Van Gogh: Letters to Theo

April 11, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

one letter from the larger book, edited by Irving Stone, called “Letters to Theo”


March 1886 – July 1890


Paris, March 1886

Do not be cross with me for having come all at once like this; I have thought about it so much, and I believe that in this way we shall save time. We shall fix things up, you will see.

I got your letter this morning, and I think it is all to the good that you have broached the subject to our uncles in Holland. And I do not think I was wrong in my ‘It must be full speed ahead.’

I have painted the sequel to those flowers that you have. A branch of white lillies–white, pink, green–against black, something like black Japanese lacquer inlaid with mother of pearl; then a bunch of orange tiger lilies against a blue background; a bunch of dahlias, violet against a yellow back ground, a red gladioli in a blue vase against light yellow.

I am quite willing to make an exchange for two water-colours by Isabey, especially if there are figures. Try to make an exchange for the sequel I have here. Would it not be possible to get the Otto Weber from Prinsenhage, that beautiful ‘Autumn?’ I would give them a series of four in exchange. We need pictures more than drawings.

I have two louis left, but I am afraid I shall not be able to manage from now till your return. When I began to work at Asnieres, I had plenty of canvases, and Tanguy was very good to me. To do him justice, he is just as good still, but his old witch of a wife got wind of what was agoing on and opposed it. All the same, he will do whatever I want of him.

I saw de Lautrec today; he has sold a picture, I think through Portier.

And now I have been to the Tambourin. Not going there looked like funking it. I said to the Segatori that I did not judge her in this business, but that it was for her to judge herself; that I had torn up everything; and that since she had not come to see me, I took it that she knew they were trying to pick a quarrel with me, and that she had not tried to warn me when she said. ‘Go away,’ which I did not understand.

She answered that the pictures and all the rest were at my disposal, but that it was I who had tried to pick a quarrel–which doesn’t surprise me, knowing that if she took my part they would treat her abominably. I did not want to take the pictures straight off, but siad that when you came back we could talk about it because the pictures belonged to you as much as to me.

She did not look well, and was as white as wax. Although I should not say this openly, my opinion is that she has procured an abortion. I do not blame her, for she is in a bad way: she is neither a free agent nor mistress in her own house, and worst of all, she is ill and in pain.

In two months’ time she will be better, I hope, and then perhaps she will be grateful to me for not bothering her. I know her well enough to trust her still. And, mind you, if she manages to keep her place going, from the point of view of business I should not blame her for choosing to be top-dog and not under-dog. If in order to get on, she tramples on my toes a bit–well, she has my leave. When I saw her again, she did not trample on my heart, which she would have doen if she had been as bad as people said.

But you can be sure that I shall not try to do any more work for the Tambourin. As for the Segatori, that’s very different. I have still some affection for her, and I hope she still has some for me.

I saw Tanguy yesterday, and he has put a canvas I’ve just done in his window. I have done four since you left, and I have a large on on hand. I know that these long canvases are difficult to sell, but later on people will see that there is open air in them, and that they are in good vein.

The whole lot would do for decorations for a dining-room or a country-house. And if you fall very much in love and get married, it doesn’t seem to me out of the question that you will rise to a country-house yourself some day, as so many other picture dealers have doen. If you live well you spend more, but you gain ground that way, and perhaps one gets on better these days by looking rich than by looking shabby. It’s better to have a gay life of it than to commit suicide.

I was touched by what you wrote about home: ‘They are fairly well, but still it is sad to see them.’ A dozen years ago you would have sworn that at any rate the family would always prosper. It would be a great satisfaction to Mother if you were to marry, and for the sake of your health and your work, you ought not to remain single.

As for me, I feel that I am losing the desire for marriage and children, and now and then it saddens me that I should be feeling so at thirty-five, just when it should be the opposite. And sometimes I have a grudge against this rotten painting. It was Richepin who said somewhere:

L’amour de l’art fait perdre l’amour vrai.

(The love of art means loss of real love.)

I think this is terribly true, but on the other hand, real love makes you disgusted with art. At times I feel old and broken, yet still enough of a lover not to be a real enthusiast for painting.

To succeed one must have ambition, and ambition seems absurd. It depresses me to think that even when it’s a success, paianting never pays back what it costs. What will come of it I don’t know; I should like above all things to be less of a burden to you; and that is not impossible in the future. for I hope to make such progress that you will be able to show my stuff boldly wihtout compromising yourself. Then I shall take myself off somewhere down South, to get away from the sight of so many painters that as men disgust me.



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