Vincent van Gogh - Factories at Asnieres Seen from the Quai de Clichy 1887

Factories at Asnieres Seen from the Quai de Clichy 1887
Factories at Asnieres Seen from the Quai de Clichy
Oil on canvas 54.0 x 72.0 cm. Paris: Summer, 1887
St. Louis: The Saint Louis Art Museum

« previous picture | Paris | next picture »

From the St. Louis: The Saint Louis Art Museum:
Vincent van Gogh has represented an expanse of factories bellowing smoke into the air in the gritty, industrial suburb of Clichy to the northwest of Paris. The scene is divided into three horizontal bands of fields, factories, and sky, while in the middle distance, two tiny figures (perhaps lovers) are visible in the field. Van Gogh’s ordered system of repetitive brushwork reflects his awareness of the recent “pointillist” experiments of Seurat.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Sunday, 16 December 1883.
My dear Theo,
Mauve said to me at the time, ‘you’ll find yourself if you keep on working at art, if you go into it more deeply than you have done so far’. He said that 2 years ago.
I think a lot about those words of his these days.
I have found myself — I am that dog.
Now my idea may be somewhat overstated — the reality less pronounced in its contrasts — less absolutely dramatic — yet I believe the rough character sketch is fundamentally true.
The shaggy sheepdog I tried to get you to understand in my letter yesterday it’s my character, and the animal’s life is my life, if, that is, one leaves out the details and simply gives the essentials.
This may seem exaggerated to you — but I don’t take it back.
For the sake of analysis, no personalities involved, just as a character study, I refer you once more to last summer impartially as if I spoke about strangers rather than about you and me and Pa. I see two brothers walking in The Hague (view them as strangers, other people, don’t think of yourself or of me or Pa).
One of them says, ‘I’m becoming more and more like Pa — I have a certain position to keep up — a certain affluence (very modest in both your case and Pa’s) I must stay in the trade, I don’t believe that I’ll become a painter’. The other says — ‘I’m becoming less and less like Pa — I’m becoming a dog, I feel that the future will probably make me uglier and rougher, and I see “a certain poverty” as my lot — but — but — i will be a painter and, man or dog, in short a being with feeling’.
So the one, a certain position or affluence and a businessman ,, ,, other, ,, ,, poverty and exclusion ,, painter.
And I see those same two brothers in earlier years — when you were just coming into the world of painting, just beginning to read &c. &c. — by the mill in Rijswijk.
Or, for example, on an outing to Chaam in the winter, across the snow-covered heath, early in the morning! feeling so much the same, thinking and believing so much the same — that I ask myself — are they the same people??? Question — what will happen now? — will they part company forever, or will they find the same path once and for all? I tell you, I choose the said dog’s path, I’ll remain a dog, I’ll be poor, I’ll be a painter, I want to remain human, in nature.

To my mind, anyone who turns away from nature, whose head always has to be full of keeping this up or keeping that up, even if things like that take him away from nature, to such an extent that he can’t help saying it — oh — in this way one so easily arrives, in my view, at a point where one can no longer distinguish white from black — and — and one becomes precisely the opposite of what one is taken to be or thinks oneself to be. For instance — at this moment you still have a manly fear of mediocrity in the bad sense of the word. Why are you nonetheless going to kill, extinguish the best in your soul? Then, yes then, that fear could well come true.
How does one become mediocre? By going along with this today and conforming to that tomorrow, as the world wants, and by not speaking out against the world and by only following public opinion! Understand me clearly, what I’m saying is that at bottom you’re better than that — I see it in you when, for example, you take Pa’s part when you think I’ve made it difficult for Pa. Permit me to say that in my view you’re directing your opposition wrongly in this case, but I do appreciate exactly that, and I say, at the same time be sensible, direct that anger at something else and fight with that strength against some influences other than mine, of all things — and — and then you’ll probably get less upset. I don’t differ with Pa when I consider Pa in himself, but I do differ with Pa when I compare Pa with the great père Millet, say.
His doctrine is so great that Pa’s way of looking at things seems extremely petty beside it. You will think this terrible of me — I can do nothing about it — it’s my conviction, deep inside me, and I stick up for it because you confuse Pa’s character with Corot’s, for instance.
How do I see Pa? As a person of similar character to Corot’s father, but Pa has nothing of Corot himself.
Corot did love his father, but he didn’t follow him. I love Pa, too, so long as my path isn’t made too difficult by a difference of opinion. I do not love Pa at a moment when a certain petty-minded pride stands in the way of the generous and conclusive achievement of a complete, definitive and so desirable reconciliation.
Measures I envisaged and which also brought me here were in no way intended to cause Pa or you expense, but on the contrary to make better use of your money so that we lose less, that is, less time, less money and less energy. Am I to be condemned in this respect when I point to the Rappards who, although they’re wealthier than Pa or you or I, go about things more sensibly and get better results through unity, even though it’s probably not always very easy for them either?
Am I to be condemned when I wanted to say ‘thus far and no further’ to a division in the family? In what respect am I wrong when I want it to be through and through and conclusive and am not content with a sham or too feeble a reconciliation? Reconciliation with reservations, conditions etc., bah! — I refuse to accept it. Readily or not at all; willingly, or else it’s utterly pointless and worse can be foreseen. You say that you think it cowardly of me to rebel against Pa — in the first place this rebellion is in words — there’s no violence here.
It can be seen from another side, that is, that I’m all the sadder and more disappointed and speak all the more earnestly and resolutely precisely because Pa’s grey hair tells me that the time that we have for reconciliation is verily perhaps not very long. I don’t think much of deathbed reconciliations, I’d rather see them during life.
I’m prepared to admit that Pa means well, but I would so infinitely prefer it if it weren’t to stop at intentions but might at least sometime, albeit very late, lead to a mutual understanding.
If I have to fear that ‘this will never happen’, if you only knew how sad I find that, if you only knew how I grieve about it.

You say — Pa does have other things on his mind — really — well then, I myself feel how unimportant those things, which prevent Pa’s mind from thinking things through year in and year out, appear to me. Well, that’s precisely it. Pa doesn’t believe that there’s anything to reconcile or make up, Pa thinks about other things — very well — I’m beginning to say now: leave him to his other things. And you stick to your ‘other things’ too. Pa says ‘we’ve always been good after all’ &c. I say — really? — are you satisfied? I’m not.
Something better than the time of the Rijswijk mill — namely the same once and for all — two poor brothers, artists — bound up in the same feeling for the same nature and art — will it ever come to that?
The certain position, the certain affluence, will they win out? Oh, let them win out but that it will be only for a time that ends with your disappointment in this respect, is what I foresee will happen before you’re 30. And if not — Well, if not, then — then — then — Too BAD. With a handshake.
Ever yours,