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571 To Theo van Gogh. Paris, between about Sunday, 17 and Tuesday, 19 July 1887.

No. 571 (Brieven 1990 574, Complete Letters 461)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Paris, between about Sunday, 17 and Tuesday, 19 July 1887

Source status
Original manuscript

Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b501 V/1962

This letter and the next one (572) were written while Theo was in the Netherlands in the summer of 1887. The exact dates of this stay are not documented, but it was probably a period of 10 to 14 days. (Theo usually took two weeks’ holiday.) He was at his mother’s in Breda on Tuesday, 26 July and in any event was back at work in Paris on Thursday, 28 July (see Brief happiness 1999, p. 63 and Welsh-Ovcharov 1976, p. 250). This would mean that his leave started on or about Thursday, 14 July. Earlier – and hence a three-week holiday – is virtually ruled out because on Sunday, 10 July Theo still did not know when he would be free. On that day he wrote to Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek: ‘I’m going to Holland this summer, perhaps very soon’ (FR b727). This means that his holiday did not start that weekend. It is known that he went to see Jo Bonger in Amsterdam on Friday, 22 July, while from letter 572 it can be deduced that he also visited his mother in Breda prior to that.
Letter 571 was certainly written before 572 since in the present letter Vincent says that he has painted two works since Theo left, and in letter 572 he refers to four. It is also evident that the money he had received, which he refers to in letter 572, is the money he asked for in letter 571.
Theo’s letter with the money did not contain any news about Jo Bonger’s refusal of his marriage proposal, and was therefore probably sent on 21 July at the latest, so Vincent must have written this by Tuesday, 19 July at the latest. Since Theo must have left around 14 July and this letter was written relatively soon after his departure – Vincent says he hopes Theo will enjoy the visit – we have dated it between about Sunday, 17 and Tuesday, 19 July 1887.

Vincent wrote all his previous letters to Theo – with the exception of those from the Borinage – in Dutch; now he switches to French. The reason for this must have been that because they both spent most of their time with French-speakers in Paris, they had become accustomed to communicating in French.

original text
Mon cher ami,
ci inclus une lettre qui est arrivée d’hier mais que le concierge ne m’a pas tout de suite remise.–1
J’ai été au Tambourin2 puisque si je n’y allais pas on aurait pensé que je n’osais pas.–
Alors j’ai dit à la Segatori que dans cette affaire je ne la jugerais pas mais que c’etait à elle de se juger elle-même.–
Que j’avais dechiré le reçu des tableaux – mais qu’elle devait tout rendre.3
Que si elle n’etait pas pour quelque chose dans ce qui m’est arrivé elle aurait été me voir le lendemain.
Que puisqu’elle n’est pas venue me voir je considerais qu’elle savait qu’on me chercherait querelle mais qu’elle a cherché à m’avertir en me disant – allez vous en – ce que je n’ai pas compris et d’ailleurs n’aurais peut etre pas voulu comprendre.
Ce à quoi elle a répondu que les tableaux & tout le reste4 étaient à ma disposition.
Elle a maintenue que moi j’avais cherché querelle – ce qui ne m’étonne pas – sachant que si elle prenait parti pour moi on lui ferait des atrocités.–
J’ai vu le garçon aussi en entrant mais il s’est éclipsé.–
Maintenant je n’ai pas voulu prendre les tableaux tout de suite mais j’ai dit que quand tu serais de retour on en causerait, puisque ces tableaux t’appartenaient autant qu’à moi et qu’en attendant je l’engageais à réfléchir encore une fois à ce qui s’était passé.
Elle n’avait pas bien bonne mine et elle etait pâle comme de la cire ce qui n’est pas bon signe.
Elle ne savait pas que le garçon était monté chez toi.– Si cela est vrai – je serais encore davantage porté à croire qu’elle a plûtot cherché à m’avertir qu’on me chercherait querelle que de monter le coup elle-meme.– Elle ne peut pas comme elle voudrait. Maintenant j’attendrai ton retour pour agir.–
J’ai fait deux tableaux depuis que tu es parti.–5
Maintenant j’ai encore deux louis6 et je crains que je ne saurai comment passer les jours d’ici jusqu’à ton retour.–
Car remarquez que lorsque j’ai commencé à travailler à Asnieres7 j’avais beaucoup de toiles et que Tanguy était très bon pour moi.– Cela à la rigueur il l’est tout autant mais sa vieille sorcière de femme8 s’est aperçue de ce qui se passait et s’y est opposé.– Maintenant j’ai engueulé la femme à Tanguy et j’ai dit que c’etait de sa faute à elle si je ne leur prendrais plus rien. Le père Tanguy est sage assez pour  1r:4 se taire et il fera tout de même ce que je lui demanderai.
mais avec tout cela le travail n’est pas bien commode.
J’ai vu de Lautrec aujourd’hui, il a vendu un tableau, je crois par Portier.–9
On a apporté une aquarelle de Mme Mesdag que je trouve très belle.10
Maintenant j’espère que ton voyage là-bas t’amusera, dites bien des chôses de ma part à ma mère, à Cor & à Wil. Puis si tu peux faire de façon que je ne m’embête pas trop d’ici jusqu’à ton retour en m’envoyant encore quelque chôse, je tâcherai de te faire encore des tableaux – car je suis tout à fait tranquille pour mon travail.
Ce qui me gênait un peu dans cette histoire c’est qu’en n’y allant pas (au Tambourin) cela avait l’air lâche. Et cela m’a rendu ma sérénité d’y être allé.– Je te serre la main.


