Vincent van Gogh - Vase with Daisies 1886

Vase with Daisies  1886
Vase with Daisies
Oil on paper on panel 40.0 x 56.0 cm. Paris: Summer, 1886
Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Museum of Art

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Saturday, 13 January 1883.
My dear Theo,
What you write about has literally not been out of my thoughts since I received your letter. And I’m writing again precisely because the matter preoccupies me so much. In cases like this one is faced by a patient who is ill in both body and soul. So it’s doubly serious. And financial help with the necessities of life etc. isn’t enough to bring about complete recovery, for the very best and most effective medicine is still love and a home. At least that’s what I felt last winter, and since then — now, for instance — far more so, precisely because the experience made clear to me what my feelings were also telling me. Maintaining a life above water is a great and fine thing, but it’s also very difficult and requires a lot of care. Making a home for the homeless, well, that’s something that must be good, whatever the world may say, it cannot be wrong. And yet it’s often seen as some sort of crime.
I couldn’t help thinking and thinking again about it. How will people take it? Will it bring you into conflict with the world? That, too, is a question in my mind that I can’t answer, because I don’t yet know the circumstances well enough. And there’s something else, which is actually the reason for this letter and which I wanted to suggest you consider and which you’ve probably thought of yourself.
Something like this is a long-term business. But I do think it possible that you’ll soon see the reward for your care, although the complete recovery in body and soul of a constitution that has had such a shock really is something that will take years.
The woman and the children are with me at the moment. There’s a big difference when I think back to last year. The woman is stronger and sturdier, has lost a great, a very great deal of that harried look. The little child is as charming, healthy and cheerful a little fellow as you can imagine. He crows like a cockerel — has nothing but the breast yet is fat and plump.

And the poor little girl — you can see from the drawing that the deep misery of the past hasn’t been wiped away yet, and I often worry about that, but still, she’s already very different from last year — then it was very, very bad, and now there’s already something truly childlike in her.
Anyway, though not yet completely normal, the situation is better than I would have dared hope for last year. And when I now reflect, would it have been better if the mother had had a miscarriage, or if the child had withered and wasted away for lack of mother’s milk, and if that girl had been left more and more unclean and neglected, and the woman herself in who knows what wretched, near indescribable state? — see, then I may not hesitate and I say, onward in good heart. Something simple — truly motherly — is coming in the woman, and as that strengthens she will be saved. And how is progress made??? Not through doctors or through unusual remedies. Through the sense of one’s own home, through a regular, motivated life. Not by sparing oneself a great deal, for that cannot be done, but because the harried heart has more rest, even during hard and tedious work. With this case that I know intimately before me as a reality, I come back to what I wanted to say. It seems to me that you should pay special attention to the surroundings of the woman you write about if you want to see some benefit. It would be desirable for her to be somewhere other than in an empty room in a hotel or something like that, and for her to be in more domestic surroundings. Think about this, for I believe it’s an important thing. She needs to be distracted by very ordinary everyday things that keep her occupied.
Solitude or idleness is absolutely fatal. She should be able to talk to good people. In short, a domestic circle with nothing out of the ordinary would be wonderful. Occupy herself with children, say. I think it rather a pity that she has no child, in my view that makes the case even more critical.
Yes, I believe that the most practical thing you can do is to put her in a domestic circle. I believe that the main consideration for you at the moment is — this life must be saved — and that unselfishly you think more of her than of yourself. For my part, last year I knew of only one home for her, namely with me, and if I could have done something else I wouldn’t have taken her into my house immediately, precisely in order to avoid unpleasantnesses that couldn’t then be avoided. Unable to do otherwise, I didn’t hesitate though. And all in all everything has gone well so far. But with you the position is different, and perhaps you can take her, the person you write about, somewhere for the time being where she’ll be calm and safe until she’s fully recovered. I fear that it may be a long-term business, her recovery, and moreover, if it can be avoided one needn’t sin against society’s prejudices, which simply do exist. If it can’t be avoided, then what carries most weight must outweigh the rest, and this summer I would rather have sinned against all possible prejudices, even if there were more, than leave the woman without a roof and a hearth. But in your case everything can and should take place more calmly, it seems to me, and if I were you I’d provide her with a solid home. Not alone in a room, with no company. For her own good, and not because you want to spirit her away or keep her concealed, but for her it’s essential that emotions and shocking things are avoided as far as possible, and the sooner she’s in normal, everyday occupations and surroundings, the better. Well, if you could take her in immediately, I wouldn’t speak of it. Yet I fear that’s not possible and you yourself wouldn’t immediately agree.
I’m very agitated and I think of you all the time. Just now I did another drawing for which the woman posed. Listen, old chap, to put it briefly, it has been my experience this year that while there are hard, very hard, moments of care and trouble, it’s infinitely better to live with a woman and children than without.
So if you continue to think that this person is the woman for whom you want to live, I regard it as a happy thing for you. And then it’s precisely through love persevered with that she will bloom again. But it’s always desirable to get to know each other first, that’s more orderly and more prudent. And I too would have done that if it could have been arranged, even though I thought, I’ll stay with this person for ever. But there was no home immediately open to her except mine. Anyway, it’s the circumstances that one must take into account, and sometimes one can’t avoid giving offence. I don’t in the least want to advise you to give it up, since you write that you love her, but I believe we agree that it’s good to be careful vis-à-vis the world, which otherwise sometimes ruins everything.
And so, be careful. For the present the recovery is the main concern, and the other is secondary. Well then, I believe nothing will be better for her than to spend each day in a quiet circle. Don’t you know someone among your friends who would be willing to help and take her in for the time being?
For, I repeat, if she’s alone in a room, with no distraction or occupation, then I believe that could be quite fatal for her. And a kind of hospital (ordinary or private) where she had company would perhaps be preferable, provided you visited her often. It may be that all this has already been arranged; I write about it just because I don’t know anything definite in this regard.
I wish I knew when you were coming. If you come and are able, bring the old studies with you. As for my writing to ask whether you could send me a little more, well, I’m a little worried and wish it was possible, but don’t let her go short for my sake. And be assured that because of what you write I’ll gladly redouble my efforts to make progress, so that the burden on you is lightened. But that’s just the thing: working hard sometimes actually costs money, because one has more outgoings. Write soon, for I’m truly longing for news of you. My blessing in everything. Rappard is getting better, I have a letter from him. I’m busy with work, still doing various Heads. Adieu, with a handshake in thought.
Ever yours,
Vincent

