My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your letter and the enclosure, and also for what I received for St Nicholas too.1
I want to start by telling you that your letter really amazed me — because there has been no difference of any significance between Pa and Ma and myself, and that as regards the Begemann ladies,2 they’ve just very recently been to see Pa and Ma in considerable numbers — not just once but several times. Whether they come as often as or less often than before is something I can’t see that I have anything to do with, nor take the least or slightest interest in.
The fact that I disapprove of their attitude and will certainly continue to do so is something that I told them once — succinctly — without reverting to it again.
But that has nothing further to do with whether or not they come to our house, which concerns not me but Pa and Ma and themselves. I have been courteous to everyone in that family and did not start it but they attacked me and, which bothered me more, Margot — that’s why I’ve absolutely avoided contact with them — precisely because I don’t feel capable of taking back my decided disapproval
1v:2 of their attitude in this matter — or of concealing it.
What you also know yourself — I say this for clarity, not to cause you sorrow — what you also know yourself, that in order to show you how I said what I said with composure I deliberately dropped you a brief line that I thought your own opinion wrong — (whether it is wrong is for you to decide, but I thought and think it wrong).3
So this is my subjective conviction — I have my own ideas in these things — my whys and wherefores — which I can feel better for myself than make them clear to you or anyone else — particularly when they have neither your attention nor your sympathy. Consequently, I let people say and think whatever they will of me more than you might imagine — but you can take this much from me ‘for your guidance’ — that just because I failed in something I don’t admit that I shouldn’t have started it — on the contrary, if I fail many times I find this a reason even if it’s sometimes impossible to continue in exactly the same way —
1v:3 nevertheless to try again in the same direction, since my convictions, too, are considered and intended by me, and I believe that there’s a raison d’être for them.
For me personally, there’s a cardinal point of distinction between before and after the revolution — the reversal of the social position of the woman, and the collaboration one wants between men and women with equal rights, with equal freedom.
I have neither the words nor the time to expand on this, nor, in the circumstances, the inclination. But enough, to my mind conventional morality is all back-to-front and I hope it will be turned around and replaced in time.
Now — as to what you say about yourself, probably also for my guidance, ‘that you are mistrustful’ — very well — I don’t want to influence that. You’ve most certainly shown me this — and it’s one of those ‘symptoms’ which I told you I didn’t find very attractive nor congratulated you on.
But this, too, is a subjective opinion if you will. So go ahead, be mistrustful or not mistrustful as the mood takes you, I will in any event see to it that I accept the consequences for me, and can otherwise only refer you to what I said about standing on different sides of a barricade.4 Do what you want according to your principles — but I’ll act according to mine, and only — if possible,
1r:4 let’s avoid aiming at each other because we’re brothers. I’m older than you, and I’ve probably experienced some things differently and interpreted them differently from you. And this is my own responsibility, of course. That I can’t approve of everything I see you do or hear you say is something very different from wanting to bring you round to my point of view. It’s just — I like to lay my cards on the table.
And bearing in mind that we must see to it that we avoid putting a spoke in each other’s wheels, I will, as I said, increasingly try to find other contacts or connections in Eindhoven, in Antwerp, in short, wherever I can.
But this can’t be done all at once — and for my part it’s simply and solely because you’ve shown me all too clearly and unmistakably that I mustn’t imagine that you intend to involve yourself with me personally or with my work other than by way of patronage. Well, you can count me out. And while, without words, without sympathy, I’ve received the money very regularly but very coolly each month, I have — kept working — but — increasingly realizing that a moment could come when we each go our own way instead of the same way together. I don’t suppose in the least that I’ll gain by it financially — but — as soon as some dealer or other, however much of a cheapjack — gives me board and, even if it’s a tiny attic, lodgings and some paint, I’ll sell myself with great pleasure — if you choose to call it selling. Preferable to patronage. There you see my cards on the table. And whether I’ll succeed in this and when? I can’t say precisely, but — I work too hard for me to be so very far away from it.
I want, precisely because I foresee that if our paths ever lead us to the same place we might well find ourselves considerably at odds — I want you not to be able to blame me then for being dependent on you.
