Vincent van Gogh - Undergrowth 1887

Undergrowth 1887
Oil on canvas 46.0 x 38.0 cm. Paris: Summer, 1887
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Monday, 10 March 1884.
My dear Theo,
Well — but that simply won’t do. What I get from your letter is this — you talk about a ‘flagging love’, and say that when you were faced with this question, you eventually broke it off.
Well, at least this is something manly.
Here we have a different case, though. I’m not faced with a flagging love so much — as with a flagging friendship — and very flagging. The friendship between you and me really has been mightily weak for the greater part of the last year.
Shouldn’t we just apply that same system to it?
One of the things (there are still more in that genre) about which I say ‘that simply won’t do’ is that now, when you send me money, you send me 1/3 and say, ‘I can actually send the rest too, but it suits me better to do it at the end of the month if it doesn’t inconvenience you’ — or something of the kind. So, do you still have to ask that, whether or not it’s convenient to me? You know yourself that last month I used at least 3/4 in one go to pay things off. But I didn’t complain about it, not even when it didn’t arrive until 10 days into March. But now, because I promised to pay various things off on 1 March that I owed when I came here, now having to wait till the end of the month again — whether that’s exactly a stroke of luck for me — you must just think about that for yourself. Come on, brother — you’ll probably find it ‘not brotherly’ of me that I most definitely rank our friendship as it now stands under things without spirit — but in the past I would certainly have taken it very much to heart, this question of being brotherly or not brotherly. And now — I won’t take it to heart. And I don’t much care what you’ll think of me.

For myself I know that, precisely because we started out as friends and with respect on both sides — for myself I know that I won’t tolerate its degenerating into patronage. I don’t choose to become your protégé, Theo. Why? Because. And this is what it’s threatening more and more to come down to.
I think that what you say about my work is silly on two counts — I think it’s silly of you to give your opinion of how the Salon jury would judge my work when I’ve never uttered a syllable to you about sending anything to the Salon. I think it’s silly... well I think several other things are silly. And then, the other part is the little compliment in this form at the end: if I did this and did that, then I would be the person who would make you more reconciled to one thing and another.
To what you say about not liking Lhermitte so much any more, I say that the fault lies with you. I think perhaps, as you do, that Millet ranks even higher, but by Jove — if, as you do, one sees a lot by Lhermitte yet isn’t sufficiently carried away by it not to think of comparisons, in my view it betrays a certain small-mindedness.
Which, for that matter, I’m afraid you’ll come to suffer from more and more.
I never spoke to you about sending anything to the Salon, did I? — but I did speak to you about the people at the illustrated magazines — particularly Buhot, at the time. And I don’t take back that I encouraged you to do it. But it was probably too much trouble for you.
Moreover — my friend — I wanted to repeat to you once more, but more clearly, what I also told you in a previous letter. If you were serious about wanting to do something with my drawings after a further period of work on my part, I would think it a good plan not to show them until we had some thoroughly good drawings. But that isn’t how you think about me, nor how you speak to other people about me, and you aren’t serious.
On one condition, though — that in the meantime my life wasn’t too lonely and wretched, my position not too false, but I could resign myself to the present with a feeling of freedom — I wouldn’t even mind waiting a very long time before my work was shown.
But how do things stand at present? You’re doing absolutely nothing to give me a bit of distraction, which I sometimes need so much, by meeting people and seeing things now and again.
Anyway, I feel that nothing suits you better than simply not noticing me personally. It’s been like this for the best part of a year, and now the reaction is that I say: this way will lead to nothing whatsoever — neither for you nor for me, and it would be stupid to carry on in this way. Stupid. When I read your recent letters, what I see from them is that you’re contriving to make it seem that the whole thing is my fault if we split up. That’s such a mean Van Goghish trick, such a bit of self-righteousness, that you can have with great pleasure if you’re attached to it.
Pa would do the same — I know for myself how I’ve felt for the last year and what thoughts I have about our friendship. As it now is, intolerable.
Be that as it may, whether I do well or ill by speaking as I speak, the risk is on my side, Theo; for you it’s easier to be rid of me altogether. For my part, if I break off our relationship, particularly in the financial sense, I will consequently have absolutely nothing else, and that’s the opposite of the usual tactics of Messrs van Gogh & Co. See in this — what you will. Conclusion — you say something to the effect that you would concern yourself with my drawings when they’re so good that you could put them alongside Millet and Daumier.
For my part I believe that, of course, but at the same time I also know that in that case there are other people to whom I’ll be able to turn. And if you make it appear as if the house of G&C dealt chiefly in that sort of art, Millet and Daumier, I say to that that the house of G&C definitely did not concern itself with Millet at the time, before the big Millet sales — and just about as little with Daumier. In Daumier’s and Millet’s youth, G&Cie were very busy with Julien Brochart and Monsieur Paul Delaroche — to my mind not very much of a Monsieur, that Delaroche. So much for the house of G&Cie.
Yours truly,