My dear friend,
Enclosed a letter that arrived yesterday but which the concierge didn’t pass on to me straightaway.1
I’ve been to the Tambourin,2 because if I didn’t go there people would have thought I didn’t dare.
So I told Miss Segatori that I wouldn’t pass judgement on her over this affair, but that it was up to her to judge herself.
That I’d torn up the receipt for the paintings — but that she had to give everything back.3
That if she hadn’t had something to do with what happened to me she would have come to see me the next day.
That as she didn’t come to see me I would take it that she knew people were trying to pick a fight with me, but that she’d tried to warn me by saying — go away — which I didn’t understand, and besides would perhaps not have wanted to understand.  1v:2
To which she replied that the paintings and all the rest4 were at my disposal.
She claimed that I’d tried to pick a fight — which doesn’t surprise me — knowing that appalling things would be done to her if she took my side.
I also saw the waiter on my way in, but he made himself scarce.
Now I didn’t want to take the paintings straightaway, but I said that when you got back we’d have a chat about it, because those paintings belonged to you as much as to me, and while waiting I urged her to think again about what had happened.
She didn’t look well and she was as pale as wax, which isn’t a good sign.  1v:3
She didn’t know that the waiter had gone up to your place. If that’s true — I would be even more inclined to believe it was more the case that she’d tried to warn me people were trying to pick a fight with me, than that she’d been up to something herself. She can’t do as she’d like. Now I’ll wait till you get back before doing anything.
I’ve done two paintings since you left.5
Now I have two louis6 left, and I fear I won’t know how to get through the days from now till you get back.
Because remember when I started working at Asnières7 I had lots of canvases and Tanguy was very good to me. He still is, when it comes down to it, but his old witch of a wife8 noticed what was going on and objected to it. Now I gave Tanguy’s wife a piece of my mind and said it was her fault if I wouldn’t buy anything else from them. Père Tanguy’s wise enough to  1r:4 keep quiet, and he’ll do what I ask of him all the same.
But with all that it isn’t easy to work.
I saw Lautrec today, he’s sold a painting, through Portier,9 I think.
Someone brought in a watercolour by Mrs Mesdag, which I find very beautiful.10
Now I hope you’ll enjoy your visit over there, give my mother, Cor and Wil my warm regards. And if you can see that I’m not in too much trouble from now till you get back by sending me something more, I’ll try to make some more paintings for you — because I’m perfectly calm as far as my work goes.
What bothered me a bit in this business was that by not going (to the Tambourin) it looked cowardly. And having gone there restored my peace of mind. I shake your hand.

