My dear Theo,
Thanks for your kind letter and also for the 50-franc note
it contained. Even though you yourself might be able to answer
all the questions at the moment, I do not feel capable of it. I
want very much, after consideration, to find some solution, but
I must read your letter again, etc.
But, before discussing what I might spend or not spend
during a complete year, it might help us to go into the
expenses of the current month alone.
It has been altogether lamentable in every way, and I should
certainly count myself lucky, if at last you would give some
serious attention to the way things are now and have been for a
But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by
lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is
true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at
times perhaps. I won't harp on it, and what am I to say to you
Meanwhile, let's get back to the present month and not talk
of anything but money.
On December 23 I still had in hand one louis and 3 sous. The
same day I received from you the 100-franc note.
These are the expenses:
Given to Roulin to pay the charwoman for the month of
December 20 frs.
The same for the first fortnight in January 10 frs.
Paid to the hospital 21 frs.
Paid to the attendants who dressed the wound 10 frs.
On my return paid for a table, a gas heater, etc, which had
been lent me
and which I had taken on account 20 frs.
Paid for having all the bedding washed, the bloodstained
linen, etc. 12.50 frs.
Various purchases like a dozen brushes, a hat, etc., etc.,
say 10 frs.
So on the day or the day after I came out of the hospital,
we have already arrived at a forced expenditure on my part of
103.50 francs, to which must be added that on that first day I
had a joyous dinner with Roulin at the restaurant, quite
cheerful and with no dread of renewed suffering.
In short, the result of all this was that by the
8th I was broke. But a day or two later I borrowed 5
francs. That barely takes us to the 10th.
I have nevertheless started work again, and I already have
three studies in the studio, besides the portrait of Dr. Rey,
which I gave him as a keepsake. So there is no
worse harm done this time than a little more suffering and its
attendant wretchedness. And I keep on hoping. But I feel weak
and rather uneasy and frightened. That will pass, I hope, as I
get back my strength.
Now considering that all the house was upset by this
occurrence, and all the linen and my clothes soiled, is there
anything improper or extravagant or exorbitant in these
payments? If I paid what was owing to people almost as
poor as myself as soon as I got back, did I do wrong, or could
I have been more economical? Now today on the seventeenth I at
last received 50 francs. Out of that I am paying first the five
francs borrowed from the patron at the café and the ten
meals taken on credit during the course of last week, which
makes 7.50 francs.
I also have to pay for the linen brought back from the
hospital and then for this
last week, and for shoe repairs and a pair of trousers,
certainly altogether something like 5 frs.
Wood and coal owing for December and to be bought again, not
less than 4 frs.
Charwoman, 2nd fortnight in January 10 frs.
Net amount left me tomorrow morning after settling this bill
It is now the seventeenth, there are still thirteen days to
Ask yourself how much I can spend in a day? I have to add
that you sent 30 francs to Roulin, out of which he paid the
21.50 rent for December.
There, my dear boy, are the accounts for this present month.
It is not over.
Now we come to the expenses caused you by Gauguin's
telegram, which I have already expressly reproached him for
Are the expenses thus mistakenly incurred less than 200
francs? Does Gauguin himself claim that it was a brilliant step
to take? Look here, I won't say more about the absurdity of
this measure, suppose that I was as wild as anything, then why
wasn't our illustrious partner more collected?
But I shan't press that point.
I cannot commend you enough for paying Gauguin in such a way
that he can only congratulate himself on any dealings he has
had with us. Unfortunately there again is another expenditure
perhaps greater than it should have been, yet I catch a glimpse
of hope in it. Must he not, or at least should he not, begin to
see that we were not exploiting him, but on the contrary were
anxious to secure him a living, the possibility of work
If that does not obtain the heights of the grandiose
prospectuses for the association of artists which he proposed,
and you know how he clings to it, if it does not attain the
heights of his other castles in the air - then why not consider
him as not responsible for the trouble and waste which his
blindness may have caused both you and me?
If at present this theory seems too bold to you, I do not
insist on it, but we shall see.
He has had experience in what he calls “banking in
Paris” and thinks himself clever at it. Perhaps you and I
are not curious at all in this respect.
