Vincent van Gogh - Bathing Float on the Seine at Asnieres 1887

Bathing Float on the Seine at Asnieres 1887
Bathing Float on the Seine at Asnieres
Oil on canvas 19.0 x 27.0 cm. Paris: Summer, 1887
Richmond : Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Friday, 7 December 1883.
My dear Theo,
I lay awake half the night, Theo, after I’d written to you yesterday evening.
I’m heartbroken about the fact that when I come back now, after an absence of two years, the reception at home was as friendly and kind as could be, yet at bottom nothing, nothing, nothing has changed in what I have to call blindness and stupidity to the point of desperation when it comes to understanding the situation. Which was that we were going along in the very best of ways until the moment when Pa banned me from the house — not just in a passion but also ‘because he was tired of it’. It should have been understood then that this was something so important to my succeeding or not succeeding that it was made ten times more difficult for me because of it — almost intolerable.
If I hadn’t felt the same then as I feel again now, that despite all the good intentions, despite all the friendliness of the reception, despite whatever you will, there’s a certain steely hardness and icy coldness, something in Pa that grates like dry sand, glass or tin — despite all his outward mildness — if I hadn’t already, I say, felt it then as I do now, I wouldn’t have taken it so badly then. Now I’m once again in almost unbearable indecision and inner conflict.
You understand that I wouldn’t write as I write — having undertaken the journey here of my own volition, having been the first to swallow my pride — if there wasn’t really something I’m running up against. If I had now seen that there was any WILLINGNESS to do as the Rappards did with the best results and as we began here, also with good results, if I had now seen that Pa had also realized that he should not have barred the house to me, I would have been reassured about the future.
Nothing, nothing of all that. There wasn’t then, nor is there now any trace, any hint of a shadow of a doubt in Pa as to whether he did the right thing then.
Pa doesn’t know remorse as you and I and everyone who is human does. Pa believes in his own righteousness while you, I and other human beings are permeated with the feeling that we consist of mistakes and forlorn attempts.
I pity people like Pa, I can’t find it in my heart to be angry with them because I believe that they’re unhappier than I am myself. Why do I think they’re unhappier? Because they use even the good in them wrongly so that it works as evil — because the light that’s in them is black — spreads darkness, gloom around them. Their friendly reception desolates me — to me, the way they make the best of it, without recognizing the mistake, is even worse, if possible, than the mistake itself. Instead of readily understanding and consequently promoting both my and indirectly their own well-being with a degree of fervour, I sense a procrastination and hesitancy in everything, which paralyzes my own passion and energy like a leaden atmosphere.

My intellect as a man tells me that I have to regard it as an unalterable fact of fate that Pa and I are irreconcilable down to the deepest depths. My compassion both for Pa and for myself tells me ‘irreconcilable? never’ — until eternity there’s a chance, one has to believe in the chance of an ultimate reconciliation. But the latter, oh why is it sadly probably ‘an illusion’?
Will you think that I’m making too much of things? Our life is an awful reality and we ourselves go on into eternity, what is — is — and our view, weighty or less weighty, takes nothing from and adds nothing to the essence of things.
That’s how I think about it when I’m lying awake at night, for instance, or that’s how I think about it in the storm in the sad twilight in the evening on the heath.
Perhaps I sometimes appear as insensitive as a wild pig during the day in everyday life, and I can readily understand that people find me coarse. When I was younger I used to think much more than now that the problem lay in coincidences or little things or misunderstandings that were groundless. But as I get older I draw back from that more and more, and I see deeper grounds. Life’s ‘an odd thing’, brother. You can see how up and down my letters are, first I think it’s possible, then again it’s impossible. One thing is clear to me, that it doesn’t happen readily, as I said, that there’s no ‘willingness’. I’ve decided to go to Rappard and tell him that I would like it too if I could be at home, but that against all the advantages that this would have there’s a je ne sais quoi with Pa that I’m afraid I’m beginning to think is incurable, and that makes me apathetic and powerless.
Yesterday evening it’s decided that I’ll be here for a while, the next morning, despite everything, we’re back to — let’s think about it again. Go ahead, sleep on it, think about it!!! As if they hadn’t had 2 YEARS to think about it, ought to have thought about it as a matter of course, as the natural thing.
Two years, every day a day of worry for me, for them — normal life — as if nothing had happened or nothing would happen. The burden didn’t weigh on them. You say, they don’t express it but they feel it. i don’t believe that. I’ve sometimes thought it myself, but it’s not right.
People act AS they feel. Our actions, our swift readiness or our hesitation, that’s how we can be recognized — not by what we say with our lips — friendly or unfriendly. Good intentions, opinions, in fact that’s less than nothing.
You may think of me what you will, Theo, but I tell you it’s not my imagination, I tell you, Pa is not willing.
I see now what I saw then, I spoke out four-square AGAINST Pa then, I speak now in any event, whatever may come of it, AGAINST PA again, as being UNwilling, as making it IMPOSSIBLE. It’s damned sad, brother, the Rappards acted intelligently, but here!!!!!! And everything you did and do about it, 3/4 of it is rendered fruitless by them. It’s wretched, brother. With a handshake.
Ever yours,
I don’t care so much about a friendly or unfriendly reception, what grieves me is that they aren’t sorry for what they did then. They think that THEY DIDN’T DO ANYTHING then, and for me that’s going too far.