To Theo van Gogh

My dear Theo,

It has surprised me a little not to have received even a single word from you. You’ll say you’ve been too busy to think about it – and I can very well understand that.

It’s already late – but I wanted to tell you once more that I whole-heartedly hope that from now on the correspondence will again become livelier than it has been recently.

Herewith two scratches after a couple of studies that I made, while at the same time I’m working on those peasants around a dish of potatoes again.

I’ve just come home from there – and have worked on it further by lamplight – although this time I started it in daylight.

See, this is what the composition has now become. I’ve painted it on a fairly large canvas, and as the sketch is now, I believe there’s life in it.

But I know for certain that C.M., for instance, would speak of – badly drawn &c.

Do you know what can definitely be said to counter that? That the beautiful effects of the light in nature require one to work very fast. Now I know very well that the great masters were able both to finish and to maintain the vitality, particularly in the period of their mature experience.

But that’s something I certainly won’t be able to do like that for the time being.

At the point where I now am, though, I see a chance of giving a felt impression of what I see.

Not always literally exactly – rather never exactly – for one sees nature through one’s own temperament.

What I’d like to advise now is the following: don’t let the time slip by – let me work as much as is in any way possible – and keep all the studies from now on yourself. I’d rather not sign any of them yet, though, because I wouldn’t like to have them circulating like paintings, so that one would have to buy them back later should one make something of a name.

But it’s good that you’re showing them, because you’ll see that some day we’ll find someone who wants to do what I’m suggesting to you, that is, make a collection of studies.

I mean to go out regularly in the mornings and just tackle whatever I see the people doing in the fields or at home. As I do now anyway.

You’re looking for new ideas for the art trade; the idea of being fair to the art lovers isn’t new, but it’s one that never grows old. So, too, giving security – on a purchase. And I ask you, isn’t an art lover better off when he has, say, 20 very diverse sketches by a painter for the same price that he would reasonably have to pay for one painting that was finished so that it could be put into circulation as a saleable commodity? If I were in your position, because after all you know a lot of young painters who haven’t yet made a name, I’d just try once to put painted studies on the market proper – not as paintings, but mounted somehow or other, on gilt Bristol, say, or black or dark red.

But I spoke there about giving security.

Not all painters make a lot of studies – but many do, and the young ones in particular have to do it as much as possible, don’t they? Anyone who owns a painter’s studies can be as good as certain (at least so it seems to me) that there’s a bond between the painter and him that can’t easily be broken just on a whim.

There are people, aren’t there, who support painters during the time when they aren’t yet earning – very well.

But how often does it happen that such a thing ends badly – unpleasantly for both parties? On the one hand because the patron is dissatisfied about money that’s wholly wasted, or at least seems to be. On the other hand because the painter feels entitled to ask for more trust, more patience and interest than people are prepared to give. But in most cases it’s carelessness on both sides that gives rise to the misunderstandings. I hope that this won’t be the case between us. And I hope that gradually my studies will give you some new courage. Neither you nor I are contemporaries of that generation that Gigoux rightly calls ‘the valiant ones’ in that book of yours that I read.

But maintaining the enthusiasm of those days at this time is nonetheless advisable, it seems to me, because it’s often true that fortune favours the bold, and be this as it may – about fortune or ‘la joie (?) de vivre’, that is – one must work and be bold if one really wants to live. And I say, let’s paint a lot and be productive, and be ourselves with faults and qualities – I say us – because the money from you that I know causes you trouble enough to provide for me, gives you the right, if anything good happens in my work, to consider half of it as your own creation.

Try to talk to someone at Le Chat Noir and ask them whether they want a scratch of those potato eaters and, if so, what size, because it makes no difference to me.

Regards, with a handshake.

Yours truly,