[After Theo's visit]
Coming home just now, the very first thing I want to do is
to beg a favour of you - a favour which I do not doubt is
necessary, because it will show you that my intentions are the
same as yours - it is: do not hurry me in the various things we
could not settle at once, for I need some time to decide.
As to my relative coolness towards Father, I will explain
that to you now that you mention it.
About a year ago, father came to the Hague for the first
time since I had left home seeking peace which I didn't find
there, either. I was already living with the woman then, and
said, “Father, as I cannot blame those who disapprove of
my conduct, given the prevailing conditions, I purposely
avoided those whom I think would be ashamed of me. And you
understand, I do not want to worry you, and as long as my
affairs are not straightened out and I have not found my way,
don't you think it would be better for me not to come
If Father had answered something like, “No, that's
carrying things to far,” I would certainly have felt more
warmly towards him; but Father's answer was something between
Yes and No: “Well, you must do as you think
So, presuming they will be more or less ashamed of me, which
fits in with what you said, I was not very keen on
correspondence - neither was Father, and neither his letters
nor mine have been a very intimate. This “entre
nous,” only to explain things, not to draw any further
There are to things to be done when somebody stretches only
a finger: one is to seize the whole hand, to obtrude oneself;
the other is to drop the hand that is not held out warmly and
cordially, or to disappear of one's own free will where one is
Have I been mistaken, “qu'en sais-je?”
There is a bond between you and me which continuous work can
only strengthen in the course of time - this is art, and I hope
we shall continue to understand each other after all.
I am afraid I have said something to you about my work which
I ought to have said differently, and I have a vague feeling of
having hurt you by something, because there seemed to be
something amiss when you left.
I hope it will redress itself.
About my work, what is becoming more and more clear to me
since I first noticed it is the dryness of execution.
This would alarm me if I did not think it a natural
consequence (which I have also discovered in the early work of
a great many very sympathetic persons) - a natural consequence
of the great strain of overcoming the initial difficulties. And
looking back on the last years, I see them full of troubles;
but when these troubles have been overcome, I hope another
period of work will follow.
That fault is so persistent, and correcting it is so urgent,
that we must try to take such measures as will bring us a
period of peace. That must be the first thing, otherwise it
will remain as it is. As my work is, so am I. You must bear
with me a little. I do not know whether you think it would be
better to go and see people like Herkomer, Green or Small
now, or to wait till the work as well as myself
have quieted down a little. I should prefer the latter; perhaps
things will clear up within me soon, but for the moment I had
better not get myself involved in the complicated London
As to the few things you said to me when you left, I hope
you will not forget that, for instance, your remarks about my
clothes, etc., are rather exaggerated. Is it indeed as you say?
Well, I am ready to plead guilty, but it seems to me it is an
old point of discord which has turned up again, rather than one
founded on recent observation, except when I'm working
out-of-doors in the fields or in the studio.
If you really want to help me in this, you must not hurry
Last year I was, so to speak, quite without any social
And it's true that I haven't paid the slightest attention to
If that's the only thing, it's not so difficult to correct,
is it? Especially now that I have that new suit of yours.
I just wish with all my heart that they would bear with my
shortcomings, instead of gossiping about them.
If it puts me in a bad mood, it's because I've heard so much
about it already. At one time I dressed well, at another, less
so; it is like the story of the farmer, his son and the ass,
the moral of which you know, that it is difficult to please
Coming from you, it surprised more than it angered me,
because you know how much worry it has caused me already, and
that it has become a bit of gossip that will never die out,
what ever I do. Well, at all events, I now have that new suit
of yours, and the old one, which is still quite good. So for
the present that's the end of it, and no more about it.
I'm so afraid that the steps I might take to introduce
myself would do more harm than good, and I wish I could avoid
It is practically always so painful for me to speak to other
I am not afraid of it, but I know I make an unfavorable
impression. The chance of changing this is sometimes destroyed
by the fact that one's work would suffer if one lived
differently. And by sticking to one's work, things will come
out right in the end. For instance, take Mesdag, a real
mastodon or hippopotamus, but he sells his pictures. I am not
that far yet, but the man I mention also began late and worked
his way along an honest, manly path, wherever he may be in
other respects. I don't leave things undone from laziness, but
rather to be able to work more, putting aside everything that
does not belong directly to the work.