I’m still in two minds as to what I should try to do — but I’ll most probably not stay here after all — and then where to go will be the question.
I don’t think that you’ll approve of my coming to Paris — but what can I do about it? You flatly refuse to look after my interests — very well — but I can’t just leave it at that. I wouldn’t have thought of it if you had written less decidedly that it was beneath you, but now — well, now — I can take no notice of you.
In short, I don’t want to exchange the chance (even if it is only a chance) of making it, not even for the certainty of patronage which is, after all, rather tight.
Since I see that I’m forfeiting my chance of selling by continuing to take the money from you, we must just part.
Don’t you find it very understandable that, when I hear you say that you can’t do anything with my work for the next few years, I then get the slight sense that, if you want to remain high and mighty on this point, there’s a rather odd contradiction if — precisely because I’m not selling, however hard I work — I’m forced to say, Theo, I’m 25 guilders short, couldn’t you let me have a bit extra, then this proves not to be possible.
This is very contrary of you: when one sends you something or one asks, please, try to find an opening with the illustrated magazines so that I can earn something extra — one hears no more about it and you don’t lift a finger.
But one may not say, I can’t manage on my money.
And up to now — all right — but to carry on — impossible. I also want to tell you that I shan’t be asking you whether you approve or disapprove of anything I do or don’t do — I won’t be embarrassed and, if I feel like going to Paris, for instance, I shan’t ask you whether or not you object.
The drawback to painting is the paint bill. And at the moment I’m having a far from easy time with it. I already immediately paid out 40 guilders (80 francs) of what was sent. Moreover also paid the carpenter5 for things &c. So that if, after deduction of what you had to pay, you still had 100 francs left — I have less than 25 francs left, and although I don’t have to live on it at the moment, as you do, I still have to paint on it for a month, which, with models, with paints, is impossible this way.
And I also have this pleasing prospect for January, when I’ll have to pay some more. So what I’m complaining about and why I said that it was actually most decidedly essential that I had something extra now and not later was so that I could for God’s sake at least keep working, and if I’m definitely stuck for financial reasons, it makes me very discontented. And for which I can’t then accordingly blame myself alone, because what I have to pay isn’t caused by extravagance but by working. If you can’t enter into this or sympathize, and choose to be mistrustful — well, old chap — I believe you really mean well and so — I really don’t take your mistrustfulness too much to heart.
Except to the extent that if you’re doing it deliberately to get rid of me, you’re truly well on the way to achieving that goal.
In the past you know that I often specifically asked you that we should keep up the relationship — now I could no longer urge it in the same way. Again, I work too hard for me to have to remain for much longer in a dependent position which degenerates too much into patronage, while when I write about it in a businesslike way I don’t even get an answer. No — old chap — seeing something in it that I may continue to regard as lasting is no longer reconcilable with my sense of honour, of justice.
Listen — Pa — has been very often and very seriously — mistrustful — of me. You know your side of that anyway, and I for my part perhaps know even more about it. But — nonetheless — he always called himself ‘my friend’ nonetheless — the man thought that he was right and simply couldn’t see any differently — and — so, after all — meant well
3v:9 if you will — namely.
But for my part, one day I spoke out foursquare and said, don’t call yourself my friend if you think this or that of me — people who think of me like that, they’re not friends but enemies, the worst enemies as sure as 2 x 2 = 4. This also applies to you in answer to what you say about mistrust. With this distinction (which I’m willing to appreciate and take into account), Pa did not add ‘that he was mistrustful’, you add that — which makes up for a lot. Yet at bottom I still see the same thing in it.
Now I don’t want to influence anything, though — and I say bluntly that on my part I don’t in the least undertake to agree with Pa or you. Be aware of that — quite possibly there’s even more than a ditch between the two. And because something of the kind is quite possible, be aware that I absolutely do not urge you to think all sorts of fine and good things about me according to your or Pa’s view of things. It might well be that mine is opposed to them in a revolutionary way.
