From Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich :
Thanks to his brother Theo, who had set himself up in Paris as an art dealer, Vincent van Gogh came into contact with the Impressionists straight after his arrival there in spring 1886. Visiting the last joint exhibition to be held by the Impressionists, he saw works by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac for the first time. They were painted using a new technique, for which the term Pointillism had been coined. Van Gogh, like many other painters, was impressed sufficiently so that he abandoned the dark-toned aesthetic of his previous work, done in Holland. He taught himself the technique of applying dots of paint by practicing on a series of self-portraits, before moving on to tackle larger and more complex subjects. Painted in summer 1887, the view of the Seine at Asnières with the railway bridges over the river demonstrates van Gogh's mastery of the new technique while painting in the open air, in dazzling sunlight. Reflections of the stone piers dance in the water, while dashes of white paint highlight the embankment wall and the abutment of the nearest bridge. The artist cleverly provides the composition with a focal point as if by coincidence, in the figure of a lady in a pink dress with a red parasol. Van Gogh's interest in the outskirts of Paris was shared by many of the Impressionists. This painting belongs to one of several three-part series in which he grouped his suburban landscapes. Another painting from the same series, now in Oxford, also has a red frame like the one that van Gogh gave the The Bridges at Asnières.
To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Saturday, 8 December 1883.
My dear Theo,
It’s still early; I wanted to add a word or two to my letter of yesterday in order to try to make a few things clearer to you. But I ask you to regard what I tell you in this letter as something I would keep silent about if I didn’t think I could rely on your discretion and intelligence.
I haven’t said a word to Pa and Ma about the real question of two years ago. I have, though, spoken about a side issue at that time.
For their part, Pa and Ma don’t even mention her name. Very well — they don’t have to speak to me about it, nor I to them. I did touch on it indirectly, though; I told Pa that in my view it was a great mistake that at a certain point (two years ago) I was forced to leave the house. I said that not only had considerable financial harm been the consequence, but also that, driven to the limit, I had been forced to go to extremes much more, to much greater intransigence than I would have displayed of my own free will alone. I pointed to the example of the Rappard family in contrast to the Van Gogh family. I pointed out how Rappard also has differences with his father about this or that, but that they always avoid extremes not only for the world but also for themselves and, although he doesn’t earn a penny from his work (which is nonetheless very sound, very fine even), Rappard can still always face the world with dignity, also in so far as equipment and studio &c. are concerned. And how the family makes sure there are no debts anywhere with colourmen &c. I told Pa how noble, how stalwart and how clear-sighted I thought it was of you, Theo, that you’ve always helped me in so far as it was at all possible for you. I pointed out how, if Pa hadn’t been so steely and obstinate and in short unintelligent then, your help would have been effective, whereas now your help wasn’t effective and we’ve only half succeeded.
So to that extent I certainly did touch on the past. At the same time I pointed out that at this moment it’s again difficult for me to avoid extremes, since the relationship to the family in general in which I feel I stand is so bad that it’s becoming clear to me that the bond between you and me cannot endure if everything is always just left as it is. That when I think about whether it’s right or wrong to accept money from you, I have to take appearances into consideration.
I tell you frankly that I find the spirit in our family, particularly Pa’s and also, for instance, C.M.’s, more and more wrong.
My position vis-à-vis you now is this: on the one hand I believe that there’s still a possibility that your character, like mine, will go back on many of the things we were taught; yes, I say, I think it possible that you’ll have a change of heart, be it gradual, be it sudden, so that you’ll find yourself compelled to adopt another outlook on life, and that perhaps the upshot will be that you’ll yet become a painter.
On the other hand, this is in stark contrast, for example, to what you said this summer: ‘I’m becoming more and more like Pa’.
In the event of this last — that is, that you became more and more a ‘Van Gogh’, became a character like Pa or C.M. and by always being involved in business acquired an outlook on life entirely different from mine — a trader’s spirit, that is became a more or less political person — well, to be quite frank, then I’d rather not be intimate with you, then I’d find it better that, rather than strengthening bonds, we should let each other go, understanding we didn’t belong together.
At present I’m observing Pa — I see, I hear, I feel what Pa is — and I don’t like it — decidedly not. If you are thus, if you’re becoming more and more thus — then it’s wise to part. Now I return to what I said to Pa, that it was a mistake that we quarrelled so seriously two years ago that the house has been barred to me since then — (whose fault it was doesn’t even matter that much; it would have been in accordance with Pa’s own principles — if he had maintained them consistently — that the quarrel itself should have been avoided — avoided come what may). What does Pa say to this? Yes, but I can’t take back anything I did then, I’ve always done everything for your own good, and I’ve always acted on my sincere opinion. To which I replied that a person’s ‘opinion’ may sometimes be diametrically opposed to his conscience, I mean what one THINKS one should do and what one ought to do may be diametrically opposed to one another. I told Pa that terms may be found in the Bible itself to judge whether our ‘opinions’ are fair and just.
And that Pa was all too much in the habit of failing to do this and going on hot-headedly — in my view very unjustly, very arbitrarily, very reprehensibly — according to his ‘opinion’ — not — according to his conscience.
Enough, so I was faced with an iron barrier of irreconcilability indeed, although Pa tried to mask it, tried to lead me around it and to divert me from pursuing it. But I didn’t
allow myself to be put off by this, and said — Pa, this is about your self-righteousness, which was and is fatal for you and for me. Then Pa said, ‘did you think I would go down
on my knees to you?’ I said I took it very ill of Pa, thought it extremely crude, that Pa saw only that in it, and that I wouldn’t waste my breath on it any longer. Pa doesn’t
have to tell me that he acted badly towards me, but Pa should have learnt what I learnt in those two years — that it was a great mistake in itself, and that it should have
been redressed immediately without asking whose fault it was.
So brother, in my view Pa eternally descends into petty-mindedness instead of being more open, more liberal, broader, more humane. It was minister’s vanity that drove things to extremes then, and it’s still the same minister’s vanity that will still cause more mischief in the present and the future.
I don’t ask you to intercede, I ask you for something more personal, I ask you frankly: how do we stand towards each other; are you a ‘Van Gogh’ too?
I always regarded you as ‘Theo’. In character I’m quite different from the various members of the family, and I’m actually not a ‘Van Gogh’. But if you were to become a personality — played a part in the world like Pa or C.M. or Uncle V. even, very well, I wouldn’t interfere with that, I would accept you as you were, I would keep silent about it, but our paths would diverge too greatly for me to be able to continue regarding the financial tie advisable, as it stands now.
I hope you’ll understand me. If not, we’ll have to give it time. Who knows if, in the next 3 years, you won’t start to view some questions more or less as I do. Why? Because you’ll also be influenced by art and by mixing with artists, and in short may perhaps become squarer and broader in consequence instead of narrower and more constricted.
Well old chap — if you can, see to it that I can get away from here — regards and believe me