Vincent van Gogh - Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes 1886

Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes 1886
Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes
Oil on canvas 1886
Oskar Reinhart Foundation, Winterthur, Switzerland

« previous picture | Paris | next picture »

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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.
Yours truly,