My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your letter and for the 50-franc note it contained. I’ve also received Maurin’s drawing, which is superb.1 That man’s a great artist. Last night I slept in the house, and although there are still things to be done, I feel very happy there. Besides, I feel that I can make something of it that will last, and from which someone else will also be able to benefit. Now money spent will no longer be money wasted, and I believe it won’t be long before you see the difference there. At present it makes me think of Bosboom’s interiors, with the red tiles, the white walls, the furniture in deal or walnut, the patches of intense blue sky and greenery visible through the windows. Now the surroundings, with the public garden, the night cafés, the grocer’s shop,2 aren’t Millet, of course, but failing that, it’s pure Daumier, pure Zola. Now that’s quite enough to find ideas in, isn’t it?
I already wrote to you yesterday that, if I count the two beds at 300 francs, the price can’t be reduced any further.3 If, however, I’ve already bought more than that, it’s because, if I already put half of last week’s money into it, yesterday I
1v:2 had to pay another 10 francs to the lodging-house keeper and 30 francs for a palliasse.
At the moment I have 5 francs left in my pocket. So I’m going to ask you to send me another louis,4 depending on what you can manage — but by return of post — to see me through the week, or 50 francs, if it’s possible. One way or another, this month I’d like to be able to count on receiving 100 instead of 50, again, over the whole month, as I asked you in my letter yesterday.
If I save 50 francs over the month myself, if I add to that the other 50, it means that in total I’ll have spent 400 francs on furniture. My dear Theo, here we are, at last, more on the right road! It’s true that it doesn’t matter not having hearth nor home as long as you’re young, and living like a traveller, in cafés, but that was becoming intolerable to me now, and most of all, it wasn’t compatible with thoughtful work. So my plan is all worked out. I’ll try to do painting for what you send me every month, and then I want to do painting for the house. What I do for the house will be to reimburse you for previous expenditure. I’m still something of a tradesman, in fact, in the sense that I’m anxious to prove that I pay my debts, and know what I want for the merchandise that the lousy trade of a poor painter forces me to labour at.
Ah well, I feel more or less sure of succeeding in making a decoration that will be worth 10 thousand francs in time. Let me say — If here we set up a studio-refuge for one or other of our pals who are broke, no one will ever be able to reproach us, neither you nor me, with living and spending for ourselves alone.
Now to set up such a studio you need a working capital; now it’s I who have eaten it up in the course of my unproductive years, and I’ll pay it back now that I’m beginning to produce.
I assure you that, for you as well as for me, I judge it to be indispensable, but what’s more our right, always to have a louis or a few louis in our pocket, and a certain stock of merchandise to handle.
But my idea would be that in the end we’d have set up and would leave to posterity a studio in which a successor could live.
I don’t know if I’m expressing myself clearly enough, but in other words: we’re working at an art, at matters that won’t be of our times only but which may also be continued by others after us.
You’re doing that in your business; it’s undeniable that it will increase in future, even though you have many vexations at present.5
But for me, I foresee that other artists will wish to see colour under a stronger sun and in a more Japanese clarity.
1r:4 Now if I set up a studio-refuge right at the entrance to the south, that’s not so silly.
And precisely that means that we can work calmly. Ah, if others say, it’s too far from Paris &c.? Let them, too bad for them. Why did the greatest colourist of all, Eugène Delacroix, judge it indispensable to go to the south, and as far as Africa?6 Obviously because not only in Africa but even from Arles onwards you’ll naturally find fine contrasts between reds and greens, blues and oranges, sulphur and lilac. And all true colourists will have to come to admit that there exists another coloration than that of the north. And I don’t doubt that if Gauguin came, he would love this part of the country; if Gauguin didn’t come, it’s because he has already had this experience of more colourful countries, and he’d still be one of our friends and in agreement in principle. And another one of them would come in his place.
If what we’re doing looks out toward the infinite, if we see our work having its raison d’être and continuing on beyond, we work with more serenity. Now you have that twice over.
You’re kind to painters, and be sure that the more I think about it the more I feel that there’s nothing more genuinely artistic than to love people. You’ll say to me that then we’d do well to do without art and artists. That’s true on the face of it, but after all, the Greeks and the French and the old Dutchmen accepted art, and we see art always recover after inevitable periods of decline — and I don’t believe that we’d be more virtuous for this reason, that we had a horror of artists and their art. At present I don’t yet find my paintings good enough for the benefits I’ve had from you. But once they’re good enough, I assure you that you will have created them just as much as I, and the fact is that we make them together.
But I won’t labour the point, because it will become as clear as daylight to you if I succeed in doing things a little more seriously.
At the moment I have another no. 30 square canvas
2v:6 on the go, a garden again, or rather a walk under plane trees, with green turf and black clumps of pines.7
You did very well to order the colours and the canvas,8 because the weather is superb, superb. The mistral is still there, but there are intervals of calm, and then it’s wonderful. If we had less mistral, this part of the country would really be as beautiful, and would lend itself as much to art, as Japan.
As I write, very kind letter from Bernard, who’s thinking of coming to Arles this winter — whim — but then, perhaps it’s also that Gauguin is sending him to me as a substitute, and would himself prefer to stay in the north. We’ll know soon, because I’m sure that he’ll write to you one way or another.
