Please feel free to tell Mauve anything you like about the
contents of this letter, but there is no need for it to go any
My dear Theo,
I met Mauve today and had a most regrettable conversation
with him, which made it clear to me that Mauve and I have
parted for good. Mauve has gone too far to retract, and anyhow
he certainly wouldn't want to.
I invited him to come and see my work, and then to talk
things over. Mauve flatly refused: `I will certainly not be
coming to see you, that's all over.'
In the end he said, `You have a vicious character.' I turned
away then - it was in the dunes - and walked home alone.
Mauve takes it amiss that I said, `I am an artist,' which I
won't take back, because it's self-evident that what that word
implies is looking for something all the time without ever
finding it in full. It is the very opposite of saying, `I know
all about it, I've already found it.' As far as I am concerned,
the word means, `I am looking, I am hunting for it, I am deeply
I have ears, Theo - if somebody says, `You have a vicious
character,' what am I supposed to do? I turned away and went
home alone, but with a very heavy heart that Mauve should have
been prepared to say that to me. I shall not ask him for an
explanation, nor shall I apologize.
And yet - and yet - and yet. I wish Mauve did feel some
compunction. I am suspected of something…it is in the
air…I am keeping something back, Vincent is concealing
something that mustn't see the light of day.
Well, gentlemen, I shall say to you, you people who prize
manners and culture, and rightly so, provided it is the genuine
article - which is more cultured, more sensitive, more manly:
to desert a woman or to concern oneself with one who has been
Last winter I met a pregnant woman, deserted by the man
whose child she was carrying. A pregnant woman who walked the
streets in the winter - she had her bread to earn, you'll know
how. I took that woman on as a model and have worked with her
all winter. I couldn't pay her a model's full daily wages, but
I paid her rent all the same, and thus far, thank God, I have
been able to save her and her child from hunger and cold by
sharing my own bread with her.
When I first came across this woman, she caught my eye
because she looked so ill. I made her take baths and as many
restoratives as I could manage, and she has become much
healthier. I have been with her to Leyden, where there is a
maternity hospital in which she will be confined.*
It strikes me that any man worth his salt would have done
the same in a case like this. I consider what I did so simple
and natural that I thought I could keep it to myself. She found
posing difficult, yet she has learned, and I have made progress
with my drawing because I have had a good model. The woman is
now attached to me like a tame dove. For my part, I can only
get married once, and when better than now, and to her, because
it is the only way to go on helping her and she would otherwise
be sent back by want on to the same old path which leads to the
abyss. She has no money, but she is helping me to earn money
with my work.
I am filled with zest and ambition for my job and my work,
and the reason why I have put aside paintings and watercolours
for a time is that Mauve's desertion gave me a great shock, and
if he sincerely retracted I should start again with renewed
At the moment I cannot look at a brush, it makes me
I wrote: Theo, can you enlighten me about Mauve's attitude?
- perhaps this letter will help to enlighten you in turn. You
are my brother, it is only natural that I should speak to you
about private matters, but the moment someone tells me, `You
have a vicious character,' I don't feel like talking to him any
I could not do otherwise, I did what was ready to hand, I
worked. I thought I would be understood without words. To be
sure I thought of another woman for whom my heart was beating -
but she was far away and did not want to see me, and this one -
there she was, walking about sick, pregnant and hungry - in
winter. I could not do otherwise. Mauve, Theo, Tersteeg, you
people have my livelihood in your hands, are you going to
reduce me to beggary, turn your backs on me? Now I have spoken
and wait for whatever else will be said to me.
I am sending you a few studies because you may perhaps see
from them that she has helped me considerably with her posing.
My drawings are `by my model and me,' the one with the white
bonnet is her mother. But since in a year's
time, when I shall probably be working quite differently, I
shall have to base my work on these studies, which I am doing
now as conscientiously as I can, I should like to have at least
these three back.
You can see that they are done with care. If I need an
interior or a waiting room or something of the kind later on,
they will prove useful, because I shall be able to look to them
for the details. But I thought it would perhaps be a good idea
to keep you up to date on how I spend my time. These studies
demand a rather dry technique. Had I tried for effect they
would have been less useful to me later. But I'm sure you will
see this for yourself.
When you see how that drawing is done, you'll understand
that the thin stuff is hardly able to take it. I wanted to send
you a small figure in black merino as well, but I can't roll
it. The chair near the large figure isn't finished, because I
want an old oak chair there.
* Small wonder she wasn't well, the child was in the wrong
position and she needed an operation, that is, the child had to
be turned round with forceps. But there is a good chance that
she will pull through. She is due to give birth in
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 3-12 May 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 192.
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