I received your letter today, and also one from friend
Rappard in the same mail. Let me begin by thanking you for the
And let me add at once that I appreciate it that both you
and Rappard approve of my coming here. This gave me courage at
a moment when I myself was hopelessly discouraged about my
coming here, and bitterly regretted it,
But your letter and a very intelligent, very kind, very
cordial letter from friend Rappard, and both your opinions that
my journey hither might bring about some good, have induced me
not to consider the case as lost yet, but to practice patience
Have patience with me, brother, and do not suspect me of ill
As for me, in many respects I know Father very intimately
and thoroughly, and in the matter we are faced with it is
impossible for me to leave things as they are. I had to get
Father's opinion about this and that in order to compare it
with certain precedents. For instance, I directed the
conversation to subjects that had nothing to do with the matter
in question, and then I got enough troubles.
Do you know, your advice “do not speak to them about
certain things” makes me think you refer to one
particular thing, of which you take a correct view.
But in reality that question of long ago was of the utmost
importance (at least to me personally, I mean) - entering upon
a new future with Father is once again a highly important
thing, which nobody can ask me to engage upon, leaving things
as they are.
At the moment, particularly after the receipt of your
letter, Father and I are on the best possible terms, and Father
is not even disinclined to make certain arrangements.
Besides, I want you to know I quite agree with you that they
mean well - I do not suspect them of consciously wishing
any adversity to befall me, although at times they bring it on
me, or of intentionally putting obstructions in my way,
although occasionally I am thwarted by them (“not without
good intentions,” as Mauve would express it). But
Father's character is highly variable and at the same time
highly obstinate - (I know, most people do not know this) -
Father's character is dark (rayon noir, I once reminded you),
Father has a very narrow-minded or rather icy cold quality. I
cannot express this, I can only feel it. I have often thought
this problem over, I have paid a great deal of attention to
Father, I know Father from various angles, very often I have
tried to come to an agreement with Father, yet I do not
think Father good. I cannot declare that I
think Father straightforward or simple or clear-headed
And now there is, and there will remain, a je ne sais quoi
that worries me, and at the back of it all I am aware of the
same fatal atmosphere as in the past.
I was struck by the fact, Theo, that friend Rappard
now writes that he had perceived that during the summer
of the year I stayed at Etten I changed so much (it was then
that I met her). And at the same time he hints that he
understands something happened then, though he does
not know what. As I see it, Father and Mother and
some others acted with very little delicacy at the time.
If you should be able to agree with me on that, Theo, I
should like to say to you, They show the same lack of delicacy
now, and you should know something of it.
So, although you need not attach much importance to some
conversations with Father in the beginning, by which I only
attempted to discover what Father thought of things, although
all this means nothing, and at the present moment some
arrangement might he made, which in many respects would make my
work easier for me and give me the inner quiet to work, yet I
see at the outset a je ne sais quoi, especially in Father,
which fills me with anxiety, a heavy, still anxiety about the
Keeping the peace with Father is a hard job. Once again I
understand my own rebellious attitude in the previous period. I
do not say it will lead to nothing, but I point out - it will
be difficult. You will point out to me what I know full well
myself, that in many respects I personally am very difficult to
deal with. Yes, that is true, and I must take it into account,
too. There is an excuse for me, and that is the passion and the
frequent absorption which everyone who paints, writes, or
composes must needs have.
Does the same apply to Father? No - it is something else. If
you should say, But Father is also a thinker and a writer -
then I answer, I wish he were this in another way, for now I
cannot call him happy. I say this more sadly than you may
think; what I say is serious. Is it impossible
for you to enter into my feelings?
I wrote you my last letter in a moment's desperation, of
which the real purport was, “I cannot do it after
all.” And I thought a decisive separation from Father,
irrevocable and with éclat, the only thing I could do.
“If I do not do this, I should seem to be of one mind
with a person whose principles I do not even respect, and I
cannot stand the least appearance of being in agreement with
him, for I am dead against him, absolutely in opposition to
But now today I received your letter, and at the same time a
letter from Rappard, written in a tone which I can understand
and appreciate. And after another discussion with Father, we
have arrived at a provisional arrangement and calmness.
A calmness which perhaps is “It,” but which to a
far greater extent is not “It.” Que faire?
I hereby declare that, for myself, I agree with Rappard when
he says, “Stay at home for a long time” - he
There are a lot of reasons for this, Theo. Oh, if only you
could see all that I see in it - how much security it might
grant us for the future! - I hope it will prove to be
In Father's case there is an eternal contrast between what
he says and what he does, but it took me a long time to
discover it and to understand that usually Father is not
conscious of it, so that one is often unable to decide whether
he really wanted to do what he actually did. I shall tell you
frankly, brother, what I think of it. Father does not always
know what he does - though he chooses his words
awfully systematically, his actions are most haphazard.
In short, it will be a hard job to get good results
from my stay here.
However, the circumstances are such as to make it urgently
necessary that an arrangement is brought about that will really
be carried through.
I have proposed that the room that can most easily be spared
shall be used to keep my things in, and if necessary as a
studio, in case not only I but you and I think it
necessary and suitable that I work at home for a time,
especially when there are financial reasons to force us to it.
