My dear Theo,
I’ve heard from that colourman — who tells me I can send the paintings.1 But that he wants me to send them as soon as possible because there are many strangers in The Hague at present.2
He’s quite right there. What I want to ask you is that you try to send me enough for me to get the crate made and pay the carriage. Deduct it next month, if you like — but I have nothing, and it’s important to me to get my consignment off immediately.
Your visit really left me with a less than favourable impression — I believe more than ever that more difficulties await you in the next few years than you imagine.
I continue to insist that it’s somewhat fatal that your energy has evidently taken a different direction, rather than working on our getting our heads above water with the painting. And yet it’s such a short while ago that you wrote that you now had more confidence that my work was good.  1v:2
You take it as though I was doing you wrong or was hostile to you, now I most decidedly have rather a lot of remarks to make. And considerable concerns for the future. I can’t speak other than I did, can I?
To my mind you don’t in the least belong among the rising men now. Take this amiss of me — if you will — and treat me as you will accordingly.
I’m willing to take back my remarks should I see very different things in you, but that I made them during your visit — Yes. But even though you say today, ‘I’m selling 500,000 francs’ worth a year’ — this doesn’t make any impression on me at all, since I’m only too convinced of the precariousness of it all — you keeping up even a half or a fifth of that and delivering in the years ahead.  1v:3
It’s too up in the air for me, too little at ground level.
And art itself is solid enough, that’s not the trouble.
But, ‘to be a counting-house will pass’ was said, not by me, but by someone whose words came dreadfully true.3 And I wish you were, or would become, a painter. I put it bluntly, more strongly than before, because I believe so firmly that the large-scale art trade is, in many respects, too much like tulip mania.4
And the positions in it dependent on chance and whim. Make a miscalculation — make what may be an insignificant mistake — and — what’s left of that huge figure you’re turning over now? That figure depends on G&Cie’s whim.
And KNOWLEDGE of art, stripped bare, is related, more closely than you think, to the practice of art. TRADE in paintings is something very different when one is on one’s own from when one works for large distributors. And it’s the same with other things, too.  1r:4 Anyway — work hard — but — try to work sensibly too.
The trouble you’ve taken together with me — for providing money is also taking trouble and there’s absolutely no getting away from it — this trouble has at least been an act of personal initiative, and of personal will and energy — but what am I to think or say of it if, little by little, with the decided weakening of the financial aid, something else weren’t to be put in its place? And now, above all, to my mind at any rate, it’s the time to try to push ahead with my work.
I’ve also been looking for addresses in Antwerp, and will hear more precisely about them before long.5 Then I can probably send things there, too. But if you want these things, help me to bring them about.
You said to me yourself, Where there is a will there is a way;a well then, I’ll take you at your word a little as to whether you’re really seeking for us to make progress. If I were to ask for extravagant things and you refused, then so be it — but where they’re the most essential, the very simplest necessities, and the lack just becomes more and more, and worse and worse, then I think you’re taking economy too far, and in this respect it’s very far from being useful.

Yours truly,

Just a word about Serret and about Portier. Tell them as it is, that is that I did have studies ready, but that I had to pay a colourman who was making it difficult for me just now.6 That in order to put a stop to it, I wrote to tell him that I put his paint in my studies, and that I asked him to take the trouble to sell something for me instead of nagging. That I’ll go through with it, and have to send him things.
That as to the drawings which I said I’d show Serret, since I’m in a hurry to do things, I need them myself.7 But I do still think it’s of some importance that at any rate he knows that I really did have them when you came, and that you tell him that you saw them at my place, and then also tell him exactly what you think. I won’t influence your own opinion.  2v:6 That I’m sad about your thinking that this is all right, though, yes — that is so.
But I don’t refuse to take such measures — and even if one of these colourmen wanted to sell off my bits and pieces, he would be welcome to go to those lengths. It’s certain that the paint-dealing gentlemen wouldn’t blush to do it.
However, I’m fed up with talking about it; I’ve said what I had to say — and you — you can deal with my suggestion as you see fit.
And if these fellows want to attack me and sell me up, since they expressly threatened me with collection, and that over matters of less than 30 guilders, then I won’t be able to resist them and will let them do as they please, but it will be as if it happens before your very eyes, since you’ve just been here. That I can’t stop the work at the level I now am, that’s true. I need paint &c. every day. I must make progress, and if I want to pay for what I need today, then an outstanding bill from yesterday will have to wait.  2v:7
For your information, this is how it is with me for the rest of the year, precisely and in detail — I have to pay:
three suppliers who are all pestering me, one 45 guilders, the other 25 guilders, the other 30 guilders.8 These are the exact sums outstanding on accounts which have of course been much higher over the course of the year, but which I pay off in cash, as much as I possibly can with the utmost effort.

