Highlighting food-and-drink - malnutrition - Turn off highlighting
If you mean this only in a financial sense, I shouldn't mind
it so much, but if it's in reference to my work, I don't quite
understand why I deserve it. It comes just at the moment when I
can send you the prints of the photographs of a few of my
largest drawings which I had promised you before, but couldn't
get because I had no money.
I do not know what you mean by that expression, how can I
know it? Your letter is too short, but it hit me unexpectedly
right in the heart.
But I should like to know what you really mean by it,
whether you have noticed that I have made some progress or
You will remember that when you wrote me a month ago about
the finances being bad, my answer was, “All right, that
much more reason to do our utmost on both sides; do try to send
me what's strictly necessary; for my part, I will do my utmost
to make progress, so that perhaps we can sell something to the
Since then I have started several larger compositions which
have more in them than the studies of a single figure.
So now my first batch of photographs for you to show to some
artists coincides with your “I can give you little hope
for the future.” Has anything happened?
It makes me nervous, you must write again soon.
As you see, the photos are: Sower, Potato Diggers, Peat
Cutters. I've had some others made: Sand Pit, Burning of
Weeds, Refuse Dump, Potato Digger, one figure, Coal
Hewers, and now last week at Scheveningen I have been
working on Mending of Nets (Scheveningen
And then two other large compositions of labourers in the
dunes (one of which I showed to Tersteeg) which, though they
still require hard work, are the things I should most like to
Long rows of diggers - poor people employed by the
municipality - in front of a patch of sandy ground, which must
be dug. But it is enormously difficult to make. You may find
the first conception of it in the “Peat
It wouldn't make me so melancholy, brother, if you hadn't
added something which worries me. You say, “Let us hope
for better times.”
You see, in my opinion that is one of those things one
should beware of. To hope for better times must not be a
feeling but an action in the present. My actions
depend on yours in that if you should stop sending money, I
couldn't go on and should just be in a desperate position.
Just because I felt the hope for better times strongly, I
threw all my strength into the present work, without thinking
of the future other than to trust the work would find its
wages, though we must pinch ourselves as to food, drink and
clothes more and more every week.
There was the question of Scheveningen, the question of
painting. I thought, “All right, let's carry it
through.” But now I could almost wish I had not started
it, boy, for the expenses are heavy and I cannot meet them.
The weeks passed - many, many weeks and months of late -
when the expenses were repeatedly heavier than I could afford,
notwithstanding all my worrying and economizing and however
much I racked my brains. As soon as your money arrives, I must
not only manage to live ten days on it, but I have so many
things to pay for at once that from the start those ten days
which are ahead are bound to mean starvation. And the woman has
to nurse the baby, and the baby is strong and growing, and it
often happens that she has no milk for it.
And it happens to me, too: when I am sitting in the dunes or
somewhere else, I have a faint feeling in my stomach because
there isn't enough to eat.
The whole family's shoes are patched and worn out, and there
are many more of such small miseries which put furrows in one's
Well, I should not care, Theo, if I could only stick to the
thought, It will come out right, we must go on. But now your
saying, “I can give you little hope for the
future,” is like “the hair that finally breaks the
camel's back” to me. The burden is sometimes so heavy
that one extra hair is enough to make the animal sink to the
Now what am I to do? I saw Blommers twice in Scheveningen
and spoke to him, and he saw a few of my things and asked me to
come and see him.
I made a few painted studies there, a bit of the sea, a
potato field, a field with net menders, and here in the studio,
a fellow in a potato field planting cabbage in the empty spots
between the potato plants; and then I am working on the large
drawing of the mending of nets.
But I feel my ardour vanishing, one needs to have a fixed
point somewhere. When you say, “Set your hopes on the
future,” it sounds to me as if you yourself had no
confidence in me.
Is this true? I can't help it, my spirits are low because of
all these cares. I only wish you were here.
You say that the effect of the lithographs is somewhat
meager. I am not in the least surprised when I think of how a
man's physique influences his work, and my life is too cramped
and meager. Really, Theo, we ought to have had a little more to
eat for the sake of the work, but I could not afford it, and it
will remain so as long as I cannot breathe a little more
Therefore, please do show the photographs to Buhot or
somebody, if you cannot send more yourself, and try to get
something accepted with his help.
I am almost sorry to have started painting again, for I wish
I hadn't begun it if I can't carry on. I can't do without
colours, and colours are expensive, and I can't get more on
credit because I still owe a little to Leurs and Stam. And yet
I love painting so.