In any case this is not altogether in contradiction with
some passages in our previous correspondence.
If Gauguin stayed in Paris for a while to examine himself
thoroughly, or have himself examined by a specialist, I don't
honestly know what the result might be.
On various occasions I have seen him do things which you and
I would not let ourselves do, because we have consciences that
feel differently about things. I have heard one or two things
said of him, but having seen him at very, very close quarters,
I think that he is carried away by his imagination, perhaps by
pride, but…practically irresponsible.
This conclusion does not imply that I advise you to pay very
much attention to what he says on any occasion. But I see that
you have acted with higher ideals in the matter of settling his
bill, and so I think that we need not fear that he will involve
us in the errors of the “Bank of Paris.”
But as for him…Lord, let him do anything he wants,
let him have his independence?? (whatever he means by that) and
his opinions, and let him go his own way as soon as he thinks
he knows it better than we do.
I think it is rather strange that he claims a picture of
sunflowers from me, offering me in exchange, I suppose, or as a
gift, some studies he left here. I will send him back his
studies which will probably be useful to him, which they
certainly won't be to me.
But for the moment I am keeping my canvases here and I am
definitely keeping my sunflowers in question.
He has two of them already, let that hold him.
And if he is not satisfied with the exchange he has made
with me, he can take back his little Martinique canvas, and his
self-portrait sent me from Brittany, at the same time giving me
back both my portrait and the two sunflower canvases which he
has taken to Paris. So if he ever broaches this subject again, I've
told you just how matters stand.
How can Gauguin pretend that he was afraid of upsetting me
by his presence, when he can hardly deny that he knew I kept
asking for him continually, and that he was told over and over
again that I insisted on seeing him at once.
Just to tell him that we should keep it between him and me,
without upsetting you. He would not listen.
It worries me to go over all this and recapitulate such
things over and over again.
In this letter I have tried to show you the difference
between my net expenses, directly my own, and those for which I
am less responsible.
I have been miserable because just at this moment you have
had this expense, which did no one any good.
Whatever happens, I shall see my strength come back little
by little if I can stick it out here. I do so dread a change or
move just because of the fresh expense. I have been unable to
get a breathing spell for a long time now. I am not giving up
work, because there are moments when it is really getting on,
and I believe that with patience the goal will at last be
reached, that the pictures will pay back the money invested in
Roulin is about to leave, as early as the 21st.
He is to be employed in Marseilles. The increase in pay is
microscopic, and he will be obliged to leave his wife and
children for a time; they will not be able to follow him till
much later, because the expenses of a whole family will be
heavier in Marseilles.
It is a promotion for him, but it is a poor consolation that
the Government gives such an employee after so many years
And in point of fact, I believe that both he and his wife
are heart broken. Roulin has often kept me company during the
last week. I quite agree with you that we mustn't meddle with
medical questions, which do not at all concern us. Just because
you wrote a line to M. Rey saying that you would give him
introductions in Paris, I understood you to mean Rivet. I did
not think I was doing anything to compromise you by telling M.
Rey that if he went to Paris, I'd be pleased if he took a
picture to M. Rivet as a keepsake from me.
Of course I did not mention anything else, but what I did
say was that I myself should always regret not being a doctor,
and that those who think painting is beautiful would do well to
see nothing in it but a study of nature.
It will always be a pity, in spite of everything, that
Gauguin and I were perhaps too quick to give up the question of
Rembrandt and light which we had broached. Are De Haan and
Isaäcson still there? Don't let them get discouraged.
have been looking at that “Croque-mort”
[undertaker] of De Haans, which he was good enough to send me
the photograph of. Well, it seems to me that there is a real
touch of Rembrandt in that figure, which seems to be lit up by
the reflection of a light coming from the open tomb in front of
which the croque-mort is standing like a sleepwalker.
It is done with great subtlety. I myself do not try to get
effects by means of charcoal, and De Haan has taken for his
medium this very charcoal, again a colourless substance.
