Vincent van Gogh - Skull 1887-1888

Skull 1887-1888
Oil on canvas on triplex board 43.0 x 31.0 cm. Paris: Winter, 1887-1888
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Friday, 14 November 1884.
My dear Theo,
You’ll certainly be interested in how things stand with the call to Helvoirt that Pa received. Pa told the people in Helvoirt that he certainly couldn’t even consider it unless the H. stipend was brought up to the level of the Nuenen stipend. And Pa writes today that they don’t seem to be raising any objections to making up the difference in stipend — they have to add 150 guilders to it, I believe. So although nothing has been decided — given the willingness of the good natives of Helvoirt — there’s a real chance that as a result of his own words Pa will have to consider it very seriously. This is important to me, because I would certainly not want to go to Helvoirt with them. I just wanted to tell you exactly how things stand.
These last few days, although it’s freezing quite hard here, I’ve been working outdoors on a rather large study (more than 1 metre) of an old water mill in Gennep, on the other side of Eindhoven. I want to finish the whole thing outdoors — but it will definitely be the last that I paint outdoors this year. Since I wrote to you I’ve also been working on other studies — among them two heads of polder workers.
I now have 3 people in Eindhoven who want to learn to paint and whom I’m teaching to paint still lifes. I can safely say that I’ve progressed in painting technique and in colour since your visit. And that this will continue to improve, too.
In painting, it’s the first steps that count — it gets easier later, and I have some trumps in my hand. And I think there are tricks to be taken with them. Now you know that I made an approach to Mauve and Tersteeg again, to put right what happened in the past.
I don’t regret that approach.
But they’ve refused to have anything to do with it — ‘very definitely’ refused. This doesn’t discourage me.

I regard it as something like sending a painting to an exhibition and having it rejected.
One has to encounter opposition at first, or even several times.
So again, I don’t regret my approach, and shall most likely repeat it — not straightaway, exactly — but before too long. I wanted to tell you now that I’d be very pleased if you didn’t just stay neutral in this matter — but on the contrary helped me to get what I want. I’ve admitted I was wrong, not just to Mauve but to T. as well.
All the more because I believe that later on they themselves will realize that for their part they totally misunderstood things.
Which they don’t see yet.
So for my part, by going so far this time as to very generously and decidedly admit I was wrong in the past, moreover to simply show them work as it gets better, in any event I won’t have to make any more apologies in future. Once is enough, and I didn’t necessarily even have to go as far as I did, namely — unconditionally. Getting them to be generous for their part — is another thing – you could assist in this if you want to. If not — don’t bother about it, but then after a while I’ll return to it again on my own. I don’t know how you’ll have taken my last letter — which wasn’t meant angrily. My affairs can prosper, and in both our interests I wish that we could concentrate the strength we have at our disposal. I’ve replied briefly to both Tersteeg and M. about their refusal, to tell them that ‘I rather agree with Tersteeg that it would be better for me to seek out new people than to try to renew old relationships, that this really is my own idea, too, but above and beyond that, that I nonetheless have enough faith in the future that I will not lightly give up regaining even old relationships, even better than before’. This has been my answer to T. And is also what I tell you — I believe that it’s possible — to get on better terms than the present ones — with you, too.
But — speaking bluntly — I think that you’ve been too neutral towards me the last 1 1/2 or two years, and I wish above all for more warmth, and the friendship was too cool and not animated enough for me.
Find this pedantic of me if you will — yet it isn’t pedantic but it’s for sound practical reasons that I pointed this out to you before and point it out again.
Margot Begemann is coming back to Nuenen one of these days — I’ve always remained good friends with her, and it’s on my advice that she did not give in to her sisters, who let it be seen that they’d rather she stayed away and who keep telling her that in their view she has made a hash of things. On the contrary, her family has obligations towards her, and in the past she put her own money into the business when her brother went bankrupt. The issue here is that if she and I choose to love each other, be attached to each other — indeed have been for a long time — this is no wrongdoing on our part nor something for which people may blame us. Either her or me. And in my view it’s absurd that people felt they should get worked up about it — and then — in their opinion — in my interest or in hers. That was a bad turn.
Anyone may do this with the best intentions — yet — — — Louis Begemann — he had his objections, too, but was such and remained such that both she and I could talk to him, and it was precisely because he was humane and calm that it didn’t turn out much worse, and when that happened with her, which only I knew about, he could help and all the others only hindered. And we were in complete agreement about the steps to be taken then.
Three days before, after all, I had already warned him and said, I’m concerned about your sister.
Most certainly, at some time she has done greater or lesser good turns for pretty well all the people here in the neighbourhood, either in sickness or when they were in some trouble or other. And she and I actually became attached during Ma’s illness.
She has just written to me: should there be any people sick in Nuenen, do go and visit them and see if anything can be done to help. Well, there are a thousand things of that nature in her.
And to put it very mildly, one can say that there has been a most deplorable misunderstanding here.
I think that, with hindsight, you would now no longer speak as you did on that evening. That concerned me alone — and I could take it, so there’s no question of my reproaching you in this matter.
Only as an explanation for you, I say, just as you spoke to me, who can take it, so her sisters spoke to her, who was made distraught by it. You have nothing to do with it, because you spoke to me, who can take it, and you did not speak to her.
But the real fault lies with her sisters, or rather one of the sisters in particular, who proves to be very hard, since she’s actually still sulking and bearing a grudge. You — would have to tell me again yourself that you bear a grudge — before I would suspect you of it.
So much on my part to you.