Vincent van Gogh - Three Pairs of Shoes 1886

Three Pairs of Shoes 1886
Three Pairs of Shoes
Oil on canvas 49.0 x 72.0 cm. Paris: December, 1886
Cambridge, Mass.: Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University

« previous picture | Paris | next picture »

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Wednesday, 9 May 1883.
My dear friend Rappard.
I received your telegram this morning. I was on the point of coming to you when I heard you were indisposed. But on reflection I changed my mind because I thought that the doctor might take the view that it wouldn’t be good for you to talk, &c.
I believe otherwise that you yourself would not object — I too wouldn’t be at all concerned that it would harm you. On the contrary indeed, there’s something peculiar in the temperament of every painter. Momentary weakness, nervousness, melancholy are often caused by the effort of working — at the same time, though, there’s a kind of rebound, and the weakness &c. &c. is cured precisely by making an effort.
If someone is weak and has had more than enough of reasoning and discussing with friends, it might do him good to be solitary for a while, but as far as I know this isn’t the case with you. So I considered coming to you.
But I thought, Rappard has fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, maids, servants, and I don’t know what else at home, and they can all be on sentry duty to keep him quiet if the doctor has said something like that. Now if one arrives at such a moment, the pleasure is gone and you sit facing each other in embarrassment. For my part, though, I tell you frankly, at times I clearly feel the two forces of exhaustion and recovery in my own temperament due to one and the same cause, the effort put into work. And I trust in this so much, not only for myself but for others too, that when I was ill last year, for example, I brazenly acted against the doctor’s advice in some respects, not because I thought his advice was wrong or that I knew better, but because I reasoned to myself: I live to paint and not primarily to conserve my constitution. Sometimes the mysterious words, whosoever will lose his life shall find it, are as clear as daylight. I was cured MORE SPEEDILY than a few others of whom I know how long they took to recover from the same thing.
But — dear friend — I write what I would otherwise certainly say to you — save your strength in the sense of not expending it on matters that don’t lead directly to your goal. I say the same of church ornaments as of making decorations. In my view this is using up powder on something that may be worth a shot of powder in itself, if need be, from someone who has a full cartridge box and can refill it when it’s empty, but — my dear friend — not a cartridge from a soldier on whose alertness important matters may depend and whose position puts greater responsibility on his shoulders than on other people’s.

