Arles, Saturday, March 10th, 1888; To Theo van Gogh
Throughout the month of March, we’re featuring excerpts from our recently-published collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a beautiful volume of van Gogh’s letters entitled Ever Yours: The Essential Letters, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten, and Nienke Bakker. The letters we feature will be posted on the same day of the month on which they were originally penned. See last week’s 3/3/1883 post here.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and the 100-franc note enclosed with it. I very much hope that Tersteeg will come to Paris soon, as you’re inclined to believe. That would be very desirable in the circumstances you describe, in which they are all at bay and hard up. I find what you write about the Lançon sale and the painter’s mistress very interesting. He’s done things of really great character, his drawing has often made me think of Mauve’s. I’m sorry not to have seen the exhibition of his studies, just as I’m really sorry not to have seen the Willette exhibition either.
What do you say to the news that Kaiser Wilhelm is dead? Will that speed up events in France, and will Paris stay calm? It seems doubtful. And what effect will all this have on the trade in paintings? I’ve read that it seems there’s a possibility of abolishing import duty on paintings in America, is that true?
Perhaps it would be easier to get a few dealers and art lovers to agree to buy Impressionist paintings than to get the artists to agree to share equally the price of paintings sold.
Nevertheless, artists won’t find a better way than —to join together, give their pictures to the association, and share the sale price in such a way that at least the society will be able to guarantee the possibility of existence and work for its members. If Degas, Claude Monet, Renoir, Sisley and C. Pissarro were to take the initiative and say: here we are, each of the 5 of us gives 10 paintings (or rather, we each give to the value of 10,000 francs, the value estimated by expert members, for example, Tersteeg and yourself, appointed by the society, and these experts also invest capital in the form of paintings), and, furthermore, we commit ourselves to give to the value of . . . each year.
And we also invite you, Guillaumin, Seurat, Gauguin &c. &c. to join us (your pictures being put to the same assessment from the point of view of value).
Then the great Impressionists of the Grand Boulevard, giving paintings that become common property, would retain their prestige, and the others wouldn’t be able to criticize them for keeping to themselves the benefits of a reputation gained without any doubt by their own efforts and by their individual genius in the first place —but —nevertheless, in the second place, a reputation that is growing and is now also being consolidated and supported by the paintings of a whole battalion of artists who have so far been working while constantly broke. Whatever happens —it’s really to be hoped that the thing comes off, and that you and Tersteeg become the society’s expert members (with Portier perhaps?).
I have two more studies of landscapes, I hope the work will continue steadily and that in a month I’ll get a first consignment to you —I say in a month because I want to send you nothing but the best, and because I want it to be dry, and because I want to send at least a dozen or so all at once because of the cost of transport.
Congratulations on buying the Seurat —with what I send you you’ll have to try to make an exchange with Seurat as well.
You’re well aware that if Tersteeg joins you in this venture, the two of you will easily be able to persuade Boussod Valadon to extend substantial credit for the purchases needed. But it’s urgent, because without that other dealers will cut the ground from under your feet.
I’ve made the acquaintance of a Danish artist who talks about Heyerdahl and other people from the north, Krøyer, &c. What he does is dry but very conscientious, and he’s still young. Saw the exhibition of the Impressionists in rue Laffitte at the time. He’ll probably come to Paris for the Salon, and wants to tour Holland to see the museums.
I think it’s a very good idea that you put the books in the Independents’ too. This study should be given the title: ‘Parisian novels’.
I’d be so happy to know you’d succeeded in persuading Tersteeg —well, patience.
I was obliged to buy supplies for 50 francs when your letter arrived. This week I’ll start work on 4 or 5 things.
I think about this association of artists every day, and the plan has developed further in my mind, but Tersteeg would have to be involved, and a lot depends on that.
Nowadays, the artists would probably allow themselves to be persuaded by us, but we can’t go ahead before we have Tersteeg’s help. Without that we’d be on our own, listening to everybody moaning from morning till night, and each of them individually would be constantly coming to ask for explanations —axioms —&c. Shouldn’t be surprised if Tersteeg took the view that we can’t do without the Grand Boulevard artists —and if he advised you to persuade them to take the initiative in an association by giving paintings that would become common property and cease to belong to them individually. It seems to me that the Petit Boulevard would be morally obliged to join in response to a proposal from that side. And those Grand Boulevard gentlemen will only retain their current prestige by forestalling the partly justified criticism of the minor Impressionists, who’ll say: ‘you’re putting everything in your pocket’. They can easily reply to that: not at all, on the contrary, we’re the first to say: our paintings belong TO THE ARTISTS.
If Degas, Monet, Renoir and Pissarro say that —even leaving plenty of room for their individual ideas about putting it into practice —they could —say worse, unless —they say nothing and let things ride.