you to take this or that from them or, if one goes to someone else, they ask for your custom, but if one must unfortunately put off payment for longer than a week it’s cursing and scolding. Anyway, that’s the way they are, and what can one say? They themselves are sometimes hard pressed. I’m telling you about this to show you that it’s rather urgent that I make some money if possible. When I went to Scheveningen I had to leave one or two others waiting. I’m a little worried, brother, and have considerable sorrow and difficulty. I long for you to come because I want to decide whether or not I should move. To carry on here I would need to earn a bit more in general; the little that I lack makes life here unbearable.
Otherwise, I have so few setbacks in the work that all the petty vexations don’t affect my pleasure in it and don’t prevent me doing one thing and another. There are a couple of small seascapes at De Bock’s, one with a choppy, one with a calm sea, a genre I’d very much enjoy pursuing. Yesterday a peasant cottage with a red roof under tall trees. Well, I believe that painting figure studies would help me with many things, I made a start with one boy in the potato field and one in the garden by a cane fence. I ought to be able to put some effort into them.
The incident this morning is a sign to me that it’s a duty to confer and to take a smaller place in a village if there’s no hope of being a little better off here. Otherwise, the studio here is practical enough, and there’s no lack of beautiful subjects to do here. And it isn’t everywhere that one has the sea.
What I said to you about not feeling strong is true, it has now come down to pain between the shoulders and in the lumbar vertebra, which I’ve had before from time to time, but I know from experience that one must then be careful, otherwise one gets too weak and can’t easily recover.
I’m relatively resigned to things. Circumstances have been a little too much for me recently, and my plan to win back old friends by working constantly and sensibly has been
shattered. Theo, there’s one thing that it would be good for us to discuss at some point — I’m not saying that there’s any question of this right now, but the days could become
darker still and I would like us to agree on this for that eventuality. My studies and everything in the way of work in the studio is definitely your property. The question
doesn’t arise now — I repeat — but in due course, for instance because of unpaid tax, the things may be sold, and in that case I would like to put the work in a safe place and
out of the house. It’s my studies that I can hardly do without for later work, things that have taken me a great deal of trouble to do. So far there hasn’t been a soul here
in the street who pays tax, yet all have been assessed for various sums, including me, and I have twice had appraisers here; I drew their attention, however, to my 4 kitchen
chairs and unpainted table and said I wasn’t eligible to be assessed for so much. That if they found carpets, pianos, antiques &c. at a painter’s, they might not be wrong
to assess such a man as being able to pay, but that I couldn’t even pay my paint bill, and that there were no luxury items but only children in my house, and that consequently
there was nothing to be had from me. They then sent me demands and final notices but I ignored all that and said, when they came back again, that it was pointless because
I simply lit my pipe with them. That I didn’t have it, and my 4 chairs, table &c. wouldn’t raise anything anyway. That they weren’t worth as much new as they wanted to
assess me for.
They have indeed left me in peace since, for months now. And other people here in the street aren’t paying either.
Still, now that we’re talking about this, I wish I knew where to store my studies in such an event. Well, I could take them to Van der Weele, say, or someone. Together with my tools. I always have a certain hope that when you come to the studio sometime you will yet find things in which someone might possibly be interested, even though they have no particular commercial value.
There’s no lack of work.
Despite everything, at heart I don’t have a feeling of dejection, and on the contrary I can agree with what I read recently in Zola, ‘If at present I’m worth something, it’s because I am alone and because I hate the ninnies, the incapable, the cynics, the idiotic and foolish mockers’. But none of that can perhaps do away with the fact that I can’t withstand the siege if I stay here. I write about this very matter because it’s at the beginning, and the manoeuvre of moving to a cheaper place may perhaps be the solution, although it’s very urgent in itself purely for the sake of spending less on accommodation.
Van der Weele has the silver medal for his painting that he more than deserves, I’m glad he has got it.
I’ve thought a good deal about that painting by Van der W. because I saw it being done in part, and talked quite a lot about it with him and was immediately attracted by it.
I believe, Theo, that I too could do something like that through carrying on working regularly and calmly in the future.
But in any event, there would have to be a period of constant painting in between, and for that there would have to be means, and at present the prospect of getting them seems to me slight. Van der Weele has managed it by sacrificing half of his time on things he doesn’t do for pleasure but through which he raises the means to keep his painting box filled and to eat &c. Perhaps, perhaps, if there were to be some article in my work that people wanted to have, I might be able to pull it off too. Otherwise I don’t care much about selling in itself, other than as a means of being able to keep going. I tell you plainly that few of the ideas about art with which I became familiar during my time with Goupil — in so far as they had to do with practice — have been borne out, although I’ve kept the same taste. Creating things doesn’t take place as one imagines if one is a dealer, and the life of a painter is different, the study is different. I would find it hard to say in what sense, but Daubigny’s words, ‘my paintings that I value more highly aren’t the ones that bring in the most’ are something I now believe, and if I’d heard them when I was with G&Cie, I would have thought he was just saying that as a manner of speaking. Adieu, old chap — I’m a little worried, you can see from what I’ve written about my skirmish this morning that people don’t treat me with much consideration. They’d probably keep their distance more if one wore a top hat and I don’t know what else besides. One has one’s sense of things after all, and it isn’t pleasant. Anyway, I wish there was something to be found in the work so that a little more leeway would be possible. Adieu, write soon, I long for that so much.