To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Sunday, 11 March 1883.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter of 9 March and for the enclosure. Is your patient making good progress? I hope that no news about her is good news.
If it was as cold in your part of the world as it was here last week, she wouldn’t have been best pleased. While for your part you say you sometimes long for us to be able to talk rather more about various things in art, for my part I feel that longing constantly, and on occasion very strongly.
I would so often dearly like to know your opinion about this or that — about some studies &c., for example whether they might be made into something suitable, or whether it was advisable to press on with something for one purpose or another. I would like so often to have more information about matters which you certainly know more about than I do, and would dearly like to hear more about what’s going on, namely what sorts of thing are being made. This can all be dealt with in part by letter, but writing takes time and one doesn’t get round to it easily, nor can one go into things in sufficient detail.
And now in particular — because studies are piling up, rather — I’d give a great deal for us to be able to speak to each other again, and I also long for you to see how much more suitable the studio now is.
Anyway, we’ll hope that it won’t be so very, very long before you come to Holland.
Rest assured, dear brother, that the sense of the enormous obligation I have to you for your loyal help is always fresh and vivid inside me. It would be difficult for me to express all my many thoughts about that. It remains the cause of a kind of disappointment to me that I don’t yet see in my drawings what I wanted to have in them. The difficulties really are many and great, and not to be overcome at a stroke. Making headway is a kind of miner’s labour that doesn’t go as quickly as one would wish and as others expect. But if one is faced by such labour, the first things one must hang on to are patience and faith. In fact I don’t think much about the difficulties, precisely because if one were to fret about them one would get dizzy or become confused. A weaver who must control and interweave many threads has no time to philosophize about how they fit together, but rather he’s so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts, and feels how it can and must work out rather than being able to explain it. Even if neither you nor I come up with particular plans etc. when we can speak to each other again, this feeling that something is coming into being may strengthen on both sides. And I would want that.
This morning I was with Van der Weele, who was working on a very beautiful painting of diggers, horses and sand-carts. Big. It was beautiful in tone and colour — a grey morning mist — it was manly in drawing and composition, it had style and character — in short, it was by far the most beautiful and most vigorous work of his I’ve ever seen. He had painted three very beautiful, thorough studies, as well as an old white horse and a fine small landscape in the dunes too. This week he may come to have a look at my studio, which I would like very much.
I saw Breitner briefly in the street last week. His position in Rotterdam is reassuring for him — but just this morning Van der Weele had had a note from him to say that he was ill again. To tell you the truth, the impression I got when I saw him again wasn’t very favourable; in fact I found a je ne sais quoi of disappointment in him, and he talked rather oddly about his work.
Now I must tell you about a surprise I’ve had. I received a letter from Pa, very cordial and cheerful it seemed to me, with 25 guilders in it. Pa wrote that he’d received
some money he hadn’t expected and that he wanted to let me share in it. Wasn’t that awfully kind? It makes me blush, though.
But there’s one thought that instinctively springs to mind. Can it be, perhaps, that Pa has heard from someone or other that I’m living in poverty or some such thing? I wouldn’t care for it if something like that was the motive, for in my opinion this view of my circumstances wouldn’t be accurate. And could cause Pa concern that isn’t entirely appropriate.
You will understand my intention better than Pa if I were to try to explain such a thing to him. In my view I’m often very rich, not in money, but rich (although not every day exactly) because I’ve found my work — have something which I live for heart and soul and which gives inspiration and meaning to life. My mood varies, of course, but nonetheless I have a certain average serenity. I have a certain faith in art, a certain trust that it’s a powerful current that drives a person — although he has to cooperate — to a haven, and in any case I consider it such a great happiness if a person has found his work that I don’t count myself among the unfortunate.
I mean, even if I were in certain fairly serious difficulties, and even if there were sombre days in my life, I wouldn’t like it and wouldn’t consider it right if someone were to count me among the unfortunate.
You say something in your letter that I also feel on occasion — ‘Sometimes I don’t know how I’ll get through it.’ You see, I often feel that, often and in more than one respect, not only financially but in art itself and life in general. Yet is that unusual? Doesn’t everyone with a little enterprise and energy have such moments?
