My dear Theo,
We1 received your letter this morning. And think that it’s very good that you’ve already raised the matter — and broken the ice in so far as you’ve spoken to the Dutch gentlemen about it &c.2
And I don’t yet see that my ‘it’ll go full steam ahead’ is wrong, since I myself can see that full steam ahead is in prospect and right now only in so far as our energy must be at full steam ahead. I do see it in prospect. And as to right now, you still remember that I said to you: come away empty-handed this time if need be, but then at least it has been discussed – and then there will have to be a second trip to Holland by Bonger and you together.
For the time being there’s every reason to say, with père Pangloss, all is for the best in the best of possible worlds.3 But now, old chap, the solution to the S. question4 that you give in your letter of today, that’s to say ‘Either she goes or I go’, would be very short, sweet and conclusive — if it were practicable.
But you’ll run up against difficulties that Bonger and I have been facing these last few days, and which we’re doing our utmost best to shed light on. These difficulties are different from what you think, but now isn’t the time to go into details: we’ll tell you all about it when you get back.
That you don’t belong with S. nor S. with you is absolutely certain, it seems to me. And that it has to be finished, too — but how? It’s a good thing for you to be prepared that the affair perhaps cannot be ended in the way you suggest, because by rushing her you could simply either provoke her to suicide or send her mad, and the effect of that on you would be tragic, of course, and could shatter you for ever.  1v:2
So no accidents please. Now I’ve also told Bonger what I told you, that you’ll have to pass her on to someone else, and I told Bonger at length how I saw it – that an amicable arrangement which is virtually self-evident is that you pass her on to me. This much is certain, if both you and she were willing to accept it, then I’m prepared to take S. over from you, preferably, though, without marrying her, but if it works out better then even with a marriage of convenience. I’m writing this to you in a few words so that you’d still have time to think about it before your return. Since this way she could do the housekeeping, and since she can support herself by her work, it would be an economy for you rather than the other way round. Lucie5 has been given notice; I told her that you wouldn’t go on with it because it worked out too expensive, but kept her on until your return because you can then decide how the housekeeping will be, and in the event that this decision can’t be taken straightaway it’s probably advisable to keep the housekeeping on the same footing as regards Lucie until something is decided with S.
If you could enter into this arrangement yourself, then I see as the first consequence for you that you would feel yourself an entirely free man and your own engagement6 would go full steam ahead.
Courage and composure.
As regards the work, I have a pendant for that bouquet that you have with you,7 and also a branch of white lilies — white, pink, green — against black, in the spirit of black Japanese lacquer8 inlaid with mother-of-pearl that you know — then a branch of orange tiger lilies on a blue ground, then a bouquet of dahlias, violet on a yellow ground, and red gladioli in a blue vase on light yellow.9
Bonger is reading Au bonheur des dames10 and I’ve read Bel-ami by Guy de Maupassant.11  1v:3
Do you know that Bonger and S. are sleeping here, and these are strange days, sometimes we’re very, very afraid of her, and sometimes we’re almighty merry and cheerful. But S. is terribly deranged, and it’s not over by a long shot.
Both of you will only feel that it’s finally finished between you and her when you see each other again, and so you don’t have to fear that you’ll get caught again. But you’ll have to talk to her a lot and try to get her settled. Think about it in the meantime between now and when you come back; serious remedies for serious ills.12
Bonger will certainly add something to this, unless he writes to you today from his office.13 Regards to everyone at home, with a handshake.

Yours truly,

I’d be very pleased with the exchange for 2 Isabey watercolours, particularly if they’re figures by Isabey.14 See if you can exchange the pendant I have here as well and get something else as well. Tell me, is it impossible to get the Otto Weber from Princenhage, that fine autumn?15 For that I would make a series of 4 for them. Paintings are more use to us than drawings, but do what’s convenient.