While I was at it, some of last year's things caught my
fancy again, and I have painted studies hanging in the studio
The sea, which I love enormously, must be brushed in oil,
otherwise one cannot get hold of it.
Look here, Theo, I only hope you won't get discouraged, for
indeed, when you speak of, “giving no hope for the
future,” it makes me melancholy. You must keep courage
and energy to send the money, otherwise I'm on the rocks and
cannot go on, for those who might be friends have become
enemies and seem to want to remain so. Think it over well -
that in fact I never did anything which accounts for this - at
least, I cannot account for it - for instance, Mauve's or
Tersteeg's or C. M.'s being so indifferent that they refuse to
see my work or to speak a word to me. It is human to be angry
about something, but it is not right to cling to that anger,
even after a year has elapsed and after repeated efforts to
So for today I finish with the question, Theo, when you
spoke to me about painting in the beginning, and if we had then
foreseen my current work, should we have hesitated in thinking
it right for me to become a painter (or draughtsman, what's the
I do not think we should have hesitated about going on then
if we could have foreseen these photographs for instance,
should we? For surely it takes a painter's hand and eye to
create such a scene in the dunes, in some form or other.
But now it often happens that I feel so downhearted when I
see people behave so hostilely and indifferently that I lose
all my courage. But then I cheer up again, and go back to my
work and laugh at it, and because I work in the present, and
let no day go by without working, I believe that there is
indeed hope for me in the future, though I do not feel it, for
I tell you, there is no space left in my brain for
philosophizing about the future, either for upsetting me or for
comforting me. I think my duty is to stick to the present with
regard to me, too, and let us persevere as far as we can
persevere, today rather than tomorrow.
Yet, Theo, you need not spare me if it's only a question of
money - if only as a friend and a brother you keep a little
sympathy for my work, saleable or unsaleable. If only I may
keep your sympathy in this respect, I care very little for all
the rest, and we must calmly and deliberately find ways and
means. In case there is no financial hope for the future, I
should propose moving to the country, to some village quite
in the country, saving half of the house rent; and for the
same money one spends here on bad food, we should have
good, healthy food, necessary for the woman and the children -
in fact, for me too. At the same time it would perhaps have
advantages for taking models too.
You know I painted last summer - I have hung several of
these studies on the walls again, because while making new
ones, it struck me there was something in them after all.
That painting helped me indirectly in my drawing during the
winter months and in the spring, and I carried this on as far
as these last drawings. Now, however, I feel that it would be
good to paint for a time, and that I need this to get a
stronger tone in the drawings, also. I intended to paint the
women sitting in the grass mending nets on a rather large
scale, but after your letter I shall postpone it till I have
seen you. I got more copies of the lithographs, but they are
still weak; the man says he ought to have used more ink, and he
will soon give me some even better ones.
“N'importe,” I have tried the experiment of making
a small-size sketch for illustration.
Oh, Theo, I could make so much more progress if I could
spend a little more. But I can't find the way out, I am
handicapped by expenses everywhere. When I read the biographies
of other painters, I find that they all needed money and were
miserable when they couldn't go on.
Do write soon, for I feel upset and doubt whether to dare go
on with Scheveningen because of the expense of the painting
Since then I have spoken to Breitner about the three
compositions he had started on. It was indeed true that he had
made them in a moment when he was not himself. He said he was
sorry to have made them in such a manner, and showed me another
composition of the drunkard and studies of common streetwalkers
which were infinitely better. And I also saw a few watercolours
he was working on and a picture of a smithy - all were done
with a calmer and firmer hand and mind. I read a book he lent
me: Soeur Philomène by de Goncourt, who wrote Gavarni.
The story takes place in a hospital; it is very good.
I had hoped that you could send something; at all events -
especially if you have no money - you must write me soon, for
it is hard to keep courage the way things are. I think the
drawings of which the photographs are taken not yet deep enough
of tone; they do not sufficiently express the emotion roused by
nature, but if you compare them with what I made in the
beginning, with the figures I made at first, I think I am not
mistaken if I see a current of progress, and we must not lose
hold of this current.
So let us try to drudge on.
I only wish you could come here.
At all events write soon. Adieu, with a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
I do not approve, Theo, of spending more than one receives,
but when it is a question of going on strike or working on, I
vote for working on to the utmost.
Millet and the other masters worked on till writs were
served on them, or some have been in prison, or have had to
move from one place to another, but I do not see that any one
of them gave up his work.
And I am only beginning, but I see it from afar, like a dark
shadow, and sometimes it makes my work gloomy.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 22 July 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 301.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.