In my view we all have moments of melancholy, of stress, of anguish, to a greater or lesser extent, and this is a condition of every self-conscious human life. Some apparently have no self-consciousness. But those who have such moments, although then sometimes in an anxious state, aren’t unfortunate because of that, and nothing unusual is happening to them. And sometimes there’s a solution, sometimes new inner energy comes and one gets up from them, until perhaps finally, one fine day, one no longer gets up from them – so be it – but there’s nothing unusual in this and, I repeat, it’s inherent in human life, in my view.
Pa’s letter was in reply to a letter of mine which I remember very well was cheerful, because I told him about the changes to the studio, and I did not write to Pa about anything that could give rise to the idea that I was in any kind of difficulty of a financial or other nature. Indeed, Pa doesn’t write anything like that, and his letter is cheerful and cordial, but it came so unexpectedly that it may not be too far-fetched to suggest that I instinctively got the idea: can it be that Pa’s worried about me? If I’m mistaken in this, it would hardly be appropriate to write as if that were the chief impression I gained from something so cordial. The chief impression, in fact, being that I have a feeling of gratitude about receiving something that enables me to do various things that I couldn’t have done otherwise. I’m sharing my thoughts about this with you, though, partly because, should you notice at some point that Pa’s worried about me, you’ll be better able than I am to give Pa the reassurance I would wish him to have.
You will also gather from this that I’ve had a remarkable windfall. I intend to use it to get everything back in order for watercolours. I’ll settle up with Leurs and do several more things to the studio to make it more practical.
It sometimes seems to me that the prices of the various drawing and painting materials have sometimes been dreadfully inflated. To such an extent that many feel they’re prevented from painting as a result. One of my ideals would be to have more places like the one at The Graphic, say, where people who want to work can find all the materials, on condition that they have a certain evident ability and energy. Just as in the past Cadart enabled many to etch who wouldn’t have been able to etch because of the costs if they’d had to pay for it out of their own pocket.
I’m greatly privileged compared with many others, but all the same I can’t do everything that I have the heart and enthusiasm to undertake. The costs are so many, beginning with the model and food and accommodation, and ending with different paints and brushes.
And that, too, is a loom where different threads must be kept apart.
Yet we all face this — but precisely because anyone who paints or draws is faced with this, and is nearly overwhelmed by it if alone, why don’t more painters join hands to work together like soldiers forming ranks? And, above all, why are those branches of art that are the least expensive so despised?
Regarding the natural chalk — I don’t know whether what I got from you came from the Plaats, but I’m sure that I got it from you at the time of your visit last summer, or perhaps in Etten still. I found a very small remnant at a chemist’s, about six pieces but all in small bits. Bear it in mind. When I asked Leurs about it again he told me that Jaap Maris had often asked him for it. I’ve done two more sketches with it, a cradle and one similar to one I’d already sent in which I used a lot of sepia wash.
As to what you write concerning that one sketch about the two figures one above the other, it’s mainly an effect of the perspective. But also of the big difference in size between the small child and the woman on the basket.
What bothers me more than that line of the composition is something that you’ve also noticed, by the way — that the two figures are too equal in strength. In part this is because the natural chalk lacks some tones, and one would like to put in greater strengths with lithographic crayon, say.
But in my view the main reason is that I don’t always have the time to work as elaborately as I would like. It’s possible to search for the different tones more elaborately if one repeatedly comes back to a drawing. But often I have to work in quite a hurry. I daren’t ask too much of my models. If I paid them more elaborately I could ask for more elaborate poses, that’s to say longer and more.
Now I often consider that I receive more from them in effort than I give them in money.
Nonetheless, I believe there is moreover another, weightier reason, namely that I must become much more skilled than I am if I’m to be at all content with myself. And I hope that gradually I’ll work more deftly and more elaborately in the same amount of time that I now devote to it.
Well, brother — best wishes with your patient — I long, for instance, for another of your descriptions of an aspect of Paris. And rest absolutely assured that I’ll be very glad to manage as best I can with the means I have through your loyal help, and that I don’t consider them inadequate for ordinary purposes either, and that I think about ways of making even more and better use of them, and lay the blame chiefly on myself if I can’t achieve certain things with them. Adieu, with a handshake in thought.