To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Tuesday, 16 December 1884.
My dear Theo,
I’m very busy working on the series of heads of the people that I’ve resolved to make.
I enclose herewith another scratch of the last one — I usually just scribble them from memory on a scrap of paper in the evening, hence this one.
I may perhaps do them in watercolour too, later on. But paint them first.
Now listen — do you remember that right at the very beginning I always spoke to you of my great respect and sympathy for the work of père Degroux? I think about him more than ever these days. One mustn’t look at his few history pieces — although they’re fine, too — nor in the first place at a few paintings that are in the sentiment of the writer Conscience, for instance. But one must see his Saying grace, The pilgrimage, The paupers’ pew and, above all, above all, the simple Brabant types.
Degroux is as little appreciated as Thijs Maris, for instance. He’s different, however — but — they have this in common, that they met with fierce opposition.
Now — in this age — whether the public is wiser — I don’t know — but I do know this — that it’s absolutely not superfluous to be serious in what one wants and what one does.
And at this moment I could name you several new names of people who are hammering again on the same old anvil on which Degroux hammered.
If Degroux — at that time — had chosen to dress his Brabant characters in medieval costumes, he would have run parallel to Leys, not just as regards genius but perhaps also — fortune. However, he didn’t do that and now — years later — people have noticeably changed their minds about the medieval — although Leys will always be Leys and Thijs Maris, Thijs Maris — and Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame — Notre-Dame. But — realism — not wanted then — is now — demanded — and — there’s more need of it than ever. For that realism that has character and a sincere sentiment. I want to tell you this, that as for me, I’ll try to steer a straight course — and will paint — the dead simple, most everyday things.
How, for God’s sake, is it possible that you don’t seem to be able or willing to understand that, by setting up my studio here and keeping it on for the time being, I’ve made it possible for me to have enough money for painting — and that if I had acted differently, no good would have come of it either for me or for others?
Had I not done that, I would have had to muddle along for perhaps another 3 years before I had finally swallowed the bitter pill of colour and tone, also simply because of the expense.
It’s now just a year since I arrived here, driven by necessity. I’m certainly not at home for my pleasure — but for my painting — and, this being so, I think it very wrong of you that you should deprive me of an opportunity if I were to leave here now — before ever I have something new. I have to be here for a time for my painting — then — as soon as I’ve conquered that more definitely, I’ll be happy to go anywhere I can earn the same as I now have here.
But I don’t need or deserve to go backwards — nor do I have the slightest desire to — you see? And to seek to be rid of you — I’ve never done that, but where you have only too plainly let me see how little chance there was that we’d actually do business together — I accept it for the future, that’s true. Know this once and for all, when I ask you for money, I don’t ask it for nothing — you can have the work I make with it in return, and if I’m in arrears with it now — I’m on the right road even to get ahead of it.
I write this yet again for the same reason as the previous letters — I’m stuck at the end of the month because I only have enough left to pay my model for 2 or 3 days. And I’m wretched because I’ll be stuck again for 10 days, or 12, this month.
And in the utmost seriousness, once again — can’t you find some way of helping me with 20 francs, say, to cover that little end? It’s my time that will otherwise not be sufficiently occupied that really pains me. Regards.