Thanks for your letter, though you yourself admit it to be
rather short. I know that at present many people call
everything that is only an interchange of views, everything
outside their business or facts, quite
superfluous and even nonsensical in a letter, and so they
arrive at a certain very concise form, which, however, is at
the same time a rather unsatisfactory, disappointing way of
Well, brother, I wish you had written about it less curtly,
but it may have been that you were too busy. As to your idea of
letting some time pass, and then looking at the question again
from all points of view, I think it wise, and not at all wrong
in itself. But you add something to that proposal which I will
answer quite plainly. You say, “Think over whether there
isn't also much to be said for my staying at Goupil's.”
Well, brother, that subject has been in my thoughts from a long
time ago until now, much more than I told you of in my letters,
and as you ask me now to consider its advantages, I will, in
all sincerity, tell you how it seems to me.
I tell you that more and more I doubt whether the advantage
of being with Goupil is really to our good, I mean to your
good, to the good of those at home and to my own good - I'm not
just thinking of the financial advantage alone, but of other
doubtful advantages too, such as direct or indirect relations
with influential persons. In short, taking everything into
account, I put a question mark after advantage.
You must understand me well - perhaps - no, certainly -
there was a crisis at home as well as in my own life when, as I
sincerely believe, all of our lives were literally saved
by you. We have been saved from ruin by the protection and
support we received from you; the situation was critical,
especially for me. If I have now reached such a point that,
when I stand before an object or figure, I feel within me
clearly, distinctly, unhesitatingly, the power to draw it - to
render it - not perfectly, but true in its general structure
and proportion - well, that point has been reached, absolutely,
absolutely, and if I have reached it, it has been primarily
because your help was a kind of fence or shield between a
hostile world and myself, and because I could in all calmness
think almost exclusively of my drawing, and my thoughts were
not crushed by fatally overwhelming material cares. And though
I don't know the details of the matter - I believe that those
at home are under great obligations to you, too. And indirectly
also to Goupil & Co., so I fully acknowledge the advantage
up till now; but in the future there comes the
question mark after advantage. If your help was
indispensable until now, I believe that in the future I myself
at least must try to manage my affairs differently.
The germinating seed must not be exposed to a frosty wind -
that was the case with me in the beginning. I'm afraid that if
it hadn't been for you, Uncle Vincent's words, “ni fait,
ni à faire,” Tersteeg's words, and the
accompanying cold shoulder from both at a critical moment would
have been fatal to me, like a too cold wind to the germinating
corn. But once the winter corn is rooted in the earth, it
becomes a little stronger, and it struggles through the winter
as best it can, at least it must get through. And now,
brother, I would think it mean in myself if I said, The money
from you must continue, in that way inducing you to stay
with Goupil & Co. If you arrive at that decision I am so
decidedly against it, I warn you, so decidedly - the
art-dealing business will betray you in the end - that I will
take no part in forcing you to such a decision by needing help
And though I hope we shall remain as true friends as ever,
and shall always feel our brotherhood tie, I repeat, it is my
intention to refuse your financial help as soon as you bind
yourself to Goupil & Co. for good, because I am sure
you would regret such a decision in the end, and it would put
you in a position of which you might say, I wish I had never
accepted it; and at the same time you would think, Then why did
my brother and my parents drive me into it? I will not be
guilty of bringing you to that decision, so now you know what I
really think in all frankness about the “advantages(?) of
But if I were left entirely to myself, I might take a chance
in Paris, or London, or The Hague - in short, in some city in a
printer's or a magazine's office - of course trying at the same
time to make and sell drawings and paintings; and after that,
manage to get back to Drenthe.
Then I should want, however, to submit myself to the utmost
stress in order to force myself to be productive, and I
would beg to stop the present assistance of my own accord.
But, brother, this is in case of your staying with Goupil
& Co., and in the other possibility, your deciding to
become a painter, we should of course feel the pressure of an
enormous compulsion behind us, and would have to encourage each
other in those circumstances by faithful comradeship; but
though I shall always be, and remain, grateful beyond all words
and expressions for your help, my intention for the future is
fixed: if you stay with Goupil, this will push me straightway
to the decision mentioned above, though our friendship will of
course remain, unless you should object to having anything to
do with me.