I should like De Haan to see a study of mine of a lighted
candle and two novels (one yellow, the other pink) lying on an
empty chair (really Gauguin's chair), a size 30 canvas, in red
and green. I have just been working again
today on its pendant, my own empty chair, a white deal chair
with a pipe and a tobacco pouch. In these two
studies, as in others, I have tried for an effect of light by
means of clear colour, probably De Haan would understand
exactly what I was trying to get if you read to him what I have
written on the subject.
Although this letter is already very long, since I have
tried to analyse the month's expenses and complained a bit of
the queer phenomenon of Gauguin's behaviour in choosing not to
speak to me again and clearing out, there are still some things
that I must add in praise of him.
One good quality he has is the marvellous way he can
apportion expenses from day to day.
While I am often absent-minded, preoccupied with aiming at
the goal, he has far more money sense for each separate
day than I have. But his weakness is that by a sudden freak or
animal impulse he upsets everything he has arranged.
Now do you stay at your post once you have taken it, or do
you desert it? I do not judge anyone in this, hoping not to be
condemned myself in cases when my strength might fail me, but
if Gauguin has so much real virtue, and such capacity for
charity, how is he going to employ himself?
As for me, I have ceased to be able to follow his actions,
and I give it up in silence, but with a questioning note all
From time to time he and I have exchanged ideas about French
art, and impressionism...
It seems to me impossible, or at least pretty improbable,
that impressionism will organize and steady itself now.
Why shouldn't what happened in England at the time of the
Pre-Raphaelites happen here?
The union broke up.
Perhaps I take all these things too much to heart and
perhaps they sadden me too much. Has Gauguin ever read Tartarin
in the Alps, and does he remember Tartarin's illustrious
companion from Tarascon, who had such imagination that he
imagined in a flash a complete imaginary Switzerland?
Does he remember the knot in a rope found high up in the
Alps after the fall?
And you who want to know how things happened, have you read
Tartarin all the way through?
That will teach you to know your Gauguin pretty well.
I am really serious in urging you to look at this passage in
Daudet's book again.
At the time of your visit here, were you able to notice the
study I painted of the Tarascon diligence,
which as you know is mentioned in Tartarin the lion hunter?
And can you remember Bompard in Numa Roumestan and his happy
That is what it is, though in another way. Gauguin has a
fine, free and absolutely complete imaginary conception of the
South, and with that imagination he is going to work in the
North! My word, we may see some queer results yet.
And now, dissecting the situation in all boldness, there is
nothing to prevent our seeing him as the little Bonaparte tiger
of impressionism as far as…I don't quite know how to say
it, his vanishing, say, from Arles would be comparable or
analogous to the return from Egypt of the aforesaid Little
Corporal, who also presented himself in Paris afterward and who
always left the armies in the lurch.
Fortunately Gauguin and I and other painters are not yet
armed with machine guns and other very destructive implements
of war. I for one am quite decided to go on being armed with
nothing but my brush and my pen.
But with a good deal of clatter, Gauguin has nonetheless
demanded in his last letter “his masks and fencing
gloves” hidden in the little closet in my little yellow
I shall hasten to send him his toys by parcel post.
Hoping that he will never use more serious weapons.
He is physically stronger than we are, so his passions must
be much stronger than ours. Then he is a father, he has a wife
and children in Denmark, and at the same time he wants to go to
the other end of the earth, to Martinique. It is frightful, all
the welter of incompatible desires and needs which this must
cause them. I took the liberty of assuring him that if he had
kept quiet here with us, working here at Arles without wasting
money, and earning, since you were looking after his pictures,
his wife would certainly have written to him, and would have
approved of his stability. There is more besides; he had been
in pain and seriously ill, and the thing was to discover the
disease and the remedy. Now here his pains had already
That's enough for today. If you have the address of Laval,
Gauguin's friend, you can tell Laval that I am very much
surprised that his friend Gauguin did not take a portrait of
myself, which I had intended for him, away with him to be
handed over. I have another new one for you too.
Thank you again for your letter, please do try to realise
that it will be really impossible to live thirteen days on the
23.50 francs which I shall have left; if you could send 20
francs next week, I would try to manage.
With a handshake, I will read your letter again and will
write you soon about the other things.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 17 January 1889 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 571.
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