My dear Theo,
I sometimes think to myself: if only my life were a bit easier, how much more and better I’d be able to work than now. I do work and, as I think you’ve seen from my last drawings, I’m beginning to understand how to overcome the difficulties – but you see, almost no day goes by without something else cropping up besides the effort of drawing, which would be difficult enough even if one had nothing else to endure. And, you see, there’s sorrow which I believe is really not my due – at least I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it – and which I’d very much like to dispel. Be so good as to tell me frankly whether you know anything about the cause of the following and can enlighten me.
At the end of January – about a fortnight after my arrival here, I think – Mauve’s attitude towards me suddenly changed very much – as unfriendly as he had been friendly.1
I attributed it to dissatisfaction with my work, and was so anxious and agitated about it that I became extremely upset and fell ill, as I wrote to you at the time.
Mauve then came to see me and reassured me that everything would be all right and put courage into me.
But one evening shortly afterwards he started talking to me again in such a totally different way that it seemed to me that I was confronted with a completely different man. I thought, my dear friend, it’s just as if someone has poured poison in your ear – slander, in fact – but I was in the dark as to where the venomous wind was coming from.
Mauve began to do things like imitate my speech and my mannerisms, saying ‘that’s the face you pull’, ‘this is how you talk’, in a hateful way, but he’s very good at it, and I must admit it was a striking yet hatefully drawn caricature of me.
On that occasion he said a couple of things which otherwise only H.G.T. used to say about me.
And I asked him: Mauve, have you seen Tersteeg recently? No, said Mauve. And we went on talking, but around 10 minutes later he let slip that Tersteeg had in fact been to see him that very day. After that I couldn’t get the thought of Tersteeg out of my mind, and I thought, is it possible, my dear H.G.T., that Your Hon. is behind this? And I wrote a short but not impolite letter to H.G.T. Deliberately not impolite, though I said to him: Sir, it grieves me so if this or that is said of me, for example, you don’t earn your bread or you idle, you must realize that things like that are too crass for me to let them pass, and it makes my heart weak.2 These last few years I’ve had trouble enough because of that kind of thing, and it seems to me that now they should come to an end.
That was the letter which H.G.T. spoke to you about on his first visit to Paris.3
When he returned from Paris, I went to see him and said that I hoped he’d forgive me if I’d said things about His Hon. that weren’t applicable, because I was in the dark as to the cause of my predicament. At any rate, he was again very friendly to me – but although I still went to see Mauve, Mauve remained uneasy and rather unfriendly.
And a couple of times I was told he wasn’t at home, and anyway there was every sign of a decided coolness. I began going there less and less, and Mauve never came to see me any more, even though it’s not far away.
The way Mauve talked also became just as narrow-minded, if I may put it like that, as previously broad-minded. First and foremost, I had to draw from plaster casts. I utterly detest drawing from plaster casts – yet I had a couple of hands and feet hanging in the studio, though not for drawing. Once he spoke to me about drawing from plaster casts in a tone that even the worst teacher at the academy wouldn’t have used, and I held my peace, but at home I got so angry about it that I threw the poor plaster mouldings into the coal-scuttle, broken. And I thought: I’ll draw from plaster casts when you lot become whole and white again and there are no longer any hands and feet of living people to draw.
I then said to Mauve, old chap, don’t speak to me of plaster casts any more, because I can’t stand it. In reply to this, a note from Mauve saying he’d have nothing to do with me for two months. He did indeed have nothing to do with me for those two months, but in that time I wasn’t sitting still, though I can assure you I wasn’t drawing from plaster casts and, I must say, worked with more spirit and passion once I was free. When the two months were more or less up, I wrote to him to congratulate him on his large painting that was finished, and spoke to him once very briefly in the street.
Now the two months are long over, but he hasn’t been to see me yet. And things have happened since with H.G.T. which have prompted me to say to M., let’s shake hands and not bear a grudge or any bitterness towards one another, but it’s too difficult for you to guide me and too difficult for me to be guided by you if you demand ‘strict obedience’ in everything you say and I’m unable to comply. So there’s an end to guiding and being guided. That does nothing to diminish my feeling of obligation and gratitude towards you.
Mauve didn’t reply to this, and I haven’t seen him.
What drove me to say to M., we must go our separate ways, was that I had proof that Tersteeg had in fact influenced M.
I gleaned it from H.G.T. himself, when he told me that he would see to it that the money you sent me was cut: ‘Mauve and I will make sure that a stop is put to it’. I then wrote H.G.T. a less friendly letter than the first one – making sure to thank him for his help in ‘guiding’ me.
I then simply told him how I felt, Theo, because you see, I remembered that on that first evening when I recognized one of H.G.T.’s expressions, Mauve wouldn’t admit to having seen him. And I thought: So, Tersteeg, are these your ‘manners’, first of all whispering something venomous in Mauve’s ear and then trying to take from me the only income I have? I didn’t know that such things are called ‘good manners’, I thought it was BETRAYAL. Theo, I’m a man with faults and miseries and emotions, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried to rob anyone of his means of subsistence or to undermine his friends. Sometimes I’ve battled with someone verbally but, you see, in my opinion no honest man interferes in someone else’s life because of a difference of opinion, at any rate those aren’t honest weapons. Do you understand now why I’m sometimes sad about many things, sad to the depths of my soul? And that I really won’t go to Mauve or Tersteeg, not even if it’s suggested that I beg their pardon. Because as far as Mauve is concerned, why didn’t he say, as he did in the beginning when Tersteeg laughed about my becoming a painter: stay out of it, because you don’t know as much about these things as I do. At first he did that, as I heard from Weissenbruch. And you see, Theo, that’s why it hurts me about Mauve, because even though I wouldn’t want to have any more of such ‘guidance’, I would in fact like to shake his hand again, and wish he wanted to do the same.
Do you perhaps know something about this that I don’t? Could you perhaps enlighten me on this subject? Adieu.
Forgive me for bothering you with this, but you see, I’m so much in the dark.
In a case of differing views on artistic matters it is, in my opinion, not fair to rob someone of his means of subsistence or attempt to turn his friends against him for reasons relating to his private life.
I once wanted to reprimand someone who often received bread from me. No, I thought, I’ll endure it from him, because otherwise he’ll have nothing to eat. You understand, but people with certain manners see things like that differently.
I have another drawing of a female figure like Sorrow only larger4 and, I believe, better than the first. And I’m working on a drawing of a street in which the sewerage or the water pipes are being dug up, i.e. diggers in a hole.5
Breitner is still in hospital and will have to stay there another month perhaps.