If I were only a little more advanced, so that my work were
more saleable, I should decidedly say, I leave the business
part to you, I won't have anything to do with the selling. I
will live quite outside that circle.
But now, alas, I cannot say that yet, and that is not your
fault, but in the interests of both of us and for the sake of
peace I beg you to have patience.
I am awfully sorry that I am a burden to you - perhaps
things will clear up - but if you stagger under it, tell me so
plainly. I would rather give up everything than put too heavy a
burden on your shoulders. Then I shall definitely go to London
at once to work at “n'importe quoi,” even carrying
parcels, and I will leave art till better times, at least the
painting and having as studio. When I look back on the past, I
always run up against the same never quite cleared up fatal
facts which occurred in the months from August, 1881 till
That is why I can't help mentioning the same names. Which
seemed to astonish you.
Dear brother, don't think of me as anything other than an
ordinary painter who is confronted by ordinary difficulties,
and do not think the worries at all unusual.
I mean, don't think of the future as a darkness or as a
dazzling light; it will be better to believe in the grey.
I try to do the same, and think it wrong of myself to
deviate from it. Goodbye.
Yours sincerely, Vincent
About the woman - I don't doubt but you will understand that
on my part I do not want to be brusque.
I must refer again to what you said on leaving, “I
begin to think more and more like Father.”
Well, that may be so. You speak the truth, and for my part -
though I don't exactly think and act in that way - I respect
that character, and perhaps know its weak points, but also the
good ones. And I think that if Father knew something about art,
it would undoubtedly be easier for me to talk with him and to
agree with him. Suppose you become like Father, plus your
knowledge of art - all right - I think we shall continue to
understand each other.
Well, let nature simply follow its own course in this - you
will become what you must, I too will not remain exactly the
same as I am now; let's not suspect each other of absurd things
and we shall get on together. And let's not forget that we have
known each other from childhood, and that thousands of other
things can bring us more and more together.
I am a little worried about what seemed to worry you, and I
doubt if I know exactly what was the matter, or rather I
believe it is caused less by one definite thing than by the
fact that there are some points in which our characters differ,
and that you understand one thing better, I another.
I think it would be well for us to try to stick
One thing - if I become too much of a burden to you, let the
friendship remain, even though you help me less in money
matters. I shall grumble now and then - but it will be without
any mental reservation and more to give vent to my feelings
than expecting or demanding that you do everything, which you
know I wouldn't do, boy!
I feel guilty about having said things that I should like to
take back after all, or wish to have left unsaid - or even if
you should admit that there was a grain of truth in them, they
ought to be considered as very exaggerated. For know it well
that the main fault, the one compared to which all the others
fade into nothing, which will remain so whatever the future may
be, is a feeling of gratitude towards you.
Further, if I am less happy in the future, I would in no
case - I repeat, in no case - you understand - even if you had
quite withdrawn your help - I would never consider it your
It would be superfluous to say this if, under the influence
of my nerves, which were too upset, I had not expressed myself
to the effect that in the past you might have done more. Forget
that, please, consider it unsaid. I think if certain things
will come right, time will bring them so, if I am calm. But in
my nervousness, I put the blame now on one thing, then another.
It's the same with other things that I will not repeat now,
though I always remember afterward even what I said in my
excitement, and to a certain extent there is always a grain of
truth in it; but not all principles are absolute, and in
nervous excitement they often seem more important than they
are. As for me, though it seemed something was the matter when
you left, I'll drop it.
Further, what you said
about Father - now there has been occasion to write more often
to him than usual, and you will read the letter yourself. And
so it is with everything. In short, when I give an opinion
about persons, circumstances, a society in which I do not move,
you may understand that I do not always speak justly, but let
my imagination roam without regard to reality, and that I see
things in a very fantastic way, just as things may appear
strange when seen against the light.
You who are nearer to them do not understand how it is
possible for them to appear this way, seen it at a distance and
from behind. And even if I should see things quite incorrectly,
anybody who thought about it would perhaps understand that
given such and such circumstances, I could hardly speak
differently. Things went wrong during a short period, and that
short period cannot but continuously occupy my thoughts and I
think it natural for that moment to cause a reaction even in
the future, because, although people avoid each other on
purpose, inevitably they must in time face each other
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 17 August 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 312.
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