Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait 1886

Self-Portrait 1886
Oil on canvas 39.5 x 29.5 cm. Paris: Autumn, 1886
The Hague: Haags Gemeentemuseum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Saturday, 21 April 1883.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter, thanks for the enclosure. I read your letter with great interest. I’m glad that you understand correctly from which quarter difficulties will probably come. Namely, that — without meaning to do so — women like S. (you rightly say that they, though, are good in themselves) aren’t very careful about what they say, etc. When, in short, you refer to a relationship between your patient and her own mother, that isn’t something on which I congratulate you. I fear that she’ll be drawn backwards many times by that link when you’re trying to bring about forward movement. But — it’s nothing unusual.
It is, however, a sad thought that something like the relationship between mother and daughter can have a dark side. So that a man who loves light and seeks it can be fatally thwarted by it. Through the influence of the mother and mixing with girlfriends — perhaps more than through anything else — something called a retrograde3 gets into women sometimes and prevents reforms in their thinking and actions, which are sometimes needed, and urgently needed. I’m glad that you rightly foresee what may lie in store for you from that quarter, but I’m not glad that you weren’t spared this — if the woman had left her family completely, you could expect fewer problems in the future, I believe. And the difficulty is precisely that it’s impossible to calculate exactly what form the problems will take, and that when taking precautionary measures one must sometimes think: yes, but it may well be that I’ll have to perform diametrically opposite manoeuvres.

Somewhere in a preface by Zola there are the following words, I believe in this form: ‘Yet these women are not bad, the impossibility of living a straight life in the midst of the gossip and calumny of the suburbs is the cause of their faults and their fall’. If the woman is sufficiently cultivated to be able to follow you in thoughts and concepts and thus share in your inner life, that will be a strong bond that will neutralize many problems. The problem to be expected in establishing relations with her family, I would think, is that one sometimes lapses into the official as a result (people take it like that sometimes, most indiscreetly), when one meant it to be more private and unofficial.
Act and be silent is not everyone’s aim, and some older and wiser family members lapse so easily into noise-making that one may regret having spoken to them. Especially because they can’t help intriguing, and anyway — they’re probably wolves. I wish we weren’t so far apart. I wrote to you yesterday at greater length about some difficulties you may encounter shortly, but I was prevented from writing by the sense that I myself sometimes don’t know how to carry on. Moreover, I have faith that where love is true it doesn’t die, at least not when one acts with reason at the same time. Yet I would like to cross that out as well, because it’s not right. For love can indeed die, in a way — but there’s something like a power of renaissance in love.
What man kills God restores to life.
Van der Weele came to see me again. Perhaps through him I’ll make the acquaintance of Piet van der Velden, whom you certainly know from his figures of peasants and fishermen.
I met Van der V. once, and he made a good impression on me at the time. I was reminded of the character of Felix Holt the radical by Eliot. There’s something broad and rough in him that pleases me greatly — something like the roughness of torchon. A man who evidently doesn’t seek civilization in outward things but is much further inwardly, much much much further than most people. In short, he’s a true artist, and I’d like to get to know him for I would trust him and I’m sure I would learn from him. And if it doesn’t happen through Van der Weele, it isn’t impossible that I may bump into him at some point.
Rappard was due to visit me last Monday, then his sister fell ill, he wrote, and again he couldn’t come. Perhaps he’ll come this week.
Well, at present there are no drawings in which I don’t work in printer’s ink with a brush.
I have to say that I’m running a little short. This is certainly not your fault — but it’s not my fault either. Whatever calculations I make, I can’t economize any further. And to carry out some plans I would need to have more than I can command. I’d get stuck if I began them. But it’s sometimes a sad thing when one thinks, I could do one thing or another this way or that way, and to come up against the costs.
Then there remains undischarged energy in a person that one would prefer not to have to shut up inside oneself. Yet I don’t say this to complain — I’m grateful that I can make progress, albeit not as forcefully as I would like. But the English say sometimes: Time is money, and I can’t help thinking on occasion that it’s hard to see time passing in which this or that could have been done if I’d had the means. You will understand what I mean, I would like to be able to spend more, both on models and on painting materials. Even if I don’t sell a single one of my studies, I still believe they’re worth what they cost in outgoings. The studio is so much better and more practical, but I only have enough steam for ‘half speed’ and want to go ‘full speed’. Again, I don’t say this to complain, nor because I want to press you to make greater sacrifices — you’re already overburdened yourself. But in explanation and to open my heart for once. For you’ll understand that sometimes I’m burdened with cares. Still, we must make shift with what we have, and undermine with patience the things we can’t lift with strength. This week I drew a few recumbent figures, I’ll need figures of corpses or sick people eventually, both men and women. I passed by Israëls’s house lately — I’ve never been inside it — the front door stood open because the hall was being scrubbed — I saw things hanging in the hall and do you know what they were?
The large Herkomer, Last muster Sunday at Chelsea and a photob after that painting by Roll, Miners’ strike, which you may remember I wrote to you about at the time. I didn’t know there was a photoc of Last muster. I have the large woodcut of the two main figures and the first rough sketch, done long before the painting.
Well, adieu old chap, best wishes for your patient, good fortune with work.
Ever yours,