Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait with Straw Hat 1887-1888

Self-Portrait with Straw Hat 1887-1888
Self-Portrait with Straw Hat(obverse: The Potato Peeler)
Oil on canvas 40.6 x 31.8 cm. Paris: Winter, 1887-1888
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA:

Van Gogh produced more than twenty self-portraits during his Parisian sojourn (1886–88). Short of funds but determined nevertheless to hone his skills as a figure painter, he became his own best sitter: "I purposely bought a good enough mirror to work from myself, for want of a model." This picture, which shows the artist's awareness of Neo-Impressionist technique and color theory, is one of several that are painted on the reverse of an earlier peasant study.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Sunday, 2 November 1884.
My dear Theo,
I received your letter, and I thank you for it and for the enclosure.
When you write that you’re again facing your bad half year — for it lasts a 1/2 year, I think — it isn’t exactly pleasant news for you to write nor for me to receive.
However, we must try to do something about it to ensure that things go better for both of us.
Before I received your letter and enclosure, I had already done something that you probably won’t approve of, but about which I don’t really value your opinion much, I’m sorry to have to say. I have again set in train an attempt to get back on good terms with Mauve, with Tersteeg too, if possible. I don’t know whether it will succeed — however, I must have more scope, for with the best will in the world, if one has been, as I have now, A WHOLE YEAR AND MORE entirely outside the world of painting, one works oneself into the ground outside and has to refresh oneself.

You never feel or understand that and say ‘just keep on painting’, and that’s all you can say. I don’t blame you for it, but I don’t find it intelligent of you either — be aware of that. What you say is perfectly true: that if I make good paintings I’m more likely to achieve something than by discussing revolutionary questions.(*) I actually find this so true that while you were writing it I was just taking a step directly aimed at the progress of my work, by asking once more to paint a few studies in Mauve’s studio.
You always contradict yourself — the above-mentioned passage (*) in your letter is immediately followed by the question as to whether I could perhaps give you some new principles about the issue of reforming the trade.
I’d like to recommend one to you in your and in my personal interests (never mind about the general interest): back my approach to Mauve and to Tersteeg. Help me to get going and earn money, not only by sending money but also through your influence and more cooperation and a better sort of friendship. I say again, back the approach I’ve made, for instance, for it should have been made sooner with support on your part.
Do it generously and resolutely, not hesitating or being non-committal when it comes to the point.
There’s enough strength in me to be able to do something and to earn too. And then — as you say yourself — if I make progress with my paintings and capture a good, independent position, I’ll be worth more than now. Then — later in other words — when I’m doing a bit better — I’ll be very happy to try to give you new principles about the issues of reforming the trade — concerning which I certainly do have my ideas, which derive from my own experience of what hinders painters’ progress, and what sort of things sometimes make the painter’s life unbearable.
Now isn’t the moment to write to you about it at length. I only say this — if you or if I need money to make progress and if we can only work at half speed at the moment for financial reasons, we’ll have to see to it that we get it, and struggle on until we do get it — Not argue that ‘we’re facing a half year that’s going to be bad financially, so reconcile yourself to it’. What has to be found, can be.
I’ve written to Mauve and to T. If you want to support me, so much the better.
Yours truly,

