I give you leave to say what you like to Mauve about the contents of this letter, but it doesn’t have to go any further.
My dear Theo,
Today I met Mauve and had a very regrettable conversation with him which made it clear to me that Mauve and I have parted ways for ever. Mauve has gone so far that he can’t retract it, or at least certainly wouldn’t want to. I asked him to come and see my work and talk things over afterwards. Mauve refused outright, ‘I certainly won’t come to see you, it’s over and done with’.
In the end he said, ‘you have a vicious character’. At that point I turned around – it was in the dunes – and walked home alone.
Mauve blames me for saying, I’m an artist1 – which I won’t take back, because those words naturally imply always seeking without ever fully finding. It’s the exact opposite of saying, ‘I know it already, I’ve already found it’.
1v:2 To the best of my knowledge, those words mean ‘I seek, I pursue, my heart is in it’. I do have ears, Theo – if someone says ‘you have a vicious character’, what should I do? I turned around and went back alone, but with great sorrow in my heart because Mauve dared to say that to me. I won’t ask him to explain such a thing to me, nor will I apologize.
And yet – and yet – and yet. I wish that Mauve regretted it. People suspect me of something... it’s in the air... I must be hiding something... Vincent is keeping something back that may not be divulged.. Well, gentlemen, I’ll tell you – you who set great store by manners and culture, and rightly so, provided it’s the real thing – what is more cultured, more sensitive, more manly: to forsake a woman or to take on a forsaken one?2
This winter I met a pregnant woman, abandoned by the man whose child she was carrying.3
A pregnant woman who roamed the streets in winter – who had to earn her bread, you can imagine how.
I took that woman as a model and worked with her the whole winter. I couldn’t give her a model’s full daily wage, but all the same, I paid her rent and have until now been able, thank God, to preserve her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her. When I met this woman, she caught my eye because she looked ill.
I made her take baths and as much fortifying remedies as I could afford, she’s become much healthier. I went with her to Leiden, where there’s a maternity hospital4 she’ll go to for her confinement. No wonder she was ill, the child was the wrong way round and she had to have an operation, which entailed turning the child with forceps. Still, there’s a good chance that she’ll come through it all right. She’ll have the baby in June.
It seems to me that any man worth the leather his shoes are made of would have done the same in such circumstances.
1r:4 I find what I did so simple and natural that I thought I could keep it to myself. She found posing difficult, but she learned it anyway. I’ve progressed with my drawing by having a good model. This woman is now attached to me like a tame dove – for my part, I can marry only once, and when would be a better time to do it than with her, because only by doing so can I continue to help her, and otherwise hardship will make her take the same road that ends in the abyss. She has no money, but she helps me to earn money in my work. I’m full of enthusiasm and ambition for my profession and work, if I left off painting and making watercolours for a while, it’s because I was so shaken by Mauve’s forsaking me, and if he really were to reconsider, I’d begin again with courage. As it is, I can’t even look at a brush, it makes me nervous.5
I wrote: Theo, can you enlighten me as to Mauve’s attitude6 – perhaps this letter will enlighten you. You’re my brother, it’s natural that I speak to you about private matters, but someone who says to me, you have a vicious character, I stop speaking to him from that very moment.
I couldn’t do otherwise, I did what the hand found to do,7 I worked. I thought I would be understood without words. I was in fact thinking of another woman for whom my heart beats – but she was far away and didn’t want to see me,8 and this one – there she was, ill, pregnant, hungry – in the winter. I couldn’t do otherwise. Mauve, Theo, Tersteeg, you all have my livelihood in your hands, will you leave me penniless or turn your backs on me – now I’ve spoken and shall wait to hear what's said to me.
I’m sending you a couple of studies, because perhaps you’ll see from them that she helps me greatly by posing.9
My drawings are ‘by my model and me’.
The one with the white cap is her mother.10
Considering, however, that in a year, when I’ll probably be working very differently, I’ll have to base myself on the studies I’m making now as conscientiously as I possibly can, I’d like to have these three back in any case. You see that they’ve been made with care. If I later have an interior or a waiting room or some such thing, these will be of use to me because I’ll have to consult them for the details.
But I thought it might be good for you to know how I spend my time. These studies demand a rather dry technique, if I’d concentrated here on the effect they’d be less useful to me later on.
But I think you’ll understand this yourself. The paper I’d actually like to have most is the kind on which the female figure is drawn bending forwards,11 but if possible of the colour of unbleached linen. I have no more of it in that thickness, I believe one calls it double Ingres. I can’t get any more of it here. When you see how that drawing is done, you’ll understand that the thin kind can barely take it. I wanted to include a small figure in black merino, but I can’t roll it.12 The chair by the large figure isn’t finished because I’d like to put an old oak chair there.