Nuenen, on or about Thursday, March 20th, 1884; 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. Here are links to the 3/10/1888 and 3/3/1883 letter posts.
My dear Theo,
I just received your letter and the 250 francs enclosed. If I may regard your letter as a reply to my proposal, I would certainly be able to accept what you say. For my part I simply wish —in order to avoid correspondence, dispute —in order to be able to say something when one is railed at in daily life by one person or another as being ‘without means of support’ —that if I continue to receive the usual from you, I may regard it as money that I’ve earned. Naturally I’ll send you work every month. That work, as you say, is then your property —and I completely agree with you that in that case you have every right to do nothing with it —indeed, I wouldn’t even be in a position to object if you thought fit to tear it up.
I for my part, needing money, am obliged to accept it even if someone says to me ‘I don’t want to do anything with this drawing of yours or burn it, you can have this much for it’ —in the circumstances I’d say —very well —give me the money —here you have my work —I want to get on —in order to get on I must have money —I’m seeing to it that I get it —and so —if need be, even if I really didn’t give a damn about you, as long as I receive money from you each month that is useful and necessary to me (without conditions that I may not do this, that or the other), I won’t break the ties, and if need be I’ll put up with anything.
This way of mine of regarding you and your money balances your way of regarding me and my work —and as long as it remains in balance —I’ll accept it.
If I receive money from you, you drawings or paintings from me —and I have something to justify myself in the view of society and we otherwise have nothing in common with each other, if need be —don’t write or talk about anything —even then it’s enough for me for the moment and I accept it completely. Even if it pleases you to tear my work up or if you want to do nothing with it, or if you want to do something with it, I no longer have the right to criticize as soon as, for my part, I may regard it as a purchase.
Be so good as to tell me which term of abuse I used about your friend Braat in my letter.
In my letter, as far as I know, there was nothing about Braat except that I thought he was already ill in the months that I knew him at G&Cie in Paris. At that time, as far as I can recall, I got on very well with him, and I really don’t understand how you get the idea that I ‘can’t stand’ him. So many years have passed, so much has changed for me in those years, that the people I knew then are fairly vague and indistinct in my memory and —that I seldom if ever think about them —which nobody can blame me for, I believe. But as to Braat, far from my not wanting to take any special notice of him, now that you’ve written about it that way, will you please assure him that my sympathies are with him, as they would be with any sufferer, and that, if he happens to remember me, I send my regards and wish him as much peace and serenity as one may have in such a situation. Yet what good does such a wish do him —not much —so, unless one is called upon to say something, one keeps such things to oneself. I would ask you though, if you’ve said something to him about my having written about him in the way you reproach me with, to tell him that you had only seen that term of abuse in your imagination. For you definitely won’t find it in my letter.
You write that you had tried to answer my letters, but had left off. For my part, too, I had wanted to write to you since then, but also left off.
Know that if you don’t want to do anything with the work you buy from me, or tear it up if need be, this will be no reason for me not to do my best in it.
For this month I have some pen drawings for you; in the first place the ones that are with Rappard at the moment —about which I have a letter from him that he thought they were ALL beautiful, and the sentiment in Behind the hedgerows and the Kingfisher PARTICULARLY beautiful. Then those first 3 Winter gardens too, which he was also taken with. Aside from those, I have some painted studies that are your property —to do with just as you will —which I can send you if you wish —which, if you yourself don’t care to have them, I would ask you if I might keep for a while so as to work from them.
One is a large weaver who is weaving a piece of red cloth —the little church amidst the wheat —a view of a little old village near here.
I’d just like to come back to your letter about my drawings —the one you say I’ve interpreted utterly impossibly.
I see in it first that, among the things you say, there are a few whose tenor is that there were things that pleased you in the tone, in the sentiment —so much the better —if you will, that gives me a good deal of pleasure.
Second, in that letter there’s a comparison of the schools of Millet and Lhermitte. I found what you said about Millet better and more sensitive expressions than I am used to from you —this was overshadowed, however, by the way you were again tired of Lhermitte, and I’d also like to say about your whole argument once again, you’re splitting your hairs too thin —why didn’t you take a broader view, why didn’t you feel the same enthusiasm for both (who to my mind are to each other as Rembrandt is to Maes, say) without immersing yourself in barren hairsplitting about who is the greater?
Third, there was something that was not in that letter, namely an answer to the question as to whether we’d go on or not.
That was the question that it was all about, and since my work depends on my paint and tools (to an extent that I can’t ignore), and they in turn on whether or not I receive money, I can’t possibly ascribe much usefulness to that letter.
It would be less impossible for me to preserve my composure in our correspondence if, when you don’t have the money on the date, you were to write, I haven’t got it, you’ll get it at such and such a time. Now you wrote not a word in response to my saying: it surprises me that I hear nothing, my having said I’d rather have it at once than later, because you said that if I need it I can get the money by return. If you’d written again then, I’m sorry but I haven’t got it, I shouldn’t have had to get ideas into my head that you’re deliberately being lax in order to make my life a bit more difficult. And —when you haven’t got it, I can’t take it amiss —when you ignore —deliberately or not deliberately —that’s something that I really wish you could cure yourself of, and something about which one really has to get angry. What I said about doing something with my work, in Antwerp, for instance, definitely is my plan.
The frame of mind in which you now are about me, the frame of mind in which I now am about you, is cool enough simply to ask and to reply coolly. After all —leaving aside —giving a damn about each other or not —can I count on its being fixed for 1 year that I’ll continue to receive the usual monthly in return for supplying my work? Why I have to know this is because, if I can count on it, I would take a slightly roomier studio somewhere, which I need in order to be able to work with a model.
The one I have at present has the following geographical location, and my powers of imagination aren’t strong enough to think this an improvement on the situation last year. This doesn’t alter the fact that, if I complain about something, there appear in your letters such passages as: I (Theo) think that your position is better now than last summer. Really? And I also draw the little map in response to your expression ‘I’m not aware’ &c., and I would also not be content with this letter of yours if that wasn’t in it.
To which I say —I don’t care whether or not you’re aware that this or that isn’t quite in order, as long as you just don’t ask me to walk round befuddled about it, and as long as you give me the means to improve things I have no objection to your being ‘aware’ of all sorts of things.
I hope this letter is as cool as yours —and I thank you very much for what you sent —which makes up for the rest —at least makes it such that, if I could count on its continuing thus for a year, I ask nothing more of you and will right gladly send you my work.
And would just suggest one other small thing to you: that if I can sell something in Antwerp or somewhere, I notify you of it, and it’s deducted from the 150 francs.
I don’t write to Rappard about business matters —at least I haven’t told him that latterly I haven’t been on terms with you as in the past. Just think about whether it’s quite in order that you, who know Rappard, have never seen anything of his work, have absolutely no idea what he’s doing —no longer take any notice whatsoever of him, except perhaps by hearsay from me. Yet he’s one of the people who will amount to something —with whom people will have to reckon —of whose work people will have to take notice. At the time Rappard came to you and felt small in your presence, you who knew so much about art. Since that year he was in Paris —how immensely he has progressed —but you —haven’t you rested on your laurels a bit???