I can’t worry about what people think of me — I must move forward, that’s what I have to think about. And so I go my way with a certain obstinacy, believing in some things and not in others. You — and rightly — set store by your position &c. — don’t you? — by making progress or not making progress — your affairs going poorly or well. Well now, know that I too shall certainly stand up for my profession with no weaker motive than you have for yours. And without going about it all too delicately, must and will persevere. And also very certainly think to keep on my studio here — like Stengelin does, for instance, who has one on the Drenthe heaths — even if he happens to live somewhere else.6 I’ve rented it as a refuge and it will continue to serve me as such.
So — taking rooms in Eindhoven would be sheer nonsense — and I can’t even think about it. A room in Antwerp later on, all right — that is indeed my intention — but firstly I don’t have any money for it now, and secondly I still want to paint a fairly large number of heads first — with which I’ll make progress — to the extent that it’s at all possible for me to pay the models. Which in the circumstances, as you say, things don’t exactly foster. I can’t do any silly things just like that in the circumstances, and cook my own goose by breaking off here at a moment that doesn’t lend itself to it — just because you’re in a mistrustful period. But be aware of this, that if this mistrustful period endures with you and seems about to take root — even if I don’t do any silly things just like that — I’m nonetheless seriously thinking of seeing to it that we can part in peace and without damage to you or me.
However, my very sincere thanks each time for what is sent, and know that if I press for a little extra — it’s precisely in order to continue until we can part, but — in peace — and without harm to you or me.7
Theo. Although appreciating your proposal to add another 50 francs monthly over and above the 100 francs I asked for, intended as a contribution to Pa towards the cost of my keep, I must most decidedly refuse this (the 50 francs). If I’ve been here at home this long without paying for my board and lodging, you may regard that if you will as arrogance or tactlessness on my part. I did it for the sake of the progress of the painting, and have not profited from it myself in so far as even now I still have a fairly steep paint bill to pay, as surplus expenditure. Apart from that, I acknowledge that it has been advantageous to me after all.
But the reason why I don’t think now is a suitable moment to make a sort of contract with Pa is that under the circumstances it cannot be part of my plans to intend to stay here for very much longer. Which I would like but, I must fear, will prove impossible.
However, if you do want to agree something with Pa to the effect you indicate in your letter, let it be without involving me at all and
4v:12 in other words a matter between you and Pa which concerns me not at all.
So that I can then continue to regard the fact that I live here as tactlessness on my part in all events, thus also in the event of payment by you.
When I’m better8 I’ll probably go and live in the studio, at least in the daytime.
It’s too much for me all at once, losing you in this respect, and having to pay for my keep again as well. Gradually, though, I’ll see to it that I find another resource of my own accord.
If it can give you any satisfaction that what you call ‘my plans for the future’ are also lying pretty much in ruins, good luck to you. However, this is still no reason for me to approve of your views in this regard, which, I must repeat, I continue to find bad.
I cannot give up the studio yet — I have to have something fixed, and they can’t in any event demand of me that I leave the village. The fact that it can be foreseen that I have to prepare myself for this, though, is precisely the point that makes me regret that I didn’t already realize last year that our arrangement was unsustainable for both of us. Regards.
I must object to an underlined section in your letter — which I copy.
‘And I therefore request you, from now on, out of the 150 francs, which I shall keep on sending you, as agreed when we were good friends, it was accepted by us both to give 50 francs to Pa.’
I object to that, it’s not true that ‘when we were still good friends’ &c. we agreed that I should pay 50 francs. I remember the conversation about it — in the garden9 — very well, and far from agreeing to something, I wasn’t willing to agree to anything of that sort then, on that occasion, and it ended with my pointing out to you fairly forcefully that I needed money to get started on several larger canvases I was planning, and had other expenses enough. If anything was agreed, it was for later, when I would be more on top of things.
This letter tells you explicitly that I flatly refuse to have anything to do with what you might want to agree with Pa about possible payment for board.
Now in order to avoid further misunderstanding in this regard, about this 50 francs for board, I let Pa read your letter of today and this letter. I don’t want to hear any more about this matter; you settle it with Pa. I tell you once more, it’s not true I agreed to pay 50 francs for my board, if I had promised that
4r:14 I would have kept to it, but I remember the whole conversation about it and it’s simply the opposite, namely that I told you that for the time being I had too much else to pay, that I couldn’t do it yet.