Vincent van Gogh - Vase with Carnations and Zinnias 1886

Vase with Carnations and Zinnias 1886
Vase with Carnations and Zinnias
Oil on canvas on panel 61.0 x 50.2 cm. Paris: Summer, 1886
Private collection

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Wednesday, 10 January 1883.
My dear Theo
When I read your letter this morning I was deeply touched by what you wrote. These are matters of which the world sometimes says, ‘Why should he get involved?’, and yet it isn’t so much our own act as the circumstances that compel us to do so. And once we’ve grasped the situation, a compassion can be awakened that is so unfathomably deep that we no longer hesitate.
And in you — I believe it is so — and what can I say other than that it seems to me that we must follow our impulses in such cases? Victor Hugo says, ‘Over and above reason there is conscience.’ There are things that we feel to be good and true, although from the point of view of intellect and calculation there remains much that is inexplicable and obscure in them. And even though now, in the society in which we find ourselves, such actions are regarded as ill-considered or reckless or foolish or I don’t know what all — what shall we say once the hidden forces of sympathy and love have been awakened deep inside us? And should we be unable to use other arguments entirely to refute those that society customarily invokes against letting oneself be led by feeling and against acting impulsively — refuting isn’t the point, and he who has retained a belief in a God sometimes hears the gentle voice of conscience, which he would then be well advised to follow with the naivety of a child. Without talking about it to the outside world more than one can help.
When someone has a meeting like that, it’s to be expected that he’ll experience conflict, especially conflict with himself, because one sometimes literally doesn’t know what one should or should not do. Yet isn’t this conflict, and even the mistakes into which one will sometimes fall, better, and doesn’t it develop us more than systematically shutting out emotions? This last is what makes many so-called strong spirits in reality weak spirits, in my view.

You have my sympathy in this, and should you think it desirable, given that I too am faced by realities and can tell you what has befallen me since we last talked this over, to hear a thing or two about it, or if you want to talk about the future or confer about anything at all, I’m always entirely at your disposal.
The fact that you write that you’re thinking of coming to Holland before too long is very welcome news to me.
Persevering is the main issue in love once one has really started. That is if the love is requited, for if it’s definitely not requited then it’s a case in which one is literally absolutely powerless. Anyway. I thank you for your trust, and when I think it over I’m fairly at ease about the outcome. Such a thing isn’t ‘passion’, because an unfathomably deep compassion is involved.
Nor do I believe that it’s something that makes you unsuited to thinking about other matters; on the contrary, a thing like that has a serious nature that awakes and strengthens all the faculties, and can increase energy rather than decrease it. So you won’t hold it against me if I say one or two things about the drawings. It really pleases me that you found the old man’s head ‘true’ — the model is wonderfully true, I have more drawings of him. Today one that I drew with lithographic crayon. Then I tipped a bucket of water over the drawing and began to model with a brush in the soaking wet. In this way one gets very delicate tones if it works, for it’s a dangerous method that can turn out wrong on occasion. But if it works, the result is very ‘unburred’, delicate tones of black that most resemble an etching. In this way I also have a woman’s head, against the light, thus in tone with glancing lights on the profile &c. YOU ALSO RECEIVED THE SECOND ROLL, DIDN’T YOU, IN WHICH THERE WERE 5 MORE HEADS (sent from here on 5 or 6 January, I think) — as well as the first two.
When you’ve had them for a while, I believe that you’ll find the same in them as in the first two, for there must be something of nature in them, since I really wrest them from nature, and I work from the model from beginning to end. I have a great desire to show you the studies — not because I’m content with my own work but because, though far from satisfied with it, I nonetheless see that it’s taking shape, and that something will naturally develop from it that will have some character. What struck me most when I came to the city was, for instance, the Geest district and those neighbourhoods. And it’s gaining substance little by little — but what a job to see something like that through. Today I saw photos after drawings by Barnard, figures from Dickens, the original drawings of which I saw in London at the time. There’s a power in them like that in Nicolaas Maes, for example, but an entirely modern feeling and approach. That kind of thing makes me so enthusiastic and thus cheers me up, because I imagine models from here as they’d appear if they were drawn in that way, and then naturally I say to myself, onward! and keep on working until we’ve got the hang of the Black and White. It’s the same in art and in love, one is swung between ‘I’ve had it for a long time’ and ‘I’ll never have it’, as Michelet puts it. So one goes from melancholy to cheerfulness and enthusiasm, and this will always remain and the swings will only get stronger. Victor Hugo speaks of ‘like a lighthouse whose beam flashes on and off’10 and that’s how it is too.
If you received my letter of 5 or 6 January with the second roll, you will recall that I was already running short then. And now today I had to pay the house rent and 3 models I had had to keep waiting, and I also absolutely had to have various drawing materials. I’m working very hard at present and I mustn’t stop, but the models are literally eating me out of house and home. In short, it would be very, very desirable if I could have a little extra. Would that be possible? I hesitate to ask because you’ve just written to me about one thing and another, and I understand so well how you yourself have cares as a result, which I respect and feel with you. But my position is that I’ve got a little behind precisely because I carried on working all the time, and even if I received the money now I would have to pay out more than half. I cannot live more thriftily than we do. Where economies could be made, we’ve economized, but the work is expanding just now, particularly in recent weeks, and I’m almost losing control, of the costs involved, that is. Is there a possibility that I could receive a little more soon? I believe you’ll understand when you see the studies. Well, forgive me for raising the subject, but I have little choice. I’ve got behind with the day-to-day expenses, and that means that in the last days of the I’m always absolutely broke. In any event, write soon and be fully assured of my sympathy as regards what you write about, adieu, old chap, a handshake in thought.
Ever yours,