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I received your letter and thank you for it, and for the
enclosure. When you write that you are again faced with your
bad half-year - for I think it lasts half a year - that is not
exactly pleasant news for you to write, nor for me to
But we must try to remedy it, try to make it better for both
Before I received your letter and its enclosure, I had
already done a thing which I don't think you will approve of,
but I am sorry to say that I do not care much what you opinion
of it is. I have once more tried to renew the relations with
Mauve and, if possible, also with Tersteeg. I do not know if I
shall succeed, but I must have a freer scope, for having been
without any intercourse with the world of art for a full
year and longer, as I have, notwithstanding all good will,
one comes to a dead end and must renew oneself.
This is a thing you never feel or understand. You say
“go on painting,” but for the rest you know
nothing. I do not take this in bad part, but on the
other hand I do not think it intelligent of you, which please
It is perfectly true what you say: “that it is more
likely that I shall achieve something by making good pictures
than by discussing revolutionary questions.” I find this
so true that, while you were writing it, I was just taking
steps to promote the direct progress of my work by asking to be
allowed to paint some studies in Mauve's studio again.
You are always contradicting yourself. In your letter the
sentence quoted above is immediately followed by the question:
can I perhaps point out to you some new ideas on the problem of
reforming the art trade?
Shall I point one out to you, which is in your personal
interest as well as in mine? - don't bother about the thing in
general, back my application to Mauve and Tersteeg.
Help me to get afloat and to earn money, not only by sending
your money but also by your influence, and more sympathy, and a
more unalloyed friendship. I say again, back the step I have
taken, for instance; it should have been taken long ago, with
the necessary support from you.
Do it unreservedly and energetically, not hesitating and
hedging when it comes to the point.
I have strength enough to accomplish something, and to earn
money too. And then - as you say - if I make progress in my
painting, and gain a good independent position, I shall be
worth more than I am now.
Then later on, when I am somewhat better off, I shall be
glad to try to give you new hints about that problem of
reforming the art trade, about which I certainly have my own
ideas, arising from my own experience with what hinders a
painter's progress and with the kind of things that sometimes
make a painter's life unbearable.
I don't think this the right moment to write much about it.
I only say, If you or I need money to make
progress, and if for financial reasons we can only work at half
speed at the moment, we must try to get that money and plod on
till we have it. Not argue, “We are confronting a
half-year that will be financially bad, so make the best of
it.” What one must have, can be found.
I have written to Mauve and Tersteeg. If you back me, so
much the better.
Ever yours, Vincent
Don't misunderstand me, however, I have not written to Mauve
or Tersteeg in a complaining tone. On the contrary, but I said
as forcibly as I could, Give me another opportunity to make a
few studies at Mauve's!
That's what I asked, nothing more, and that's the only thing
I need. They must not be involved in financial matters in any
way. If I can't spare it myself, you must do your very utmost
to send me an extra 100 francs, for I am not going for long. If
you absolutely cannot spare it, Father must try to advance the
money. I will harp on it till Mauve gives in.
If I fail alone, we must ask Mauve together until he gives
in. Then, after that, I shall have gained some hints for
correcting my work here and improving it, and I shall again
have a pied-à-terre with a solid, serious painter, and
then I warrant you, something will happen before long - either
I shall exhibit or I shall sell.
If I wrote you “Agir,” [Act] then this is not a word,
you see, Theo! But it is only a way to ask: Are we going to
progress together, or would you rather lag behind?
I prefer progressing together, but there mustn't be any
If the financial part should be a difficulty, for Father
as well as for you, I might get the money from
And so, courage! But let us progress together and toil on
perseveringly until we have achieved it.
If you do not want to join me, then I shall have to
go on by myself.
Now do give me an answer to this.
It is quite possible, of course, that I shall not hear
anything, either from Mauve or from Tersteeg.
If I hear anything I'll let you know at once. And if
they take their time answering, it must be repeated, either by
me alone or by both of us, just as you like.
Rappard is doing very well, and many others too, but
you can swear by it that they have not been patient and
long-suffering and nothing else. We must make progress.
Get used to the idea that we must get a move on.
Since my first meeting with Mauve, I have not been grinding
in vain on the elements of drawing, as well as of colour and of
the technique of painting. I have learned new things, but I
need Mauve or somebody else who is very clever, not to make me
think a great deal of myself, but to give me some courage,
which oozes away if things drag too long. Forward - and
what the devil do I care if I fail - if I fail, then I'll try
It is necessary to carry on vigorously - with renewed energy
- and then matters will be settled between us to our
It is very true that primarily I have spent this year on my
work, secondarily on myself, more than I did last year. I am
not sorry for it however; I have also made progress, just in
the things which will help to redress matters in painting - I
only regret that I couldn't spend a few hundred guilders
more. What I have gained by it is, that I can now easily
brush a head from the model in one morning, for instance, and
that at last my colour is becoming more solid, and more
correct, and my technique is getting more character.
Now I can very well understand that my saying I needed money
for it - and need it still - is criticized. But it cannot be
denied that one needs a working capital for a painter's
profession just as for the simple trade of a shoemaker, for
instance. A working capital which, after a couple of years, can
yield very good interest, at least to begin with say 20%, and
can be fully amortized later on.
So that for instance the money I get from you - let's put it
at 5000 francs - might be looked upon as my working capital if
necessary. The interest from this - if through our combined
energy we could raise it to 20% - would be proof of the
correctness of your judgement as well as mine, and of taking a
sound view of business matters. As to this result - getting 20%
interest from 5000 francs - I want your co-operation in order
to reach it. These are facts and figures, and you must try to
recover your confidence and energy to realize them.
I must work hard to attain this result, but in my opinion
you for your part might do what you said you would do before:
side with me - not in a neutral way, but in an energetic,
Out of the fullness of my conviction I tell you once again
from the business point of view - speaking as a dealer,
if you like:
That the system of doing business solely if one is assured
of success is not the best one, and is in reality no more than
a commonplace way of looking at things.
Doing business quand même, doing something,
moving for the sake of moving, hating stagnation and sterility,
this, as I see it, is a more broad-minded and profitable
So it is always the same - not beating about the bush
- not taking things too much to heart - but having a
certain confidence in certain things - I spoke to you about it
in the past, and about what your character had become a few
years later; certainly gaining the ever-stronger conviction
that carrying on a fight and concentrating oneself on a few
well-defined points, but all the same risking one's all, is the
best thing to do. But the cooler characters doubt this - the
Bourdoncles - I am quite willing to appreciate these fellows
too, and they decidedly have their good qualities, but in the
matter of carrying something out, of persevering
in it and winning through…if this is required of them,
they relapse into their doubts and hesitations. And then it is
only natural that the flow of business slows down and comes to
a standstill. Well…
Look here now - I must paint 50 heads just for experience,
because right now I am hitting my stride. As soon as possible,
and one after the other. I have calculated, but without
a little extra money, it is not possible to work with that
vigour which, as far as taking pains and exertion go, I would
willingly spend on it. I had to buy an overcoat because I am
more particular about my clothes than before, and some other
things; the bills for colours also take much out of what
I get, so that in order to carry out my plans in a short time,
working at full speed (instead of half speed for economy's
sake, which never can be real economy), I must manage to get an
extra 100 francs. In order to win Tersteeg and Mauve over, I
must do something decidedly energetic, having now
broached the matter. Is it absolutely impossible for you to let
me have it now? I must strike while the iron is
hot; but dear brother and friend, stir up the
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 1 November 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 384.
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