My dear Theo,
Herewith a few more scratches of studies of heads.1 I heard at home that you’d had a good year — and an offer of 1,000 francs a month — which you had refused.2 I can understand that once with G&Cie, you’ll stay there — it was one of the first large houses — well then — it should still probably be able to outlive various competitors.
However, I continue to maintain that it will become more difficult by the year to go on with the routine that the art trade has sustained so far, and to find a new tactic for doing business now. Will it happen? Perhaps not. And yet — unless there’s a new tactic — doesn’t the danger become more threatening by the day that, as a result of the collapse of one or other of the large houses, for instance, some things will drop and this drop will result in a panic all round? I really believe this danger isn’t just imaginary. Prices have risen to their present heights in a very short time, relatively speaking — in, let’s say, 40 years or so at most. And would it need more time than that to roll down the mountain again? As a rule, it’s easier and quicker to go downhill than uphill. And yet — there’s something in art which means that it’s always possible — there’s at least a chance to increase the numbers of the buying public. But again, will people create that new public? If not, I fear for my part that it will fall as quickly as it rose.  1v:2
I’ve hardly ever begun a year that had a gloomier aspect in a gloomier mood, and so I don’t expect a future of success, but — a future of struggle.
It’s dismal outdoors — the fields a marble of clods of black earth and some snow, usually a few days of fog and mud in between — the red sun in the evening and in the morning — crows, shrivelled grass and withered, rotting vegetation, black bushes, and the branches of the poplars and willows vicious as wire against the dismal sky.
This, I see it in passing, and it’s quite in harmony with the interiors, very gloomy in these dark winter days.
It’s also in harmony with the physiognomies of peasants and weavers.
I don’t hear the latter complain, but they have a hard time of it. A weaver who works hard makes a piece of 60 ells, say, in a week. While he weaves, a woman has to spool for him; that is winding yarn on to the bobbins — so there are two who are working and have to live on it.
On that piece he makes a net profit of, say, 4.50 guilders in that week3 — and nowadays when he takes it to the manufacturer he’s often told that he can only bring a new piece in a week or a fortnight’s time.  1v:3
So not only wages low, but work fairly scarce.
There’s consequently often something harried and restless in these people.
It’s a different mood from that of the miners I lived with in a year of strikes and many accidents.4 That was even worse — but all the same, it’s often heart-rending here too — the people are quiet, and literally nowhere have I heard anything resembling inflammatory arguments.
But they look as little cheerful as the cab-horses or the sheep that are transported by steamer to England.
Regards — I hope you’ll be able to send; I have less than a guilder left and must have a model for several more hours today.
So tomorrow I’ll be stuck again, but possibly your letter will come.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 482 | CL: 392
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Friday, 23 January 1885

1. See for the scratches that may have been sent: letter 475, n. 1.
2. One of Theo’s clients must have offered him a job at 1000 francs a month. Mr van Gogh wrote to Theo about this on 24 January 1885 – in reply to Theo’s letter of 20 January – and warned him to be cautious: ‘You write again about the Gentleman who had made you an offer to go to work for him. But you had turned down that proposal.. but now you return to this, and call him your client? Someone who works in electricity and could become …. one of the richest people. And who still seems to want to take you into his office. You also say that you are involved in spite of yourself but don’t know yet whether he will be successful. I wanted to come back to this again. Although my opinion is biased and I know no more of his plans than your letter reveals, I still want to advise you to be careful. Should you perhaps consult Uncle Cent? He is a man who has a clear view of business and also courage enough to take a risk ... Does the Gentleman also need things for his company that belong to your present firm?’ There is a postscript in the margin: ‘We will not talk to Vincent about this business of yours. Do as you wish about that’ (FR b2266). Theo’s parents had obviously not stuck to this intention.
The annual profits payment was worked out after the inventory was compiled in January of the following year, and then paid out by the head office. For 1884 Theo was entitled to an annual share of the profits worth 6,943.65 francs; in total he had earned an average of 912 francs a month in 1884 (FR b2123). See also Account book 2002, pp. 15-16.
We do not know who is meant by ‘Someone who works in electricity’.
3. For a comparison of the size of wages in the second half of the nineteenth century: Introduction, III.3.
4. Strikes had broken out in April 1879 after a mining accident in the Borinage, see letter 151, n. 3.
a. Paarden die voor een (huur)rijtuig worden ingespannen. (Horses harnessed to a (hackney) carriage.)