van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, 18 March 1888
Relevant paintings:

"Two Lovers (Fragment)," Vincent van Gogh

My dear Theo,

Here is a short note for Bernard and for Lautrec, to whom I expressly promised to write. I send them to you so you can hand them over when you have a chance, but there is absolutely no hurry whatever, and it will be an excuse for you to see what they are doing and hear what they have to say, if you want to.

But what is Tersteeg doing? Nothing? If you have had no reply, if I were you I should write him a very short and very cool note, but conveying that you are amazed at not getting a reply from him. (+)

I do not think that we should press him in a fresh letter, explaining the business all over again. One must be careful when dealing with him, but what must be avoided is letting oneself be treated as if one were dead or outlawed. That's all.

Let's hope that meanwhile you have had an answer from him.

I had a note from Gauguin, who complains about the bad weather, is still ailing, and says that of all the various miseries that afflict humanity, nothing maddens him more than the lack of money, and yet he feels doomed to perpetual poverty.

Wind and rain these last few days. I've worked at home on the study which I made a sketch of in Bernard's letter [B2]. I wanted to manage to get colours into it like stained glass windows, and a good, firm drawing.

I am in the middle of Pierre et Jean by Guy de Maupassant. It's good. Have you read the preface, where he explains the artist's liberty to exaggerate, to create in his novel a world more beautiful, more simple, more consoling than ours, and goes on to explain what Flaubert may have meant when he said that “Talent is long patience, and originality an effort of will and of intense observation”?

There is a Gothic portico here, which I am beginning to think admirable, the porch of St. Trophime.

But it is so cruel, so monstrous, like a Chinese nightmare, that even this beautiful monument of so grand a style seems to me of another world, and I am as glad not to belong to it as to that glorious world of the Roman Nero.

Must I tell the truth and add that the Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlésiennes going to their first Communion, the priest in his surplice, who looks like a dangerous rhinoceros, the absinthe drinkers, all seem to me to be beings of another world? That doesn't mean that I'd feel at home in an artistic world, but that I would rather fool myself than feel alone. And I think I should feel depressed if I did not fool myself about everything.

You have already had heavy snow in Paris according to our friend L'Intransigeant. It wasn't a bad idea, that journalist advising General Boulanger to wear rose-coloured spectacles, so as to put the secret police on the wrong scent: according to him they'd match his beard better. It might have a favourable influence on the picture trade - it's been wanted for long enough.

But we really must get some idea of what our excellent Mr. Tersteeg is up to. He must declare himself! In the interest of our comrades it seems to me it's almost our business not to allow them to think of us as dead. It is not about us, but the whole question of the impressionists is at stake, and having been challenged by us, he must give us an answer.

If we consider it desirable to hold a permanent exhibition of the impressionists in London and Marseilles, it goes without saying that we'll try to set them up.

And if not, what are his intentions with regard to the offensive, do they exist or not?

The question remains, will Tersteeg be in it? Yes or no?

And has he taken into account, as we have, the resulting depreciation of the value of pictures now highly priced, a depreciation that will, I think, probably set in as soon as the impressionist's stock rises. You observe that the dealers in expensive pictures ruin themselves by opposing for policy reasons the advent of a school which for years has shown an energy and perseverance worthy of Millet, Daubigny and others.

But let me know if Tersteeg has written you, and what he may have said. I will do nothing in this without you. Good luck and a handshake.

Ever yours, Vincent

I enclose Gauguin's letter with the others so that you can read all of them.

[Footnote added to the bottom of page 1:]

(+) I say to write yourself, because even though he doesn't answer me, he must answer you, and you must insist on a reply or else you will lose you assurance with him, and on the contrary this is an excellent opportunity for improving it.

At this time, Vincent was 34 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 18 March 1888 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 470.

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