My dear Theo,
I think you were right to go to our uncle's funeral, since
Mother seemed to be expecting you. Which not being
contested, and consequently incontestable, it is doubtless
allowable for us to return afterwards to our own affairs. I am
glad that our brother Cor has grown bigger and stronger than
the rest of us. And he must be stupid if he does not get
married, for he has nothing but that and his hands. With that
and his hands, and that and what he knows of machinery, I for
one would like to be in his shoes, if I had any desire at all
to be anyone else.
And meanwhile I am in my own hide, and my hide within the
cog-wheels of the Fine Arts, like corn between the
Did I tell you that I had sent the drawings to friend
Russell? At the moment I am doing practically the same ones
again for you, there will be twelve likewise. You will then see
better what there is in the painted studies in the way of
I now have another unpleasant thing to tell you about the
money, which is that I shall not manage this week,
because this very day I am paying out 25 Frs.; I shall have
money for five days, but not for seven. This is Monday; if I
get your next letter on Saturday morning there will be no need
to increase the enclosure. Last week I did not one only but two
portraits of my postman, a half-length with the hands, and a
head, life size. The good
fellow, as he would not accept money, cost more eating
and drinking with me, and I gave him besides the
“Lantern” by Rochefort. But that is a trifling and
immaterial evil, considering that he posed very well, and that
I expect to paint his baby very shortly, for his wife has just
been brought to bed.
I will send you, at the same time as the drawings that I
have in hand, two lithographs by de Lemud, “Wine”
and “The Café”; in “Wine” there
is a sort of Mephistopheles, rather reminiscent of C.M. when
younger, and in “The Café”…it is
Raoul exactly, you know that old Bohemian student type, whom I
knew last year. What a talent that de Lemud had, like Hoffman
or Edgar Poe. And yet he is one who is little talked of.
Perhaps you will not care tremendously for these lithographs at
first, but it is just when you look at them for a long time
that they grow on you.
I have come to the end both of paints and canvas and I have
already had to buy some here. And I must go back for still
more. So please do send the letter so that I'll have it on
Today I am probably going to begin on the interior of the
café where I have a room , by gas light, in the
It is what they call here a “café de
nuit” (they are fairly frequent here), staying open all
night. “Night prowlers” can take refuge there when
they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be
taken in. All those things - family, native land - are perhaps
more attractive in the imaginations of such people as us, who
pretty well do without native land or family either, than they
are in reality. I always feel I am a traveller, going somewhere
and to some destination. If I tell myself that the somewhere
and the destination do not exist, that seems to me very
reasonable and likely enough.
The brothel keeper, when he kicks anyone out, has similar
logic, argues as well, and is always right, I know. So at the
end of my career I shall find my mistake. So be it. I shall
find then that not only the Arts, but everything else as well,
were only dreams, that one's self was nothing at all. If we are
as flimsy as that, so much the better for us, for then
there is nothing against the unlimited possibility of future
And in the same way a child in the cradle, if you watch it
at leisure, has the infinite in its eyes. In short, I know
nothing about it, but it is just this feeling of not
knowing that makes the real life we are actually living now
like a one-way journey in a train. You go fast, but cannot
distinguish any object very close up, and above all you do not
see the engine.
It is rather curious that Uncle as well as Father believed
in the future life. Not to mention Father, I have several times
heard Uncle arguing about it.
Ah - but then, they were more assured than us, and were
affirmers who got angry if you dared to go deeper.
Of the future life of artists through their
works I do not think much. Yes, artists perpetuate
themselves by handing on the torch, Delacroix to the
impressionists, etc. But is that all?
Granted that it seems just that the most destitute should
feel the most the springing of this unaccountable hope.
Enough. What is the good of worrying about it? But living in
the full tide of civilization, of Paris, of the Arts, why
should not one keep this “Ego” of the old women, if
women themselves without their instinctive belief that
“so it is,” would not find strength to
create or to act?
Then the doctors will tell us that not only Moses, Mahomet,
Christ, Luther, Bunyan and others were mad, but also Frans
Hals, Rembrandt, Delacroix, and also all the dear narrow old
women like our mother.
Ah - that's a serious matter - one might ask these doctors;
where then are the sane people?
Are they the brothel keepers who are always right? Probably.
Then what to choose? Fortunately there is no choice.
With a handshake.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 6 August 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 518.
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