My dear Theo,
But our carcasses are no longer young, and to undertake a
journey to London in order to scrape together some money for
the impressionists would be a job for Boulanger, or Garibaldi,
or Don Quixote. And besides, old Boussod would send us away
with a flea in our ear if we suggested anything like that to
Only I would rather see you going to London than to New
These painter's fingers are growing supple, even though the
carcass is going to pieces. And the merchant's head for selling
- and a long job to learn it is - is getting more experience
too. In our situation, which you may well say is so precarious,
we must not forget our advantages, and let's try to hang on to
our patience to do the right thing and see clearly. Isn't it
true, for instance, that in any case it is better if someday
they say to you, “Go to London,” than chuck you
out, your services no longer being required?
I am getting older than you, and my ambition is to be less
of a burden to you. And, if no actual obelisk of too pyramidal
a catastrophe occurs, and there's no rain of frogs in the
meantime, I hope to achieve it sometime.
I have just taken thirty painted studies from the
stretchers. If it's only our living we're after in
business affairs, would it be such a hardship to go to
London, where I think there is more chance of selling than
elsewhere? In any case, I tell myself that out of the thirty
studies I shall send you, you will not be able to sell one in
Paris. But then, as old Prinsenhage would say,
“Everything gets sold.” And in our case, what I do
is not saleable like the Brocharts for instance, but it
can be sold to people who buy things because there is
nature in them.
Why, a canvas I have covered is worth more than a blank
That - believe me my pretensions go no further - that is my
right to paint, my reason for painting, and by the Lord, I have
All it has cost me is a carcass pretty well destroyed and
wits pretty well crazed, and only to lead the same life I might
lead if I were a philanthropist.
All it has cost you is, say, 15,000 francs, which you have
advanced to me.
Well then…they've no reason to chuck us out.
Here's the conclusion of the whole matter: when dealing with
this Boussod, keep cool and keep your head.
And if they talk to you about London, don't put the
thing just as crudely to them as I did at the beginning of this
letter. But you do well not to resist the powers that be (such
My dear brother, if I were not broke and crazy with this
blasted painting, what a dealer I'd make just for the
impressionists. But there, I am broke. London is good, London
is just what we need, but alas I feel I cannot do what I once
could. But broken down and none too well myself, I do not see
any misfortune in your going to London; if there is fog
there, well, that seems to be increasing in Paris too.
What's wrong - basically - is that we are getting older, and
must behave accordingly; that's all there is to
it. Yet there is something for as well as against,
and we must make the best of it.
It seems queer that you have not had any news of Gauguin
either. I suppose that he is sick and discouraged.
If I reminded you just now of what painting costs us, it is
only to emphasize what we ought to tell ourselves - that we
have gone too far to turn back, that's all I harp on. For,
material existence aside, what else shall I ever need?
If Gauguin cannot pay his debts nor his fare, if he can
guarantee me a cheaper life in Brittany - why shouldn't I go to
him if we want to help him?
If he says, “I am at the height of my powers and my
talent,” why shouldn't I say the same myself?
But then, we are not at the height of our finances, so we
must do what comes cheapest.
Lots of painting, few expenses, that is the line we must
take. So once again I tell you that I lay aside all preference,
either for the North or the South. Whatever plans one makes,
there's always a root of difficulty somewhere. It would all be
plain sailing with Gauguin, but once you shift him, is he going
to be content?
But since no plans can be made, I am not worrying about the
precariousness of our position.
Knowing and feeling this will wake us up and make us get on
with the job.
If we do this and make a mess of it, which I myself doubt,
we shall have something left. But I can see nothing in the
future when one sees people like Gauguin up against a blank
wall. Let us hope that there will be a way out for him and for
If I were to think of and dwell on disastrous possibilities,
I could do nothing. I throw myself headlong into my work, and
come up again with my studies;
Cracked, of course; when you look at what one ought to
But in the old days I used to feel less of a painter, now
painting is becoming a distraction for me, like rabbit hunting
for the cracked-brained: they do it to distract themselves.
My concentration becomes more intense, my hand more
That is why I almost dare to swear to you that my painting
will improve. Because I have nothing left but that.
Have you read in de Goncourt's book that Jules Dupré
gave them the impression that he was cracked too?
Jules Dupré had found a collector fellow who was
paying him. If only I could find that, and not be such a burden
After the crisis which I went through when coming down here,
I can make no plans or anything; I am decidedly better now, but
hope, the desire to succeed is gone, and I work
because I must, so as not to suffer too much mentally,
so as to distract my mind.
Yesterday McKnight broke his silence a little by saying that
he liked my last two studies (the garden of flowers) very much,
and talked about them for a very long time.
Well - but do you realize that if you were on your
own, you might perhaps have to look for English business
relations? That is to say, once more, would it really be such a
great hardship to go to London - if it is inevitable, is there
any need to be miserable about it? After all there is no
comparison; except for the climate, it is infinitely better
than the Congo.
A good handshake, and many thanks for your letter and the
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 22 July 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 513.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.