[Continued by Andries Bonger]
I’m also convinced of the basis of V.’s reasoning. The issue is to open S.’s eyes. She’s not in love with you at all, but it’s as if you’ve bewitched her. Morally she is seriously sick. It is obvious that we can’t abandon her to her fate in that condition. On the contrary, we’ve been as cordial towards her as possible. If we hadn’t done that she would have gone mad. What makes me hope for her recovery is what she said to me yesterday evening: “How stupid of me that I can’t think straight.” So she does seem to realize where it has gone wrong. The great difficulty is her stubbornness, and we’ve  1r:4 run up against that several times. Treating her harshly doesn’t work. It’s extremely difficult to come up with a plan in advance (Vincent’s is unworkable, in my opinion), but I hope that you realize from this that you’ve dealt with her the wrong way. The relationship of the past year has done nothing but make her lose her head. It would perhaps have been far better if you had lived together completely, then she would have seen for herself that you absolutely did not belong together. If she could live with someone else for a month who succeeded in fascinating her, who took care of her (for she needs a lot of care) and revived her health, you would be forgotten. Her condition is a lot like the nervous exhaustion of most girls in Holland. It will be no less difficult to convince S. of hers than to calm the emotions over there.
I suspect that you won’t have seen my sister Jo and Annie; I think both of them are out of town.16 We both long to know how matters stand in Amsterdam.
I was very pleased to hear that V. is now getting recognition. What repayment for the steadfast faith that you’ve had in him! He has made a few very beautiful things; the ones on a yellow ground look very good. The ensemble of flower pieces is very gay and colourful; some, though, are flat, but I just can’t persuade him of that. He keeps replying: but I wanted to get this or that colour contrast into it. As if I gave a damn what he wanted to do! Write to tell us when you’re coming back. Try to come with renewed vitality and a clear mind and a steadfast will. All three are necessary. The situation otherwise isn’t hopeless at all, but it is worrying. Spijker is only very slowly getting better.17 My regards to your family, and believe me wholeheartedly

your friend


Br. 1990: 571 | CL: 460
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Paris, on or about Wednesday, 18 August 1886