Business is business, and it is clear enough to you as well as
to me that this is a good arrangement.
I have been too long without this resting place, and I think
that it must be settled in this way if we want to succeed in
I believe it is possible, and I shall have the courage to
start it when you and I agree that we must carry it through and
settle that you will not be vexed with me if, in case of some
disagreement with Father, I do not take it as seriously as I
did two years ago.
I will go my own way quietly and follow your advice
notto speak with Father about several things provided
only that I find in you the person to whom I can speak
about them, and to whom I can say, I should like to do this or
that, for this or that reason.
Then I can leave Father out of it, and
not discuss the problems with Father. But it was
necessary to break the ice, and this I did by going to Nuenen,
and on that occasion I had to have an explanation
with Father; however, I am going to leave it at
I can tell you now that I have succeeded in getting Father's
permission to fix a room here.
If you approve of it, this will become my regular
storeroom and my studio in times when we have no money to be
elsewhere. And about further arrangements and business, I
will not speak first with Father but with you - and you and I
together will get Father so far that things will steadily
improve in the long run too.
I think you will approve of my having insisted on getting
some fixed arrangement. I think it decidedly a good
thing that I shall have a studio here (though I shall not
always be in that studio).
So let's stick to that, and let this letter, and not the
last one, be our starting point. Well, brother, I am only
writing you on this one subject, but your letting me know what
you think of the Paris trade is very important to me. I
shall let you do whatever you want to do, even in case you
should turn to painting, for in the latter case I am convinced
you would land on your feet.
With a handshake,
Yes - que faire? I tell you I do not choose to go through
the same experiences as two years ago. It does not depend on
me alone (no more than it depended on me alone at
the time) to keep the peace. Can, must one keep the
peace with Father?
Perhaps you do not understand this - my even saying
“must,” my going so far as to say that. I shall
give you an example: if they should reproach you, Rappard, or
me with something - suppose undeservedly - we should
never budge, we should answer back, and we should make them
feel our nails a little. But because we are what we are, we
should never say, You must not reproach me with
anything. We should say, Reproach me as much as you like, I
am a match for you. Father sees sacrilege in
observations that are not reproaches at all,
observations unavoidable when discussing things. Observations
that one should never avoid if they refer to things about which
an understanding must be arrived at before one engages in an
enterprise. Proudhon says, “La femme est la
désolation du juste” - I think one can feel and
understand this pronouncement, although one does not claim to
be “un juste” oneself, or to be looked upon as
such. Although in general a clergyman, and in particular
Father, is certainly not a woman, there is something
equally unutterably hopeless in his way of speaking and
A phenomenon I have often tried to analyze, but which
remains a mystery to me, for which I can give no other and no
more correct definition than Hugo's words: “Il a le rayon
noir,” or the words of somebody else, “The gentlest
of all cruel men.”
I say this to explain what I think, and in order to throw
light on the problem which we face. You will gradually
have begun to understand that usually my mind is calm.
But now, what is to be done? If it were possible, it would
be an excellent thing if I could get a studio at home. In
Rappard's case things went marvellously well, and Rappard
writes me, “I considered it your greatest
misfortune that you could not live at home.” And this
is true, and I felt it terribly, not only afterward, but also
at the moment, two years ago now, when I had to face it. Father
did not do this intentionally - I say Father has little
delicacy of feeling, and even now, although I at last told him
so for the first time, Father does not yet know that it was a
great difficulty for me. Father still says - and this is
something so icy cold that I shudder when I think of it -
Father says after two years that in the past he acted
according to his convictions and principles. An
ordinary person, you or I, if we had done something like that,
we should, I believe - I hope - I trust - have already
regretted it for a long, long time, whether it was our fault or
not. If you say Father did not mean to do so much harm, it may
be true, but what one means to do is one thing, and the result
of what one does is another. However, Father's convictions are
undoubtedly well-intentioned and all that - but as for myself I
hope his Honour is not going to acquire new convictions of the
[Enclosed in letter 348] What Father is like you may see
from what he went on to say, for instance, after stating that
he could not take back anything of what he did in the past and
so on, which in fact embodies a basic implacability. He
-immediately followed up with, “But we do not lack
Indulgence combined with implacability.
This too is in reality a “désolation du
In short, this is what Father is - he is “a
stupid one.” To speak with whom is unutterably
hopeless for me.
If Father were not Father, I should not worry, but can one
always act as if one's father did not exist? This is impossible
for me too.
But the fact is that I am not the man to swallow
“indulgence” when basically I see
Every once in a while C. M. also used to trot out the word
“unpardonable.” And people like Father and C. M.
stick to it - and act upon it year after year - save for
Bah, I think it's utterly disgusting. Approving of it, and
entering into it - no! Then I prefer a refreshing row, and I
personally will not mince words. You see what I am, brother,
and think whatever you like, but never suppose that I will have
anything to do with that sophism of indulgence together with
I want to be reconciled “efficaciously” -
effectively, thoroughly, else I prefer an open
disagreement, a conflict, in such a way that the world can
perceive it - ah well….
Vivre tout haut is simply one's duty - one should not
act like the Jesuits and their kind.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 21 December 1883 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 348.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.