Bernard’s letter speaks of Gauguin with great respect and sympathy, and I’m convinced that they have mutually understood one another. And I certainly believe that Gauguin has done Bernard good.
Whether Gauguin comes or not, he’ll still be one of our friends, and if he doesn’t come now he’ll come at another time. I instinctively feel that Gauguin is a calculating person, who, seeing himself at the bottom of the social ladder, wishes to regain a position by means that will be honest, to be sure, but which will be very shrewd. Gauguin has little idea that I’m able to take account of all that. And he perhaps doesn’t know that he must at all costs gain time, and that he’ll gain it with us, if he were to gain nothing else thereby.
Now if one of these days he does a bunk from Pont-Aven with Laval or Maurin9 without paying his debt, in my opinion he would still be in the right in his case, just like any animal at bay.
I don’t believe that it’s wise to offer Bernard 150 francs for one painting a month immediately, as we’ve offered Gauguin. And isn’t Bernard, who has clearly talked at length with Gauguin about the whole business, rather counting on replacing Gauguin?
I believe that it’ll be necessary to be very firm and very categorical in all of this.
And without giving our reasons, to speak very clearly.
I can’t blame Gauguin — speculator, stockbroker10 — if he wishes to risk something in business, only I myself wouldn’t be part of it, I’d a thousand times sooner continue with you, whether you’re with the Goupils or not. And the new dealers are, as you know full well, exactly the same as the old ones in my opinion.
In principle, in theory, I’m for an association of artists protecting their livelihood and their work, but in principle and in theory I’m equally against attempts to destroy old firms, once established. Just let them rot in peace and die a natural death. It’s pure presumption to try to revive the trade. Have nothing to do with it, protect your livelihoods among yourselves, live as a family, as brothers and companions; splendid; even in a case where that didn’t succeed, I’d like to be part of it, but I’ll never be part of a manoeuvre against other dealers. I shake your hand firmly; I hope that what I’m forced to ask of you won’t cause you too much financial trouble. But I didn’t want to delay going to sleep at my house. And if you’re in financial difficulties yourself, I’ll get through the week with 20 francs more, but that will be urgent.
The letter that Gauguin will send you shortly will, I’m inclined to believe, clear the matter up.
I myself don’t blame an artist of his merit for saying, you’ll pay my journey and my debt if you wish me to come, because I don’t have any — any money. But on the other hand, in that case he’d have to be very generous with his paintings. Then — but we’d still have to have the money — I wouldn’t see any harm in the thing. But these paintings, which will be sold one day, will tie up the interest on what they cost, perhaps for many years to come. And in fact, a painting for which we pay 400 francs today and which we sell for 1,000 francs ten years later is still sold at cost price, because it has sat there doing nothing. But you know this better than I do.
I shouldn’t be surprised if little by little you regain a love of business, or at least that you’ll be reconciled with your present position when you’ll feel that those who invent new things in business don’t know how to make a great revolution in it.
You’re kind to artists, you are, in fact, right at the heart of the trade, you do what you can, you’re damned right. Only take care of your health if you can, and don’t get upset about nothing. That will come quite of its own accord now, if it must come.
I only want to emphasize this, that it seems to me that Gauguin, by giving you alone his paintings on deposit, and quietly waiting for his moment while working here with me and repaying our advances with his work, would be pursuing a policy that I would respect more than any other position he could take.
For Bernard, if Bernard wished to come here, it wouldn’t be on the same conditions as Gauguin — it would seem to me.
If there was a benefit in living together, there’s nothing to prevent you agreeing to buy something from him from time to time, if it’s possible. But no sort of contract with him, he’s too changeable.
If Gauguin doesn’t come, he’ll succeed all the same, but he won’t succeed through his contrivance, but through the real merit of his canvases. As long as he keeps the time and the money and the freedom needed to do them, that’s all. I can assure you that I would certainly not be a better dealer than you; in the given circumstances you do perfectly well, and I’d only wish to send you better paintings. I’m trying to do that, and I’ll continue to try to do so. I expect to return to my garden canvas again soon. It’s an immense advantage that I have, not to be short of canvases and colours, and so it’s certainly my duty to work without respite. If Gauguin came, I’m inclined to believe that we’d make our colours at home ourselves; I daren’t do it on my own, because I fear that it would discourage me if it didn’t work straightaway. I’m very curious to know what Tanguy will charge for his tubes.11
Did you read an article in the number of Le Courrier Français that you sent, ‘la truie bleue’?12 Very good, and it reminds you precisely of La Segatori. You’ll enjoy reading that article.
I’ll see Milliet today, I think. Thank you in advance for the Japanese prints.13
I’m keeping all Bernard’s letters, they’re sometimes really interesting; you’ll read them some day or other; they already make quite a bundle.
This firmness I was speaking of, that it will be necessary to have with Gauguin, it’s solely because we already made our position clear when he described his plan of action in Paris.14 You replied well then without committing yourself, but also without wounding him in his amour propre. And it’s the same thing that could be necessary again.