One cannot always find the right words to speak absolutely
straightforwardly - but I am so firmly resolved to speak my
mind to you without reserve - I don't give a damn
whether you are suspicious or not - that after some
consideration I have now perhaps found clearer words for the
feelings I want to express.
I believe that it is in our mutual interest that we
Your position - isn't this true? - does not admit of our
associating with each other intimately, frequently, cordially.
Your position - to mention only one thing by way of example -
would not admit of my going to live at your house in Paris,
let's say, either with the intention of studying or for
financial reasons however necessary and useful it might be, and
might become more and more, if circumstances permitted. For -
against my person, my manners, clothes, words, you, like so
many others, seem to think it necessary to raise so many
objections - weighty enough and at the same time obviously
without redress - that they have caused our personal, brotherly
intercourse to wither and die off gradually in the course of
the years. To this must be added my past, and that at Goupil
& Co.'s you are quite the plush gentleman, and I am a black
sheep and an ill-natured fellow. Enough - this is how things
are - aren't they? - and as here it is a question of
analyzing, of manfully facing a situation, I suppose you are
not going to contradict me in this matter.
Only - but I do not mention this by way of reproach - the
moment is not opportune for this - it is past - I just mention
it for clarity's sake - only I had thought that you had
attached some value to our not drifting too far apart -
that by your being on the qui vive in this field, by executing
some adroit maneuvers, you might have been able to find a more
satisfactory solution for this ticklish problem. For instance,
in such a way that I could have got I don't say on friendly
terms, but at least into touch with Tersteeg and Mauve again,
and so on. But - a struggle is going on in your mind about
this, which you prefer not to be reminded of. So as to the
point in question, you don't even dream of doing it, and you
don't think it nice of me to take the liberty of referring to
it. In any case you think me foolish in these things, and you
won't touch them with a bargepole.
This is the dark side of your character - I think you are
mean in this respect - but the bright side of your character is
your reliability in money matters.
Ergo conclusion - I acknowledge being under an obligation to
you with the greatest pleasure. Only - lacking relations with
you, with Tersteeg, or with whomever I knew in the past - I
want something else by way of compensation.
For - personally I have to think of my future - I want to
get on. If a hussy won't have me, it's all right with me; I can
hardly take it ill of her - but nothing is more certain than
that I shall try to find compensation elsewhere. And the same
is true of other relations. I shall not obtrude myself upon
you, neither shall I force you to be affectionate
toward me - but - as a friend - let alone as a brother - you
are too cool for my taste. Not as to money, old fellow; I am
not speaking of that. But personally you aren't of the
slightest use to me, nor am I to you. And it is possible, and
it ought to be, that we should mean more to each other
Well, we won't quarrel over it - things have their periods -
the period of quarreling is over - the period of parting
follows, I think. But remember that there are fellows who most
certainly love you, and whom you ought not to be
suspicions of, whose sympathy becomes powerless because
of your distrusting them too much, whereas you would do better
if you strengthened a man's self-confidence. So much for
Now I will take the liberty to say one thing - we
shall separate - for me this is a precarious transition
- and one coupled with financial difficulties that will
certainly be a great worry to me. However, I shall try to see
things through - but I most decidedly demand of you that at
this moment, which is critical for me, you on your part will be
very frank. I know that you will agree to our separation
- for the very reason that it will be settled peacefully.
Tell me without reserve whether you approve of Antwerp -
including my retaining my studio here in the country, which is
too cheap to let go, and which for that matter I cannot do
without as a storeroom and a refuge if necessary.
And, if it is not asking too much, help me to see things
through - financial embarrassment in this period, toward the
end of the year, is always worse for me. I should wish the
period of the transition to be short if possible, because it is
torture to feel that one thing is disappearing and you haven't
got the other. And
as for me, it is quite possible that similarly I am not a good
man - this may well be - but in my case too, are you sure that
you understand and feel the right way? I neither can nor will
be the judge of this.
In Proudhon you may read “la femme est la
désolation du juste” - but isn't it possible to
answer this with, The just is the desolation of woman?
And ditto ditto one might say, “The artist is the
desolation of the financier,” and conversely,
“The financier is the desolation of the
You see - I do not know the final solution myself - but I
see two sides to one and the same problem.
So you know my irrevocable intentions - for both our sakes I
hope the time of transition will be short, and - because I know
you agree to a separation - how can we act most quickly and
With a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 9 December 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number .
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.