Vincent van Gogh - Still Life with Mussels and Shrimps 1886

Still Life with Mussels and Shrimps 1886
Still Life with Mussels and Shrimps
Oil on canvas 26.5 x 34.5 cm. Paris: Autumn, 1886
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

« previous picture | Paris | next picture »

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Monday, 30 April 1883.
My dear Theo,
I wanted to let you hear a word from me around your birthday. May the year you are beginning be a good one for you, and may you have good fortune at work — and I hope above all that in this year you’ll find some satisfaction in what you’ve done for your patient, and that she may recover and find new life.
Do you realize it’s almost a year since you were here? I long so much for you to come. It’s work from that whole year that I must show you — that we must discuss in connection with the future.
Do you think it will be about the same time as last year that you come — or will it be postponed because you think it undesirable, perhaps, to leave your patient alone? Anyway, if you can say anything about your arrival, write to me.
In the past you told me a great deal about the Swedish painters — Heyerdahl — Edelfelt. This week I found a reproduction of a painting by Edelfelt, a divine service on the beach. There’s a touch of Longfellow’s poetry about it. The work is very fine. That’s a movement I’m very fond of and which does more good in the world, I believe, than the Italians and Spaniards with their ‘Cairene armourers’ and so on, which I find so tedious in the long run. This week I worked on a figure of a woman gathering peat on the heath.
And a kneeling figure of a man.
One must know the structure of figures so well to get expression — at any rate that’s how I see it.
Edelfelt is quite beautiful in his expressions — but he too is concerned not only with the facial expressions but with the whole posture of the figures.
Do you know who is perhaps the cleverest of all those Swedes? It may be a certain Wilhelm Leibl, a man who is entirely self-taught.
I have the reproduction of a painting by him which he suddenly produced, I believe, at the Exhibition in Vienna in ’82. It shows 3 women in a pew: one seated figure of a young woman in a check dress (Tyrol), two kneeling old women in black with headscarves.
Splendid in sentiment and drawn like Memling or Quinten Massys.
Apparently, that painting caused a great stir among artists at the time — I don’t know what’s happened to the man since. I thought it was a lot like Thijs Maris. In England there’s a German of that type but not as clever, Paul de Gassow, who’s a little like Oberländer, whose heads you no doubt remember. Anyway, there are still good people in that Sweden, it seems.

I’m again longing for your letter.
What I wrote to you in short about women’s relationships with their mothers — in my case I can assure you that 9/10 of the difficulties I had with the woman had their origin there, directly or indirectly.
And yet, although their actions are inexpressibly wrong, those mothers aren’t exactly bad. But they know not what they do — women around the age of 50 are often somewhat distrusting, and it’s precisely their own craftiness and suspicion that entraps them. If you like, I can give you more particulars sometime. I don’t know whether all women become more serious as the years pass — and then they want to control and correct their daughters, and go about it completely the wrong way.
Yet in some cases their system may have some raison d’être, but they shouldn’t make it their principle and assume a priori that men are deceivers and fools, and that from that it follows that women must deceive them and have a monopoly of wisdom. If the mothers’ system is unfortunately applied to a man who’s honest and in good faith, he’s in an unhappy position. It’s one of the things that are so common these days that everyone can call to mind enough of them from his own experience, and we shouldn’t imagine something unusual is happening to us.
Still, we’re not yet in the age when reason (in the sense not only of reason but also of conscience) will be respected by everyone. It’s our duty to work to bring that age about, and one of the first things required by the love of humanity is to take into account the circumstances of present-day society when judging characters.
How beautiful Zola is — it’s L’assommoir above all that I often think of. Tell me — how are you getting on with reading Balzac?
I’ve finished Les misérables. I know that Victor Hugo analyzes in a different way from Balzac and Zola, but he sees through things too. Do you know what I’d prefer to the woman’s relations with her mother? — in my case, where they have decidedly unfortunate consequences — that the mother should move in with me completely. I suggested that once this winter when the mother was very hard pressed, and I said if you’re so attached to each other, come and live together. But it’s just that they, I believe, do not find good enough the simplicity which I want on principle and which is also necessitated by the circumstances, even when they themselves can’t get by on it. Many people pay more attention to the outward appearance of a family than to its inner life, and imagine they do good in that way. Society is full of that, seeming instead of being. Again, these people are not bad because of this, but they are foolish.
However great the difference between the people in question, keep an eye on the relations between your patient and her mother. Don’t think for a moment that I suspect the mother of anything particularly bad — no, but it would surprise me if she doesn’t share in the general foolishness. And your patient the general female tendency to make a mistake when deciding what they’ll be guided by.
In some cases the mother of a woman is the representative of a meddlesome and malicious and insufferable family — and as such definitely harmful and hostile, even if she isn’t that bad in herself. In my case she’d be much better if she was in my house rather than in the houses of the other members of the family — where she’s sometimes brazenly duped by them and incited to intrigue.
Have you ever thought of your patient’s mother in this role, which she may well take on to some degree? So be on the alert. And as for the Soeks, you yourself perhaps foresee that it isn’t certain that they’ll have the same notions of discretion that you and your patient have and that are desirable. In relation to your patient you’ve been absolutely honest and in good faith — that’s the most important thing, you see, and that keeps the future bright, whatever it may be. Yet even when one has acted rightly, one can sometimes face unpleasantness all the same. Anyway, I wish you as little as possible of that in this year that you are beginning today — and, on the contrary, every good wish again. Now, write soon — if you haven’t already done so — which I hope is the case.
Adieu, old chap, with a hearty handshake.
Ever yours,