My dear Theo,
It seems to me that you did well to go to our uncle’s funeral, as our mother seemed to expect you. The best way of dying otherwise is to esteem the illustrious departed just as he is, as being the best man in the best of possible worlds, where everything is always for the best.1 Which being uncontested and thus incontestable, we are then no doubt at liberty to return to our own business afterwards. I’m pleased that our brother Cor has grown bigger and stronger than the two of us. And he’ll be stupid if he doesn’t marry, because he has only that and his hands. With that and his hands, or his hands and that, and what he knows about machines,2 I for one would like to be in his position if I had any sort of desire to be somebody.3
Meanwhile, I’m in my skin, and my skin in the gear-wheels of the Beaux-Arts like the grain between the millstones.
Did I tell you that I sent some drawings to our friend Russell?4 At the moment I’m doing the same ones, more or less, for you; there’ll be 12 of them too.5 You’ll see better then what there is in the painted studies in the way of drawing. I’ve already told you that I always have to struggle against the mistral, which absolutely prevents one being in control of one’s touch. Hence the ‘wild’ look of the studies. You’ll tell me that instead of drawing them I ought to repaint them at home on other canvases. That’s what I sometimes think about, because it’s not my fault that in the case given the execution lacks a more spiritual touch. What would Gauguin say about it if he was here? Would he be in favour of looking for a more sheltered place?
I must now tell you something disagreeable again about money; it’s that I won’t manage this week, because this very day I pay 25 francs;6 I’ll have money for 5 days and not for seven. It’s Monday — if I have your next letter on Saturday morning, no need then to increase the contents.
Last week I did not only one but even two portraits of my postman, one half-length, with hands, and a life-size head.7
The chap, not accepting money, was more expensive, eating, drinking with me, and in addition I gave him Rochefort’s La Lanterne.8 But there you are, a minor and unimportant problem compared with the fact that he posed for it very well, and that I also plan to paint his newborn baby shortly. Because his wife has just given birth.
At the same time as the drawings that I have on the go I’ll send you two lithographs by De Lemud, ‘Wine’ and ‘Coffee’;9 in ‘Wine’ there’s a Mephisto character who makes you think a little of C.M. when younger, and in Coffee —.. it’s absolutely Raoul — you know that perpetual old bohemian student type whom I knew last year.10 What a talent, in the style of Hoffmann or Edgar Poe,11 this De Lemud has. And yet there’s somebody who’s spoken of so rarely. You’ll perhaps not like these lithographs very much at first glance — but it’s precisely when looking at them longer that they grow on you.
I have no more canvas or paint and have already had to buy here. And I have to get even more. So I beg you to send your letter so that I have it on Saturday morning.
Today I’m probably going to start on the interior of the café where I’m staying, in the evening, by gaslight.12 It’s what they call a ‘night café’ here (they’re quite common here), that stay open all night. This way the ‘night prowlers’ can find a refuge when they don’t have the price of a lodging, or if they’re too drunk to be admitted.
All these things, family, native country, are perhaps more appealing in the imagination of such as us — who do fairly well without a native country, as well as a family — than in any reality. It always seems to me that I’m a traveller who’s going somewhere and to a destination.
If I say to myself, the somewhere, the destination don’t exist at all, that seems well argued and truthful to me.
When he kicks somebody out, the brothel-keeper has a logic of the same kind, argues well, too, and is always right. I know that. And at the end of my career I’ll be wrong. So be it. Then I’ll find that not only the fine arts but the rest as well were nothing but dreams, that we were nothing at all ourselves. If we’re as lightweight as that, so much the better for us, as nothing would then stand in the way of the limitless possibility of future existence. Which is why in the present case of our uncle’s death, the dead man’s face was tranquil, serene and grave. When it’s a fact that, while living, he was scarcely like that, neither when young nor when old. So often I’ve noticed an effect like that when looking at a dead man as if to question him. And that’s one proof for me — not the most weighty — of an existence beyond the grave.
And a baby in its cradle, also, if you look at it at your ease, has the infinite in its eyes. In fact, I know nothing about it, but precisely this feeling of not knowing makes the real life that we’re living at present comparable to a simple journey by train. You go fast, but you can’t distinguish any object very close up, and above all, you can’t see the locomotive.
It’s rather odd that our uncle, like our father, believed in the future life. Not to mention our father, I’ve heard our uncle debating it several times.
1r:4 Ah — for example, they were more certain than us, and asserted themselves, getting angry if one dared go into it more deeply.
I don’t see much of the future life of artists through their works. Yes, artists perpetuate themselves, passing on the torch, Delacroix to the Impressionists, &c.
But is that all?
If a kind old mother of a family, with pretty limited ideas that are tormented in the Christian system, were immortal, just as she believes — and this seriously. And I for one in no way deny it. Why should a consumptive or nervous cab-horse, like Delacroix or De Goncourt, with broad ideas though, be any less
so? Seeing that it appears that it is precisely the most worn-out people who feel the germ of this indefinable hope.
That’s enough, what’s the use of worrying about it? But living in the heart of civilization, in the heart of Paris and the heart of the fine arts, why shouldn’t one keep this self of an old woman? If women themselves, without their instinctive belief in an ‘it’s there’, wouldn’t find the strength to create and to act?
Then the doctors will tell us that not only Moses, Mohammed, Christ, Luther, Bunyan and others were mad, but also Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Delacroix and all the good, narrow-minded old ladies like our mother as well. Ah — that’s serious, that is. We could ask these doctors, where, then, are the sensible people?
Are they, the brothel-keepers, always in the right? It’s probable.
What to choose, then? Fortunately we don’t have to choose. Handshake and