deficit therefore
Add to this rent in November

Suppose I get 4 x 150 francs from you for Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.= 600 francs. That then leaves 350 francs to last from now until New Year. And then bear in mind that I have literally nothing left this month, and that I also have to live this month.
So that from Aug. – 1 January, in other words almost 5 months, I have to live and paint on 350 francs. Which I can do on 150 francs a month, but not easily, but anyway it’s possible as a minimum.
However, if in the course of 4 months 250 francs has to be deducted to pay for paint and rent, well then, the work is  2r:8 hampered and obstructed so much that one doesn’t know what to do, and would rather say to the fellows sell my things then! But let me work! Without hesitation I’ve just thrown this month in to calm the fellows down. But the hardship that’s caused is bad enough.
And my last word on the subject is that if my work were weak and awful, I would agree with you if you said — ‘I can’t do anything about it’.
Well — since larger and smaller painted studies as well as new drawings were able to make you understand that we’re making progress with it, I’m not so sure whether ‘I can’t do anything about it’ should be your final word. Talk to Serret, talk to Portier about it — and say how much I want to keep working and how little opportunity I have myself to find art lovers, since painting the peasants means that once and for all the countryside, not the city is my place of work.



Br. 1990: 527 | CL: 420
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Monday, 17 August 1885

1. We learn from letter 529 that this paint supplier was W.J. Leurs; on him see letter 324, n. 6.
2. Van Gogh must be referring to the thousands of seaside visitors who flocked to Scheveningen between July and September, many of whom visited The Hague, which was nearby. The opening of the Scheveningen Kurhaus was the major event of that season.
3. Van Gogh derived this expression from Hugo’s William Shakespeare in a passage on Greek drama: ‘To be a counting-house, that passes; to be a school, that lasts.’ (Être un comptoir, cela passe; être une école, cela dure.) See Hugo 1864, p. 212, and cf. exhib. cat. Vienna 1996, p. 32.
4. This refers to the rapid buying and selling of a commodity, not for the sake of the goods but solely for profit. See letter 409, n. 5.
5. It is not clear whether Van Gogh was looking for addresses of art dealers from Nuenen (and possibly Eindhoven) or actually went to Antwerp himself. Had he gone in person, one would expect him to have shown some canvases to dealers and reported their reactions to Theo. Moreover, the wording in letter 541 of about 14 November, in which Van Gogh writes that he has ‘come by’ the addresses of six art dealers, would seem to indicate that he did not have them before. And lastly, several months later, after a visit to the Rijksmuseum (letter 534), he writes that he does not intend to be cut off from paintings by other artists for so long in future. Had he been to Antwerp he would undoubtedly have gone to the World Exhibition and/or the Museum voor Schone Kunsten.
On the other hand, we do know for certain that Van Gogh went to Antwerp with Anton Kerssemakers. According to Kerssemakers’s memoirs, however, this was after their visit to Amsterdam on 6-8 October 1885. (Cf. Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 3, p. 95.) In a letter of 1912 Kerssemakers also recalled that Van Gogh had once been to Antwerp on his own and had brought back a nice surprise. The story is preceded by a brief introduction about a visit to a pharmacist: ‘They then asked the old pharmacist Vrijman for Copahu Balsam, and as a curiosity Van Gogh told me that, when they asked him whether they could dilute this Copahu with turpentine, the pharmacist, believing that they had contracted a venereal disease, snarled at them, “haven’t you done enough damage to your carcass already?” which the two visitors naturally found very funny.’ Kerssemakers himself wrote: ‘In my memoirs in De Amsterdammer I spoke of the singular revenge he had wreaked on that parson in Nuenen, but I didn’t want to specify it, deeming it not really suitable for the general public; however, I will tell it to you personally, counting on your discretion. He came to see me once after a trip to Antwerp, and said I’ve brought something back from my trip to do that tiresome fellow in Nuenen a favour. Obviously I was very curious as to what this could be, and then he showed me a few dozen sheaths (gants d’amour); I shall hand them out to the peasant lads in Nuenen, and see what that does. You can see that the missionary zeal was already long gone.’ Letter from Anton Kerssemakers to Albert Plasschaert, Eindhoven, 27 August 1912 (FR b3038).
a. Where ... way: Written in English.
6. See letter 523 to the paint supplier Furnée.
b. Means: ‘nodig heb’ (need).
7. In letters 509 and 510 Van Gogh had said that he would be sending figure drawings.
8. As well as his debts to the paint suppliers in The Hague, Leurs and Furnée, Van Gogh also owed money to the Eindhoven firm of Baijens & Zn; see letter 478, n. 4.
c. Read: ‘Het geld voor deze maand’ (The money for this month).