I know in advance that I’ll be sorry, and even very sorry at times, if we split up.
And perhaps — although there’s no inconvenience or worry associated with it for you — you for your part will also sometimes find it half-and-half less pleasant.
But having called the thing by its name, flagging friendship, what else is there but separation? And to tell you the truth, I’ve already often thought that the situation between you and me would become intolerable unless I could renew some sort of relationship, albeit slight, with G&Cie — G&Cie to whom, after all, I’ve done nothing wrong other than working for them for 6 years to the best of my ability. Which is obviously a great crime on my part and quite enough to hate each other accordingly, eh? That’s business, after all. But you were too high and mighty to take the slightest notice not only of my work but also of everything else I’ve told you, namely that what happened to me in The Hague in the last few years could and ought to have been redressed at the time. Speaking of brotherly, are these things part of brotherliness? And — how can I find something like you write: SO just have a little more patience, anything but insufferable?
So there you have it, I need my patience for my work, my friend, and if I’m rather short-tempered with you and other people it’s because it’s cowardly to fob someone off with something like ‘so just have a little more patience’.
Well, so I’m quarrelling with you — and high time too.

In the beginning you showed drawings to Heyerdahl — to Buhot. Why not since then?
Truly, I’m angry because you’ve been so lax since then, and that’s why I’m angry — it’s not about anything else — it’s because of that damned telling me each time ‘keep on working’, ‘have a little more patience’, and not lifting a finger to see to it that I get the slightest satisfaction from my work. You must do exactly as you wish, but for my part I can’t swallow everything whole.
The fact that you say in your letter something about G&Cie as specialists in Millet and Daumier is really going too far. Did you truly think I’m so stupid that I’d believe such bêtises? — Well, well. You could sometimes do with a stinging rebuke, you could, when you try telling your fellow man such tall tales.
In most cases, G&Cie were late with original artists — go on — I know who their protégés have been just as well as you must know. One of G&Cie’s best moves is that in recent years they’ve promoted various Dutchmen, Maris, Mauve, and that was more particularly on H.G.T.’s initiative.
The fact that they have Breton is a relatively isolated case. But in Millet, Dupré, Corot, Daubigny’s own time, when they were young — come on — did G&Cie take much notice of them??? Now Breton, you know that, is rather different as a person from Millet and Corot — and I can understand that G&Cie ‘find him less disagreeable as a man’. Daumier — particularly Daumier in his early days — when I think about that — and set it against the Guizot-ness of old man Goupil as he was then — — — — — — — — — — it does amuse me to think in terms of that contrast.
It seems to me that G&Cie were rather orthodox and tended to look down on other houses as if they themselves were better than other dealers. Well they were, and still are, all tarred with the same brush.
I believe that Millet and Daumier were pretty much ignored by all the dealers.
‘Excellence always escapes them,’ an art lover said about the way the dealers handled Corot’s studies. And that’s a shrewd remark — they’re usually generalities, their opinions — like those of Monnier’s Joseph Prudhomme. But philosophizing about this bores you — and me.
Regards. I’ve just read Ma’s note. I’m pleased that you can tell from it that I speak less and less to them about what’s going on between us. I’m just saying that everything is all right until I tell them, equally briefly, that we’ve realized that our affairs are diverging quite considerably. That is so. You’re bound to G&Cie. G&Cie will certainly not do anything with me for years to come. In the meantime, I ask you, how can I resign myself to the prospect that you hold out to me of making absolutely no progress?