‘Ever Yours’ is a one-volume selection of Van Gogh’s letters (drawn from the six-volume original published by the Van Gogh Museum back in 2009), translated from Dutch and French by a bevy of translators. The letters are accompanied by a general introduction, historic family photographs, and reproductions of 87 actual pages of letters that contain sketches by Van Gogh. It’s not just art lovers who will find the book inspiring. Van Gogh struggled with a sense of purpose, depression, loneliness, making a living and with his own belief in art all his life, and was unremittingly frank about his struggles in his letters to his brother Theo. This will have important lessons (or warnings or resonance) for all creative people. There are some comments in the introduction which show this volume is far from ‘hero-worship’: ‘He was almost always convinced he was right, and this made him quite tiresome.’ But his work ethic and the breadth of his interest in art, literature and other people, his enthusiasm for always learning something new are all astounding.
This is a book to treasure and turn to again and again. Like with Virginia Woolf’s diaries, there will always be a gem to discover, a crumb of encouragement, something to keep you going even in the darkest days, although neither Vincent nor Virginia could find that for themselves.
I have a definite belief as regards art… which also means that I know what I want to get in my own work, and that I’ll try to get it even if I go under in the attempt.
For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone… it is a succession of little things that are brought together.
So often, in the past as well, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me up and reminded me that there are good things in the world.
Life is but short and time passes quickly. If one is competent in one things and understands one thing well, one gains at the same time insight into and knowledge of many other things into the bargain. It’s sometimes good to go about much in the world and to be among people… but he who actually goes quietly about his work, alone, preferring to have but very few friends, goes the most safely … in the world.
Like everyone else, I have need of relationships of friendship or affection or trusting companionship, and am not like a street pump or a lamp post, whether of stone or iron, so that I can’t do without them without perceiving and emptiness and feeling their lack…
It is often impossible for men to do anything, prisoners in I don’t know what kind of horrible, horrible, very horrible cage… You may not always be able to say what it is that confines, that immures, that seems to bury, and yet you feel I know not what bars, I know not what gates – walls… And the prison is sometimes called Prejudice, misunderstanding, fatal ignorance… mistrust…
I shall love her so long
That in the end she’ll love me too.
The more she disappears, the more she appears.
You will understand what I tell you, that to work and be an artist one needs love. At least someone who strives for feeling in his work must first feel and live with his heart.
…sometimes I grew so impatient that I trampled on my charcoal and was wholly and utterly discouraged. And yet, a while later I sent you drawings made with chalk and charcoal… all the same I had taken a step forward. Now I’m going through a similar period of struggle and despondency, of patience and impatience, of hope and desolation. But I must plod on and anyway, after a while I’ll understand more about making watercolours. If it were that easy, one wouldn’t take any pleasure in it.
I envy the Japanese the extreme clarity that everything in their work has. It’s never dull, and never appears to be done too hastily. Their work is as simple as breathing, and they do a figure with a few confident strokes with the same ease as if it was as simple as buttoning your waistcoat. Ah, I must manage to do a figure with a few strokes. That will keep me busy all winter.
However, paintings come off better if one takes care of oneself and keeps well. But for you, for your work, for your whole life as well, you mustn’t have too many worries.
… I wouldn’t wish for a martyr’s career in any circumstances. For I’ve always sought something other than the heroism I don’t have, which I certainly admire in others but which, I repeat, I do not believe to be my duty or my ideal… Every day I take the remedy that the incomparable Dickens prescribes against suicide. It consists of a glass of wine, a piece of bread and cheese and a pipe of tobacco… I try not to forget completely how to jest, I try to avoid everything that might relate to heroism and martyrdom, in short I try not to take lugubrious things lugubriously.