To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Friday, 23 January 1885.
My dear Theo,
Herewith a few more scratches of studies of heads. I heard at home that you’d had a good year — and an offer of 1,000 francs a month — which you had refused. I can understand that once with G&Cie, you’ll stay there — it was one of the first large houses — well then — it should still probably be able to outlive various competitors.
However, I continue to maintain that it will become more difficult by the year to go on with the routine that the art trade has sustained so far, and to find a new tactic for doing business now. Will it happen? Perhaps not. And yet — unless there’s a new tactic — doesn’t the danger become more threatening by the day that, as a result of the collapse of one or other of the large houses, for instance, some things will drop and this drop will result in a panic all round? I really believe this danger isn’t just imaginary. Prices have risen to their present heights in a very short time, relatively speaking — in, let’s say, 40 years or so at most. And would it need more time than that to roll down the mountain again? As a rule, it’s easier and quicker to go downhill than uphill. And yet — there’s something in art which means that it’s always possible — there’s at least a chance to increase the numbers of the buying public. But again, will people create that new public? If not, I fear for my part that it will fall as quickly as it rose. I’ve hardly ever begun a year that had a gloomier aspect in a gloomier mood, and so I don’t expect a future of success, but — a future of struggle.
It’s dismal outdoors — the fields a marble of clods of black earth and some snow, usually a few days of fog and mud in between — the red sun in the evening and in the morning — crows, shrivelled grass and withered, rotting vegetation, black bushes, and the branches of the poplars and willows vicious as wire against the dismal sky.
This, I see it in passing, and it’s quite in harmony with the interiors, very gloomy in these dark winter days.
It’s also in harmony with the physiognomies of peasants and weavers.
I don’t hear the latter complain, but they have a hard time of it. A weaver who works hard makes a piece of 60 ells, say, in a week. While he weaves, a woman has to spool for him; that is winding yarn on to the bobbins — so there are two who are working and have to live on it.
On that piece he makes a net profit of, say, 4.50 guilders in that week — and nowadays when he takes it to the manufacturer he’s often told that he can only bring a new piece in a week or a fortnight’s time. So not only wages low, but work fairly scarce.
There’s consequently often something harried and restless in these people.
It’s a different mood from that of the miners I lived with in a year of strikes and many accidents. That was even worse — but all the same, it’s often heart-rending here too — the people are quiet, and literally nowhere have I heard anything resembling inflammatory arguments.
But they look as little cheerful as the cab-horses or the sheep that are transported by steamer to England.
Regards — I hope you’ll be able to send; I have less than a guilder left and must have a model for several more hours today.
So tomorrow I’ll be stuck again, but possibly your letter will come.