What’s permitted to others may be reprehensible in you, since in this case the better is the enemy of the good. Ergo, save yourself for the better. Do you share my opinion as to your responsibility and what depends on your post? I’m not certain about it. There are two points of view with everybody: what one is, what one could be. We may not confine ourselves in the first, it seems to me, with a ‘clear’ conscience. We should feel the second as a formidable reality above us since, imperfect and full of faults as we are, we’re never justified in stifling the ideal, and what extends into the infinite as if it were no concern of ours. I have a few reasons for finding your post highly important in the circumstances. Perhaps my feeling towards you is more sombre as a result. I wonder, what will R. do? Which side will he choose?
But now isn’t the moment to philosophize about that. So to business. I have a particular desire to meet you soon. I’ve seen absolutely nothing by you for a year, longer even, because I didn’t see anything last year either when you were here. Also, you’ve seen little of my work — nothing other than the lithographs.
So, if you agree, we must arrange things so that we see each other, and visit each other in turn. So my proposal is that you let me know on which day there would be no obstacle to my coming to your studio for a morning. As long as you have these symptoms of coughing blood, I don’t think it exaggerated to say that there are objections to your coming here. So let’s agree to postpone that until these symptoms have gone completely. But the very first day that you’re back to your normal ways without disagreeing with your doctor, I’ll come to see you as soon as I hear one word from you.
As you see, I’m writing to you even before receiving the letter mentioned in your telegram. But I don’t expect it to change much in this plan, but rather to endorse it. Don’t imagine I’m against all decorations or ornaments — but I’m against them at this time and in the circumstances we’re now facing here in Holland. I’m not against them if a certain surplus of vigour is absorbed in that direction at a time of great enthusiasm and a spirit of energy and renaissance. But I’m against them at a time when enthusiasm and energy aren’t exactly the prevailing mood — especially among the young — so let those who have energy concentrate.
There’s a time to be merry but there’s also a time to be severe. Truly, then it’s necessary that one does not share the confidence about everything going well, which is more or less the convention at present, and could end up in a periwig age — when they drank a glass &c. and left things as they were. When there is decline — then no ornaments, please — but a quest for inner fellowship with ‘the old hands of yesterday’, and ignore the present.
Some matters, my dear friend, take precedence in my mind over one’s own private concerns or private difficulties. These last are also not the immediate motive if I desire to speak to you. Thus now I’ve talked about other things before getting round to thanking you for being ready to help me, which reassures me greatly and will spare me having to take distasteful measures. Thank you for that. If I talk about things in general, actually I detest doing such a thing.
It will be the same if I come to you — I can’t conceal the fact that I, for one, can’t see the future clearly, and consider it doubtful whether I’ll be able to do what I propose to do. So I seek to have your advice to perhaps get some light. I believe you have a certain eye for my work, and in some cases your judgement could be of great use to me when I have the studies for something, for example, in shaping them into the final whole. Now at the moment I have many studies and 2 or 3 more important compositions are dawning in my mind for which I probably have most of the material in my studies.
Precisely because I value your opinion, it’s necessary for you to know something of my thoughts too. And I believe you probably have enough power of contemplation to understand my vision even when you don’t agree with me about everything.
If I have something against a new movement, it isn’t at all that of Israëls, Mauve and Maris. No, that’s simply the best in my view, but something has since arisen from it which, while resembling it, is in fact directly opposed to those masters — and that’s what I’m against. Van der Weele, for instance, is more serious and sticks to a straight line. I saw his studies last Sunday.
Now I believe that you also have a straight line, but I wonder whether some things aren’t more deviations in the direction described. I’m ready to withdraw this opinion, but that’s how it appears to me.
Now, for my part I too am looking for that line which I think is the best, that of let’s say Israëls, Mauve, Maris. I don’t even know how far I’ve advanced along it — much less how far I’ll yet advance — but I’ve done my best at it and shall continue to do my best. And this being so, if, for example, I see objections to your decorations, it’s as far from my intention as the north is from the south to do this in a schoolmasterly way or tone, but only as one who is himself searching for something true and sound — and serious not because I’ve already found it but serious because I’m myself searching for it.
And all I think regarding not only you, but certainly myself no less, is that we must be on our guard against the diffuse and search for concentration and pith. And if I come to you — truly, it’s with a view to what concerns practice, and not about theory or philosophy, that I want to talk to you.
With a view to practice, as prosaic as Monday morning. You write about a beautiful print in The Graphic by Howard Pyle. If you mean a composition that recalls Ter Borch or Nicolaes de Keyser — Penn and the colonists — it struck me too — so much so that I ordered that issue. Yes, it’s deuced beautiful. In the same way I took an issue of London News for the sake of a sheet by King — Workmen in a wagon of the Underground Railway.
I’ve also subscribed to Dumas’s le Salon 1883, of which the first issue is out at 1 franc and which will be complete in 12 monthly instalments.
I greatly regret that you didn’t come after all, but it wasn’t your fault.
Up to now I had some qualms about coming to you, because so many prefer not to see me and I generally don’t look forward to paying visits. And part of the reason for that is also because I’ve taken the woman and her two children into my house, and they think they can’t decently have anything to do with me. But having provisionally learned from you yourself that your opinion is different from that of others, I believe I can give up my qualms. I deal with it by not seeking out those who avoid me for this reason, I prefer to stay away from places rather than to be unwelcome. All the more so since I can slightly, slightly, slightly, but only a very tiny bit, excuse the prejudice of those who are just observing or trying to observe social conventions and accept them as they are, above all because I regard them as weak and don’t want to fight, at least not attack. In this respect, too, I CERTAINLY save my cartridges. Is this too pedantic?
Take me as I am and let us agree that I’ll hear from you when I can visit you without going against what your doctor prescribes.
And thank you again for being willing to help me, and your letter will be welcome when it comes, but if your condition means that you must put off writing, then let it wait.
Adieu, with a handshake in thought.
Ever yours,