1. Theo was staying in the Netherlands. His letter was addressed to Vincent and Andries Bonger. At that time Andries was living at 80 rue d’Hauteville (FR b1030), but he was staying with Vincent at 54 rue Lepic, as we learn from a letter to his parents (Paris, Friday 27 August 1886): ‘My invalids (Vincent van Gogh also fell ill during Theo’s absence) have hindered me from writing. Otherwise I should have thanked you much sooner for the warmth of the reception you gave Theo. He was in raptures over his stay with you (he got back Thursday morning). It also pleases me greatly that he is to your liking. The longer one gets to know him, the more one learns to appreciate his fine mind. He is always entertaining company. I slept at the apartment while he was away, because Vincent was alone. ... I now go to eat with Van Gogh every evening as a permanent thing. It does take up a lot of time, since he lives in Montmartre, and the evenings are now taken up altogether, but it’s more pleasant for us both. The three of us always have plenty to talk about’ (FR b1844). The flat on the third floor ‘had three reasonably large rooms, a tiny study and a little kitchen. ... Vincent slept in the study, and behind that was the studio, an ordinary room with one not particularly large window’, wrote Jo van Gogh-Bonger in her introduction to Brieven 1914, p. xlvii.
2. Theo used his stay in the Netherlands to try to get support for his plans to set up his own art gallery with Andries Bonger. He talked to his Uncle Vincent, but his uncle saw no merit in the idea. We do not know who else is meant by the ‘Dutch gentlemen’, but it is reasonable to assume that he also spoke to H.G. Tersteeg. On the basis of Vincent’s remark about Uncle Cor and Uncle Vincent in letter 659 we can assume that Theo approached Uncle Cor too.
A year later, on 26 July 1887, Theo was to write to Jo Bonger about his uncle’s reaction: ‘I had several artists in mind whose work I admired and with whom I was sure I could do business. André shared my views and we arranged that I would approach my uncle, who had once promised to help me, to get the money we needed to carry out our plan and start a business together. … My uncle refused to help and fobbed me off, kindly at first, but later, when I persisted, quite firmly. André’s attempts to raise funds were no more successful. For a while I was bitterly disappointed, so much so that I fell ill.’ See Brief happiness 1999, pp. 63-64, letter 1.
3. These words are quoted from the ‘philosopher’ Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (1759), where they occur repeatedly. The novel tells the story of the journey of the young, open-minded Candide, who is driven out of the palace where he lives. He has learned from the household philosopher Pangloss that he lives in the best possible world: ‘Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes’. During his wanderings Candide encounters a great deal of misery (so that he begins to have doubts), but nonetheless in the end he calls for fortitude with the cry: ‘we must cultivate our own garden’ (il faut cultiver notre jardin).
Later in the correspondence, Van Gogh quotes Pangloss’s maxim about the best of all possible worlds several times more. However he interprets it as a genuine exhortation to be optimistic; the irony with which Voltaire put these words into the quasi-philosopher’s mouth largely escapes him.
4. At this time Theo had a relationship with a woman referred to only as ‘S’, about whom nothing further is known.
5. Lucie was evidently the domestic help in Theo’s apartment.
6. This remark appears to indicate that Theo had told his brother about his feelings for Jo Bonger, whom he had met for the first time a year earlier, on 7 August 1885. Andries Bonger was also aware of them, as emerges from Theo’s first letter to Jo; see Brief happiness 1999, pp. 63-64.
7. Theo had taken a flower still life by Vincent with him on his trip to show it (or sell it?) – possibly to his uncles or to H.G. Tersteeg – or to use as an exchange for two watercolours by Isabey (see n. 14 below). The works in question cannot be identified.
8. Japanese lacquer, an artistically lacquered object.
9. The four works described here cannot be identified. Van Gogh painted new scenes on top of several still lifes, and that might be what happened with these. See cat. Amsterdam 2011.
11. Guy de Maupassant, Bel-ami (1885). The protagonist is George Duroy who, on his return from military service in Algeria, is in danger of descending into a life of poverty until a childhood friend helps find him a job on a newspaper. As well as amorous intrigues in mondaine circles this later results in a political career. Duroy’s nickname is ‘Bel-ami’.
12. Saying.
13. Andries Bonger worked at the offices of the insurance brokers Geo Wehry in Paris.
14. The Van Gogh brothers had started to build up an art collection together. One way of acquiring works was to swap them for work by Vincent – and placing Vincent’s work elsewhere would also automatically increase the chances of his establishing a reputation. Evidently Theo tried to come by two watercolours by Eugène Isabey in this manner while he was in the Netherlands, but this transaction did not take place. See exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 161.
15. The sale catalogue of the paintings in Uncle Vincent’s estate lists two works by Otto Weber: Sous les noyers (Under the walnut trees) (sold for 600 guilders to Van Wisselingh in The Hague; present whereabouts unknown) and Sous les châtaigniers (Under the chestnut trees) (sold for 395 guilders to M.A. van Walcheren in The Hague; present whereabouts unknown). This latter canvas features ‘a beautiful autumn sun’ (un beau soleil d’automne), so it is probably the work Vincent means. The picture is described as follows: ‘In a wooded Breton landscape three children are sitting at the foot of an old chestnut tree. In a beautiful autumn sunset, which penetrates in a thousand places and casts a bright light over the tree-trunks and the ground, three cows make their way to the cowshed.’ (Dans un paysage boisé en Bretagne trois enfants sont assis au pied d’un vieux châtaignier. Au coucher d’un beau soleil d’automne, qui pénètre en mille endroits et éclaire vivement les troncs des arbres et le sol, trois vaches prennent le chemin de l’étable.) See auct. cat. The Hague 1889, pp. 54-55, cat. nos. 154-155 (Lugt 1938-1987, no. 48116).
16. In May 1886 Bonger had become officially engaged to Anne (Annie) Marie Louise van der Linden; he had already informed his parents of his intentions in October 1885 (FR b1825). Both Annie and his sister Jo lived in Amsterdam (Jo at her parent’s house). See Brief happiness 1999, pp. 14, 21.
17. Very probably François Spijker, a colleague and friend of Bonger’s in Paris. He is mentioned repeatedly in the correspondence between Andries and Jo, as well as in letters between Jo and Theo (FR b1824; b1832; b1843; b1029; b1846; b1034; b4285; b4286; b4290 and b4302). There is no Spijker listed in the Paris directories, and the ‘Archives de la Préfecture de Police’ contain no data on the registration of foreigners prior to 1900. Cf. exhib. cat. Paris 1988, p. 367.