If it might be - and I don't think it absolutely impossible
- that not the circumstances but your own soul lead you
to painting, well, then it is quite natural for us to join
hands for one and the same aim and ideal.
But as to trying to put up with the thought of approving (?)
of your staying with Goupil, of considering the
advantages (?) of it --you see how I look upon these
things. I have had my own experiences with Goupil in the past;
a look thereon, a look at the present time, and a look into the
future lead me to a Beware! And, for myself, I think Paris
enervating, and I see no good in living there permanently,
neither for myself nor for you.
As for me, perhaps I shall have to be there for a time in
order to make some contacts (made impossible for me at The
Hague), but I will stay in the country as much as I can, and
the only thing which counts with me is painting or drawing.
Goodbye, boy, for the rest, let some time pass, and receive in
thought a warm handshake from,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
You know, brother, I had promised Wisselingh to show him
some studies from Drenthe before the winter. Now I am sending
you today six studies; be so kind as to show them to him
someday, as a small sign of life, though of course I do not
suppose they will be considered saleable.
The painting out-of-doors is over, it is already too cold of
late. But what a relief it would be if I could settle in these
parts for good.
The house rent is very low; if only one had company, how
delightful it would be to rent a peasant's cottage and fix up
everything more solidly and less precariously than at an
Well, I repeat, let us possess our souls in patience, let
things decide themselves.
Taking a house alone is so very melancholy and chilly. There
must be some life in the camp to keep things going and to
But, Theo, how inexpressibly beautiful it is here!
You cannot see it at all from my studies yet; I still have
much to learn before I can express how it really is here, and
it is also a question of time.
One thing I declare, that this country had an influence of
calm, of faith, of courage on me, and I believe you need that
influence too - it would be the very, very best thing for you;
it would make you discover yourself again, your soul, but in a
more genuine and complete way than at the time of drawing
mills. But I am afraid you consider what I say as the product
of my imagination, my words as idle and without foundation.
And I admit it is very difficult to know what one has to do.
Money plays a brutal part in society, and I partially share
your feelings in that respect. But then, I feel such a vivid
hope that painting will set our real energy free, and yet keep
us afloat, though the first years may be very difficult. If I
have to perish, then I shall perish, is the only thing one can
say. As to my saying, If you stay with Goupil for good, I shall
be obliged to refuse your help, do not suppose I think too
highly of my present work.
No, I am well aware it had no market value, but my idea is
that I want to work without any more protection than others
have, and I shall throw myself into it headlong, not because I
think I have arrived, but because I believe: “je
grandirai dans la tempête” [I shall grow in the
You may ask, what is my intention in saying “stay with
Goupil for good”? Look here - now winter is at the door
and I am sitting here lost on the heath, what else can I do for
the purpose but work?
But suppose toward spring, for instance the month of March,
you are still on good terms with Goupil, without any prospect
of leaving. That is what I should call “staying for
good,” and then I should try to take another direction,
or rather, I should force myself to it, by an enormous
Fortune favours the bold, says the proverb, and though
something may perhaps be said against it, I decidedly believe
its basis to be a fact, in the same way as the opposite: that
moral weakness or want of courage brings a kind of fatal doom
in the end.
So my plan is always to risk too much rather than too
little; if one is defeated by too much, well, so be it. In
short, I don't want my needs to be a reason for your staying;
if you want to stay, do so, but not for my sake, as I think it
decidedly not the right road for you.
Once more a warm handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
Please don't take what I tell you amiss, as if I should have
a personal grudge against you if you stayed on, for even then I
approve of you as you are.
It is absolutely nothing but the fact that I don't want it
said that I should ever consent to your being in a profession
against your will, with my knowledge, more or less for my
“Je ne veux point que la poche d'autrui pâtisse
de mes hardiesses.” [I certainly don't want anybody's
purse to suffer from my liberties.]
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 17 November 1883 in Drenthe. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 341.
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