My dear Theo,
In case of doubt it is better to do nothing, I think that is
what I said in the letter to Gauguin, and that is what I think
now, having read his answer. If he on his part returns to the
idea, he is very welcome, but we should look too - I don't know
just what - if at the moment we pressed him to say Yes. You see
that I have had your letter, thank you very much for it, there
was a lot in it; thank you very much for the 100-franc note
too. As for the delay of the wire, it was dated Sunday, so it
is the postman's fault, but it did not matter, because the
coach for Stes-Maries runs every day. Only what kept me back
was the necessity of buying canvases and paying the rent.
But I must talk about what you wrote in your letter. I
congratulate you on having the Monet exhibition at your place,
and I am very sorry I can't see it. It will certainly not do
Tersteeg any harm to see this exhibition; he will come round to
it yet, but, as you thought too, it will be late. It is
certainly odd that he has changed his mind about Zola. I know
from experience that once he couldn't bear to hear a word about
him. What a queer character Tersteeg is; he has the excellent
quality that, however hard and fixed his opinions may be, once
he has realized that a thing is actually different from what he
thought, as with Zola for instance, he turns around and becomes
enthusiastic for it. Lord, what a pity that you and he don't
see eye to eye in business now. But that's that; it's what I
think is called fatality.
You have been lucky to meet Guy de Maupassant. I have just
read his first book, Des Vers, poems dedicated to his master
Flaubert; there is one, “Au bord de l'eau,” which
is already himself. What Van der Meer of Delft is to
Rembrandt among the painters, he is to Zola among the French
Altogether Tersteeg's visit was not all that I had dared to
hope, and I do not disguise from myself that I made a false
calculation based on the likelihood of his co-operation.
And in the business with Gauguin too, perhaps. Let's wait
and see. I thought that he was on the rocks, and there I was
with money, and this boy who does better work than I do with
none; so I said, He ought to have half of mine, and let him, if
But if Gauguin isn't on the rocks, then I am in no great
hurry. And I withdraw my proposal categorically, and the only
question left for me is simply this: if I looked for a comrade
to work with, would it be a good thing, would it be to my
brother's advantage and mine, and would the other fellow lose
by it, or would he gain? These are the questions that my mind
is running on, but they'd have to come up against reality to
I do not think that this society would last indefinitely,
but I think that while it lasted we should live courageously,
But if Gauguin and his Jewish bankers came tomorrow and
asked me for no more than 10 pictures for a society of dealers,
and not a society of artists, on my word I do not know if I'd
have confidence in it, though I would willingly give 50 to a
society of artists.
Isn't it a bit like Reid - why say that Gabriel de la
Roquette is a queer fellow if you do the same yourself? There,
there, let the boy do as his heart inclines, but his plan is
far from making me enthusiastic. I'd rather have things as they
are, taking them for what they're worth without altering them,
than have them only half reformed.
The great revolution - art for the artists - Lord, Lord,
perhaps it is Utopia: well then, so much the worse for us.
I feel that life is so short and goes so fast; well, being a
painter, one must paint after all.
You also know that since then, that winter, it has been
casually discussed a good deal with Pissarro and the rest, and
at present I will not try to say any more than this, that
personally before next year I mean to do my share of 50
pictures; if I manage to do that, then I stick to my
Today I sent you 3 drawings by post.
You will think the one with the ricks in a farmyard too
bizarre, but it was done in a great hurry as a cartoon for a
picture and it is to show you the idea.
The “Harvest” is rather more serious.
That is the subject I have worked on this week on a size 30
canvas; it isn't at all finished, but it kills everything else
I have, except a still life which I patiently worked out.
McKnight and one of his friends who has also been in Africa saw
it today, this study, and said it was the best I had done. Like
Anquetin and friend Thomas - you can't help thinking something
of yourself when you hear that said, but then I say, “The
rest certainly must seem damn bad.” And the days when I
bring home a study I say to myself - If it was like this every
day, we might be able to get on; but the days when you come
back empty-handed, and eat and sleep and spend money all the
same, you don't think much of yourself, and you feel like a
fool and a shirker and a good-for-nothing.
And dear Doctor Ox, I mean our Swede Mourier, I am rather
fond of him, because he goes ingenuously and benignly around
this wretched world with his spectacles, and because I credit
him with a more virgin heart than most, and with even more
inclination to honesty than many a scoundrel has. And knowing
that he has not been painting long, I do not care a bit that
his work is the acme of fatuousness. And I saw him every day
for several months.
Well, what can be the reason for his losing those qualities?
This is what I think. He came to the South to recover from a
nervous illness, caused by a lot of worry he has had, on
account of which he changed his career. He was perfectly
well here, he was very even tempered. But the shock of
Paris has been too much, the change too sudden, he has not
found the Paris of his dreams, and so he is restless and
perhaps disagreeable, and anyway making an ass of himself.
He will soon get over his mental measles, I hope. Meanwhile
let him do what he likes, without feeling that it matters. He
counts a lot on Russell (I think), he wants an adviser
and a master, and it's no good telling him that Russell may not
be everything that he needs.
But I think that Russell will see that here's somebody who
does not know the surroundings he has to deal with, and I think
that Russell will take him seriously and will try to be good to
him. I think Russell is getting a reputation among those who
are instinctively afraid of Paris.
It is difficult to explain what I mean by that. Russell is
such a good fellow, but you know that one can't order or force
people to like Paris, any more than one can recommend that they
take a pipe or black coffee with their brandy. Then Russell is
rich, and has lost money in Paris, so he can and does say to
people, “That's what I've been up against.” But
anyway, I'm going to write a short note to Russell.
It appears that McKnight was not very pleased with me, but
that Russell told him in reply that he should hold his
All this is to tell you that I understand, thoroughly
understand, since he has turned out like this, why you are not
getting along with the Swede, who probably, judging by what you
write, is again suffering from his nervous disorders and is set
on edge by Paris. If he had money to waste by taking a studio
à la Gérôme, it would be serious; seeing
that I rather imagine he hasn't a great deal to waste, he will
be in for some censure, and my word, he rather deserves it.
Nothing can be done if he won't listen, but he must not stay
I am not writing to Gauguin direct, but will send the letter
to you, because in any case we had better sit tight. If we
say nothing more, if the reply shows that we have made such
and such a proposal but that there must be some initiative on
his side too, then we can see if he is keen on it.
If he is not keen on it, if it's all the same to him, if he
has something else in mind, let him remain independent and me
With a handshake for you and Mourier.
Ever yours, Vincent
What I'm inclined to think particularly strange in Gauguin's
plan is this: The society gives its protection in
exchange for ten pictures, which the artists have to
give; if the artists did this, this Jew Society would
pocket a good 100 pictures “to begin with.” Pretty
dear, this protection by a society which doesn't even
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 15 June 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 498.
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