1. We do not know which letter Vincent forwarded to Theo.
2. Le Tambourin was a restaurant and cabaret at 62 boulevard de Clichy in Montmartre, run by the Italian Agostina Segatori. It was very popular with artists. Van Gogh exhibited work there and for some time had an affair with Segatori, as can be deduced from letter 572. In 1903 Gauguin wrote that Van Gogh had been very much in love with Segatori, and in his ‘Souvenirs sur Van Gogh’ of 1924 Bernard said that he courted her by giving her a flower still life every day (cf. also n. 3 below). See Gauguin 1923, p. 177, and Bernard 1994, vol. 1, p. 242. We do not know how serious it was or how long it lasted. See also cat. Amsterdam 2011.
3. In 1908 Bernard wrote that Segatori gave Van Gogh free meals in exchange for paintings, mainly flower pieces, and the walls were covered in his studies. ‘That lasted for some months, then the business collapsed and was sold, and all these paintings, piled up in a heap, were auctioned for a derisory sum.’ (Cela dura quelques mois, puis l’établissement périclita, fut vendu, et toutes ces peintures, mises en tas, furent adjugées pour un somme dérisoire.) See Bernard 1994, vol. 1, p. 167. From letter 572 it appears that Segatori was no longer in charge at Le Tambourin and would probably lose the business; Van Gogh must have heard that his paintings had been seized.
Contrary to what Bernard suggested later, the works were not Van Gogh’s way of paying for his meals. He had evidently decorated the café with flower still lifes in the hope of selling them to customers, albeit without making specific arrangements with Segatori. Maurice Beaubourg stated in 1890 that Van Gogh had left everything behind ‘as security for the proprietor’ (comme gage au propriétaire), while Bernard wrote that the still lifes were auctioned off in batches of ten. At the beginning of his time in Arles Van Gogh remarked on how few flower still lifes from Paris he had been able to keep (letter 640). There is consequently every reason to assume that he did not collect the works that were decorating the café, and that they were then sold at auction, possibly as part of bankruptcy proceedings. For this see cat. Amsterdam 2011.
4. By ‘the rest’ Van Gogh must mean the Japanese prints that he had exhibited at Le Tambourin. Cf. letter 640.
5. We do not know which two paintings these are; cf. letter 572, nn. 5 and 6.
6. A louis was a coin worth 20 francs.
7. Asnières was a village on the Seine immediately to the north of Paris, just a few miles from rue Lepic. Signac and Bernard worked there too.
8. Julien Tanguy was married to Renée Julienne Tanguy-Briend. Unlike her husband, she was not well liked by artists, as Bernard’s description of her makes plain: ‘Silent and shaking her incredulous head, like a featherless bird’s, mère Tanguy, who reflected bitterly that there was nothing to put on the table, and that they owed three lots of rent, appeared from the height of her practical philosophy to despise that whole world of “light-minded fine talkers”.’ (Muette et branlant sa tête incrédule d’oiseau déplumé, la mère Tanguy, qui songeait amèrement qu’il n’y avait rien pour la table et que l’on devait trois termes, semblait mépriser du haut de sa philosophie pratique tout ce monde “d’écervelés et de beaux parleurs”.) See Bernard 1994, vol. 1, p. 166. Van Gogh took his own work to Tanguy.
9. We do not know which painting Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec sold through Alphonse Portier. At that time Julius Elias was in any event buying his work, as emerges from two letters that Toulouse-Lautrec wrote to Portier at the end of 1887. The painter had told Portier in July 1887 that he could receive him and his visitors every day. See Letters of Toulouse-Lautrec 1991, pp. 115, 121 (nos. 145, 154-155).
10. This may be the watercolour Grapes and pears by Sina Mesdag-Van Houten, which survived in her estate (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 1141 . The reason why this was sent has not been ascertained.