Vincent Van Gogh: “the whole art business is rotten.”


If Drenthe was paradise, Goupil was the serpent that invaded it. Vincent had often taken advantage of Theo’s chronic disenchantment to criticise his employer, but never in language this harsh and uncompromising. “Odious, wanton, capricious, and reckless,” he called it, an institution that had “outlived its fame” and was headed for “deserved ruin.” It had turned the honourable profession of art dealing, as their uncles had once practised it, into “nothing more than gambling,” he said. As for the gentlemen of Goupil who had made Theo’s situation impossible, Vincent accused them of “insupportable arrogance,” “horrible unfairness,” and “doing mean things.” He brushed aside any possibility of compromise (“do not flatter yourself with the belief in reconciliation”) and urged his brother to follow in his own defiant footsteps—“stand your ground . . . don’t give in.” To dissuade Theo from jumping to another dealer or setting up a gallery on his own, Vincent expanded his denunciations beyond Goupil and railed against dealers everywhere. “It is Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” he argued; “the whole art business is rotten.” He hurled at the whole enterprise Zola’s ringing denunciation of bourgeois taste: “a triumph of mediocrity, nullity, and absurdity.”

[Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Random House, 2012, p.360]


The situation has not changed. Art now, the whole damned business, is still synonymous with rottenness, corruption, mediocrity, nullity, and absurdity. The dealers have succeeded in sowing doubt and confusion in people’s minds in order to profit financially. Art, true art, has no part to play in such dealings.

[Peter John Robinson, September 2019]

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