My dear Theo,
My reply to your statement, ‘Tersteeg has been almost like an elder brother to us, be sure and stay friends with him’,1 whereupon I said that even if that were so as far as you were concerned, I personally had been confronted with his unfriendly and hard side for years – I’d like to elaborate on this a little.
In all those years between the time I both handed in and was given my notice at Goupil’s2 and the moment I finally started to draw (which – and I admit that this was a mistake on my part – I should have done straightaway), in those years, when I was abroad without friends or assistance, in great misery (so that I often had to sleep in the streets in London, and in the Borinage 3 nights in a row), did he ever give me a piece of bread? Did he ever put courage into me, he who had known me for donkey’s years, or give me fresh heart when I’d nearly given up?
I think not. Did he ever help me with this or that – no. Except for lending me the Bargues, after I had literally begged him for them no less than 4 times.3
When I sent him my first drawings he sent me a box of paints4 – but no money at all. I’m willing to believe that those first drawings weren’t worth anything, but look, someone like Tersteeg could have thought, I’ve known him for such a long time and I want to help him out, and he could have understood that I was so badly in need of it and do indeed have to eat. When I wrote to him from Brussels,5 ‘wouldn’t it be possible for me to work for a while in The Hague and mix with painters?’, he tried to fob me off and wrote to me, oh no, surely not, you’ve lost your rights. I’d do better to go and teach English and French. Of this he was certain: I was no artist. Or do copying work for Smeeton and Tilly, which wasn’t exactly near by,6 and I was turned down by various lithographers in Brussels: there wasn’t any work, there was nothing doing, that’s what they said. When I showed him some drawings again last summer, he said: I hadn’t expected this – but he didn’t help me, and wasn’t at all inclined to take back what he’d said.
When I came to The Hague anyway, without asking His Hon.’s advice, he tried to trip me up, I heard that he laughed at my becoming a painter, I noticed that until then Mauve had considered me ‘a bloody bore’,7 and Mauve was amazed that I was a different person from the one he’d heard about.
I didn’t ask Mauve for money, but Mauve said of his own accord, you need money, I’ll make sure you earn some – you can count on your bad years being over and on the sun rising for you, you’ve worked for it and earned it honestly.
And, to begin with, Mauve helped me to settle in. But all of that changed – Mauve’s sympathy, which was to me as water to a half-withered plant, dried up.
Because Tersteeg whispered something venomous in Mauve’s ear: Watch out – he can’t be trusted with money – drop him – don’t help him any more – as an art dealer I don’t see any point in it – or at any rate something in this vein.
And pretended to know nothing when I said: Tersteeg, you must tone down your talk a bit; he said nothing. I was just imagining it, he said. Until one fine day he threatened me: Mauve and I will see to it that you receive no more money from Theo.... I no longer doubted it, and thought, you’re betraying me.
1v:3 Because I knew what Mauve himself had said to me about it, namely that it would be very good if I could continue to receive that money from you for at least another year.
When one forsakes someone in the winter, and even tries to rob him of his bread, is that coercion or not....?
It’s inconsiderate, insensitive, those aren’t manners, it’s not humane. And who am I – someone with difficult, painstaking work that demands peace and quiet and some sympathy, otherwise my work is impossible.
Theo, think about these things and write to me soon. Even though I was terribly grieved that Mauve left me in the lurch, I’ve battled on this winter as best I could. But is it any wonder that I’m shaken by it and sometimes feel as though my heart is failing?
The likes of Tersteeg ‘laugh’ about it – but you are my brother and I hope you won’t laugh about it.
I have more to tell you about my plans for the future, how I intend to continue my work. You must come here first, though, so I’m not writing about that now, seeing as you won’t, I hope, be staying away very much longer.
You’ve seen the two drawings I sent you.8 They didn’t turn out like that by chance; I could deliver such work regularly and it will gradually get better. So it’s not unreasonable for me to urge you to arrange it so that I no longer have to fear that the most necessary things will be taken from me, or always have the feeling that it’s charity.
The most necessary things are bread, clothing, rent, models, drawing materials. And it’s not such a tremendous amount, the way I go about it – and I can make drawings in return, provided someone wants them.
I don’t desire wealth, but of course I can’t stand the thought of not having the most necessary things. A workman is worth his wages.
I wish it could be arranged for me to receive the money weekly, because it’s so difficult to calculate a month ahead. If Tersteeg takes back the most awful things he said, I’m willing to assume that he said them in a moment of thoughtlessness, and then it’s forgive and forget.
If he stands by them, I’ll consider him an enemy who can’t stand the sight of me, rather than a friend.
Don’t blame me, Theo, for bothering you with this, but it’s been going on now the whole winter, and what have I done to deserve all this frustration? All that fear and sorrow cannot but make one agitated and nervous in speech and manner, and if Mauve imitates and parrots me, saying ‘that’s the face you pull’, this is how you talk, I’ll reply: My dear fellow, if you had spent damp nights in the streets of London or cold nights in the Borinage as I have done, hungry, roofless, feverish, perhaps you’d also have the occasional ugly tic, and something in your voice, to show for it.
Adieu, Theo, with a handshake.
It’s been impossible for me to make the townscapes for C.M., because of all the rain and wind. So I don’t have the money for them yet either. The rent is due on 1 May, so anything I receive around 1 May will be welcome.