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Since I wrote Mauve: “Do you know that those two
months you spoke of have long since passed? Let us shake hands,
and then each go his own way, rather than have a quarrel
between you and me,” I repeat, since I wrote this and
received no sign in reply, my grief chokes me.
Because - and you know this - I love Mauve, and it is so
hard that all the happiness he pictured to me will come to
naught. For I am afraid that the better my drawings become, the
more difficulty and opposition I shall meet. Because I shall
have to suffer much, especially from those peculiarities which
I cannot change. First, my appearance and my way of
speaking and my clothes; and then, even later on when I earn
more, I shall always move in a different sphere from most
painters because my conception of things, the subjects I want
to make, inexorably demand it.
Enclosed is a little sketch of diggers, I will tell you why
I'm sending it. Tersteeg said to me, “You failed before
and now you will fail again - it will be the same story all
over again.” Stop - no, it is quite different now, and
that reasoning is really nothing but a sophism.
My not being fit for business or for professional study does
not prove at all that I am not fit to be a painter. On the
contrary, if I had been able to be a clergyman or an art
dealer, then perhaps I should not have been fit for drawing and
painting, and I should neither have resigned nor accepted my
dismissal as such.
I cannot stop drawing because I really have a draughtsman's
fist, and I ask you, have I ever doubted or hesitated or
wavered since the day I began to draw? I think you know quite
well that I pushed on, and of course I gradually grew stronger
in the battle.
Now, to come back to this sketch - it was done on the Geest,
in the rain, in a street where I was standing in the mud, amid
all the noise and confusion, and I send it to you to show that
my sketchbook proves I try to catch things “in
Now put Tersteeg himself, for instance, in front of a sand
trench on the Geest, where workmen are busy putting in water or
gas pipes; I should like to see what face he would pull and
what kind of sketch he would make of it. Strolling on wharves
and in alleys and streets and in the houses, waiting rooms,
even saloons, is not a pleasant pastime, except for an
artist. As such, one would rather be in the dirtiest place
where there is something to draw than at a tea party with
charming ladies. Unless one wants to draw ladies - then a tea
party is all right even for an artist. What I want to say is
this, searching for subjects, living among working people, the
worry and trouble with models, drawing from nature on the very
spot, is rough work, even dirty work at times. Indeed, a
salesman's manners and clothes are not exactly the most
suitable for me, or for anyone else who does not have to talk
with fine ladies and rich gentlemen and sell them expensive
things and make money, but who has, for instance, to draw
diggers in a trench on the Geest. If I could do what Tersteeg
can, if I were fit for that, I would not be fit for my
profession; for my profession it is better that I am as I am
than that I squeeze myself into forms which do not fit me.
I, who did not feel at ease in a fine store, who would not
feel so especially now, and would certainly be bored and bore
others - I am quite a different person when I am at work on the
Geest or on the heath or in the dunes. Then my ugly face and
shabby coat harmonize perfectly with the surroundings and I am
myself and work with pleasure. As for the “how to do
it,” I hope to be able to push on.
When I wear a fine coat, the working people that I want for
models are afraid of me and distrust me, or they want more
money from me.
Well, I struggle along as well as I can, and I don't think I
belong among those who complain, “There are no models in
So if remarks are made about my habits - meaning dress,
face, manner of speech - what answer shall I make…that
such talk annoys me?
Am I ill-mannered in another sense, that is, insolent and
Look here, in my opinion all politeness is founded on
goodwill towards everybody, founded on the necessity everyone
who has a heart in his breast feels, to help others, to be of
use to somebody, and finally, on the need to live together, and
not alone. Therefore I do my best; I draw, not to annoy people,
but to amuse them, or to make them see things which are worth
observing and which not everybody knows.
I cannot believe, Theo, that I could be such a monster of
insolence and impoliteness as to deserve to be cut off from
society, or as Tersteeg says, “should not be allowed to
stay in The Hague.”
Do I lower myself by living with the people I draw? Do I
lower myself when I go into the houses of labourers and poor
people and when I receive them in my studio?
I think my profession requires it, and only those who don't
understand anything of painting or drawing could object to
I put the question, where do the draughtsmen who work for
the Graphic, Punch, etc., get their models? Do they personally
hunt for them in the poorest alleys of London - yes or no?
And their knowledge of the people, were they born with it -
or did they acquire it in later years by living among the
people and paying attention to things that many another
overlooks, by remembering what many another forgets?
When I go to see Mauve or Tersteeg I cannot express myself
as I should wish, and perhaps I do myself more harm than good.
When they are more accustomed to my way of speaking, they will
no longer take offense.
But do tell them now, in my name, how things are - that if I
have hurt them in speech or action, I hope they will forgive
me. Tell them in better words than I can, with as much style
and grace as necessary, how they on their part have
caused me much sorrow, much grief, much trouble in these
few months which have seemed so long to me because of all these
worries. Make them understand this, they don't know it: they
think I am unfeeling and indifferent.
You will render me a great service by doing this, and I
think things can be settled in this way.
I wish they would just take me as I am. Mauve has been kind
to me and has helped me thoroughly and well, but - it lasted
only a fortnight - that is too short.
Adieu, Theo, try to do what you can. If I have some good
luck instead of bad luck, I needn't be such a burden on you.
Enough for this time, believe me,
Yours sincerely. Vincent
[On a separate sheet]
You have doubtless heard about Father's new call, and that
Mother is well again but Uncle Cent is sick. I am working on
the drawings for C. M., but lately I have been so depressed by
the things I wrote you about that they interfered with my work;
and then I thought, I want to see light, perhaps Theo can give
me some information.
It is not surprising that it depressed me, for Tersteeg told
me to my face that I “should not be able to stay in
The Hague”; and I thought he is certainly the kind of
person who, once his mind is made up, will try to obstruct or
thwart me in all things. But how is it possible, and what's got
into him? Even if he doesn't think my drawings any good, is
that any reason for crossing me so determinedly, and with such
[Written in the margin}
Where there is a difference of opinion in artistic matters I
do not consider taking the bread out of somebody's mouth an
honest weapon, nor taking steps to make his friends turn
against him because of circumstances in his private life.
Occasionally I have wanted to pick a quarrel with somebody
who often got bread from me. No, I thought, I can't do this; I
will put up with it, for otherwise he will have nothing to eat.
You see? But people with certain “distinguished
manners” have different ideas about such things.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 15-27 April 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 190.
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