You’ll say that I’m spending a lot of time writing, I can’t help it, for you’ve confided in me, so I want to tell you that this didn’t fail to touch me.
It’s an odd thing about cases of this kind that it’s so extremely difficult to know how far one should go. You will experience this too. One asks oneself, should I help this woman and otherwise see only a friend in her, or should I definitely choose this woman as my wife with whom I want to live always? Is she the one? Or is she not?
You see, I believe that you haven’t avoided this conflict, or perhaps you’re still in it. For were it to be otherwise, it would seem to me rather unnatural.
At any rate I felt that conflict, and it was so difficult that for my part I couldn’t entirely answer those questions when circumstances forced me to make a decision. Because I thought, I don’t have the means to maintain two separate households, but perhaps I have enough for one, and so I must tell her how things stand: what I might be able to do and what I certainly couldn’t do. Perhaps we’ll be able to get by together, but if we don’t live together I won’t have enough. With you it may take a different form while still being the same conflict, and I remember a remark of yours last year that I thought very right and true: ‘marrying is such a funny thing’. Yes, by Jove, it certainly is. You said to me then, don’t marry her, and I conceded to you that the circumstances were such that there was good reason not to speak of that for the time being. And now you know that I haven’t spoken further of that, but also that she and I have remained true to each other. And precisely because I can’t say that you were wrong when you said ‘don’t marry her’, I ask you to consider these words of yours, and indeed believe that you’ve thought about them, for it isn’t I who says this but you yourself. And I remind you of this only because I believe that it was indeed good that it didn’t happen immediately.
So don’t let go of this thought, for it’s good for love to ripen so that marrying becomes very much a secondary matter. That is safer, and no one suffers harm as a result.
I wanted to say one thing to you in the beginning, which you’ll understand anyway. Whether or not this puts you in difficulties, I respect the noble feelings that prompted you to help, and because I respect that I hope that if you do run up against difficulties, large or small, you’ll think me worthy of your confidence.
Yet I do NOT view the matter with melancholy, but with every hope of a good outcome, namely happiness for you and for her.
But once again — I consider it likely that a crisis will come sooner or later, consisting of a kind of mutual disappointment — if there was a child, it would be like a lightning conductor for the two of you. Now there isn’t one in your case and so, above all when the crisis comes — not now but later — trust me then and talk to me. See, for that’s where there are rocks where many a love has foundered alas and could have been saved. Once one has surmounted those rocks there’s plain sailing ahead. Although I’m busy writing to you, I’m busy working too. I can’t say how much I long to discuss many things with you. Tomorrow I’ll be getting a sou’wester for the heads. Heads of fishermen, old and young, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I had already done one, but then later I couldn’t get hold of a sou’wester again. Now I’m going to have one of my own, an old one that many gales and seas have swept over.