Don’t misunderstand me, though — I haven’t written to M. or to Tersteeg in a complaining tone. On the contrary, but I have said as forcefully as I could: give me another opportunity to make some studies with Mauve.
That’s what I asked — nothing else, and that’s all I need.
They mustn’t be involved in the financial side at all. If I can’t save up for it myself, you’ll have to make the utmost effort to send me an extra 100 francs, because I won’t be going for long — or if you absolutely can’t, Pa will have to try to advance it. I’ll hammer away at it until M. agrees. If I don’t succeed on my own, we must both ask Mauve until he does it.
Then — after that — I’ll again have a few tips for improving my work here and making progress with it.
And again have a pied-à-terre with a good, sound painter. And then I guarantee that something will soon happen — either I’ll exhibit or I’ll sell. When I wrote to you, ACT, it isn’t just a WORD, Theo — you hear! But it’s to say to you, are we going onward together or would you rather stay behind?
I’d rather we went onward together, but there mustn’t be any nagging. If the financial aspect was a problem both for you and for Pa, then I could get it from Rappard.
And so, courage! But let’s go onward together and hammer away at it together until we’ve achieved it.
If you don’t want to join me, then I’ll carry on alone. Do give me an answer to this. Of course, I may hear nothing from M. or T.
If I hear anything, I’ll write to you immediately. And if it takes too long, it will have to be repeated, either by me alone or by both of us, just as you wish. Rappard is doing very well and several others too, but they really haven’t had only patience and resignation. We must go onward. Get used to the idea that we must move.
It’s not for nothing that I’ve been slogging away at the principles of drawing as well as of colour and painting technique since I was first with M.
I’ve learned some new things, but I need Mauve again, or someone else who’s very clever — not to make me swollen-headed — but to give me some courage, which fails me if things drag on too long.
Onward — and it doesn’t matter a damn if it fails — if it fails, then do it again. It’s essential to carry on forcefully — with renewed energy — and then the business between you and me can work out to our mutual satisfaction, and instead of rebukes and nasty remarks, something spirited and good can come of it.
It’s very true that I’ve spent more this year than last on firstly my work, secondly myself. I’m not sorry for it, though — I’ve progressed in precisely what will rectify things in painting later and — the only thing I do regret is that I haven’t been able to spend a few hundred guilders more. What I’ve gained by it, for instance, is that I can now easily paint a head from the model in a morning, and that at last my colour is becoming sounder and more accurate, and more character is appearing in the technique. Now I can well understand that what I say — I needed and still need money for this — will be criticized. But one can’t ignore the fact that one needs working capital for the profession of painter just as much as for simply the shoemaker’s trade, for instance.
Working capital that could generate very good interest after a few years, then anyway, 20% to start with, for example.
And could be paid back later.

So that the money from you, say we call it 5,000 francs at a pinch, is my working capital.
The interest on this — if we could get it to 20% through the energy of both of us — would be proof of the rightness of your insights and also of mine, and of a sound view of business.
Now that result — 20% interest a year on 5,000 francs — I’d like you to help me get it.
These are facts and figures, and you must see to it that you get your confidence and energy back in this matter.
I’ll have to work hard to achieve this result — but — as I see it — for your part you can just do something you said you’d do before — take my side — not neutrally but energetically, positively. I tell you once more from total conviction, from the BUSINESS point of view — as a dealer, if you will, that the system of only doing business when one is sure of succeeding is not the best, and actually one of looking at things from a mediocre point of view.
Doing business, doing something come what may and moving for the sake of moving, hating stagnation and sterility, is to my mind a more open-hearted and also more profitable way. So the eternal — not being non-committal — not worrying about things too much — having a certain self-confidence — these things, I already spoke about them in the past; and what a few later years showed me, was truly to become more convinced that carrying on a fight and concentrating on a few points, but at the same time risking everything, is the best thing. But the cooler characters — the Bourdoncles5 — doubt this. However, I’m quite prepared to appreciate them, too, and they undoubtedly have their qualities — but to push something through, to persevere, to win... when it comes to the point, they lapse into vacillation and hesitancy. And then, naturally, business marks time and comes to a standstill. Anyway.
Now look here — to make progress, because I’m just getting into my stride, I have to paint 50 heads. As soon as possible and one after the other. I have calculated, but it won’t be possible to work with the energy that I want to devote to it in terms of exertion and effort without extra. I needed an overcoat — because I’m taking more trouble over my clothes than before — and other things, including the paint bills, take a lot of what I get. So that in order to carry out my plan quickly, working at full speed (instead of half speed for the sake of economy — and yet, that can actually save nothing), I must manage to get an extra 100 francs. In order to win over Tersteeg and Mauve, I must do something decidedly energetic now, having broached the matter. Is it absolutely impossible for you to let me have it now? I must strike the iron now, it’s hot, but — my dear brother and friend — STOKE UP THE FIRE. Adieu.
Yours truly,