van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Theo van Gogh to Van Gogh Family
Paris, 1888

[Letter from Theo to Wil.]

24 February 1888

When he came here two years ago I had not expected that we would become so much attached to each other, for now that I am alone in the apartment there is a decided emptiness about me. If I can find someone I will take him in, but it is not easy to replace someone like Vincent. It is unbelievable how much he knows and what a sane view he has of the world. If he still has some years to live I am certain that he will make a name for himself. Through him I got to know many painters who regarded him very highly. He is one of the avant-garde for new ideas, that is to say, there is nothing new under the sun and so it would be better to say: for the regeneration of the old ideas which through routine have been diluted and worn out. In addition he has such a big heart that he always tries to do something for others. It's a pity for those who cannot understand him or refuse to do so.


The young school of painting concentrates particularly on getting sunshine into their pictures and you will easily understand that the grey days we were having offer few subjects for painting.

[Letter from Theo to Wil.]

14 March 1888

Although I know little about it I like hearing music, but the occasions to hear something good here are rare, unless one goes to the concerts. Still, I went with Vincent a few times to listen to a Wagner concert before he left, and we both liked it very much. It still seems strange that he has gone, he has lately meant so much to me. Soon the studio will be occupied again by a young Dutch painter [Arnold Hendrik Koning], but he has by no means Vincent's talent, although he is not bad. At the end of the month an exhibition will be opened with three of Vincent's paintings on view. He does not attach much importance to this exhibition, but here where there are so many painters it is essential to become known, and an exhibition is, after all, the best thing for that.

[Letter from Theo to Wil.]

December 1888

[Of Isaäcson] He doesn't have a penny and his life is thus far from easy. I don't know how he would be able to make ends meet if he didn't have that good fellow De Haan. He is very busy painting portraits, especially in order to make some money for models. As far as their brains are concerned, both are very clever people, and therefore interesting company. As De Haan is physically weak, he stays at home most of the time, with the result that we get more people to come and have quite a pleasant life….

[Letter from Gauguin to Theo]

about 12 December 1888

Dear M. Van Gogh, I would appreciate it if you would send me part of the money for the canvases you have sold. Everything considered, I am obliged to return to Paris; Vincent and I simply cannot live together without trouble, due to the incompatibility of our characters, and we both need tranquillity for our work. He is a man of remarkable intelligence whom I esteem very highly and whom I leave with regret, but I repeat, it is necessary. I much appreciate the thoughtfulness of your conduct with regard to me, and I hope you will excuse my decision.

[Letter from Theo to his mother.]

Theo announces his engagement.

21 December 1888

My dearest little mother, I recently wrote to you, when I had met my friend De Haan, that I sometimes had the feeling as if something was being sent to me, but now it is something even more important.

Imagine a few days ago I met Jo Bonger here; what was I to do? We stopped to talk to each other and she asked me if she might have a word with me. First she wanted to know if I thought that it was her fault that I was no longer on good terms with André. From one thing came the other, and gradually we became so familiar that I thought there would be no harm in looking upon her as a friend, and so she and her brother and I became good friends again.

But, Mother, that was not possible. I loved her too much, and now, after we had seen much of each other the last few days, she has told me that she loves me too and that she wants to have me just as I am. In a way I am afraid that she is mistaken about me and that I will disappoint her, but oh! I am so happy, and I'll gladly try to understand her and make her happy, if I can…admit I do believe that she knew beforehand that I still loved her. And now, my dearest Mother, I must ask you to give her your loving Mother's heart too, and to help us both with your experience and your advice to become good people as is our duty. She can learn a lot from you and wants to, and from the bottom of our hearts we both wish to do what is good. It is impossible for me to leave here, otherwise I would have come with her to you and her parents. Now I have to rely on a letter, but I hope to come to Holland the first days of January. I have written to her parents today too, and she encloses a word for you here…

[Letter from Theo to his sister Lies.]

23 December 1888

Dearest Lies, You are one of the first whom I want to tell a very great piece of news which will cause a great change in my life and which makes me incredibly happy. The question is that I am engaged to Jo Bonger. When I write this down so simply, I still cannot imagine that it is true, such a short time after I had exclusively in my mind that it would be forever impossible. I can't tell you precisely how it came about as I really don't know myself anymore. She has been staying with her brother for the last four weeks and was on the point of leaving when I met her. We started to see more of each other, and I soon came to the conclusion that I loved her just as much as before….

At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Theo van Gogh. Letter to Van Gogh Family. Written 1888 in Paris. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number .

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