A Pair of Shoes

A Pair of Shoes

"I have two models this week... unfortunately, I fear that the little Arlésienne will stand me up for the rest of the painting. The last time she came she had innocently asked for the money in advance that I’d promised her for all the sittings, and as I made no difficulty about that she scampered without my seeing her again. Anyway, one of these days she owes it to me to come back, and it would be a bit rich if she didn’t turn up at all. I have a bouquet on the go as well, and also a still life of a pair of old shoes."
Painting Date
30th of August 1888
Detailed Image Links

Vincent painted several still lifes of shoes or boots during his Paris period.  The related items “Three Pairs of Shoes” and  “A Pair of Shoes” show previous canvases of worn work boots he posed for paintings when he was driven inside by harsh winter weather.  This work, painted about a year and a half later in an Arles summer, is similar in composition to portraits Vincent is creating at the time during his stay in Provence – when he can get people to sit for him.  Since his early days sketching and painting in the Netherlands, he has always yearned for models from which to paint portraits and has always struggled failingly to convince them to sit.



Vincent’s palette has lightened considerably since he has come to Provence when compared with his early works of the same subject of work boots in Paris over the winter of 1886/7.   He uses the pattern and color of the cross hatched tiled floor to create a backdrop not unlike his repeating backgrounds for portraits of people in Arles like Madame Roulin, the “Berceuse” rocking her child.  The shadows in vertical strokes of blue radiate from the shoe at right and compliment the ochre of the tile at lower right.


Vincent’s ability to capture something of the worker and his work is hard to deny when he puts a worn pair shoes on center stage of the red tile floor of his yellow house and studio on Place Lamartine in Arles.  It has been suggested that the work boots may have been those of Patience Escalier, whose portrait Van Gogh executed around the same time, late summer 1888, but we cannot know for sure.


Vincent is in an unsettled state of mind in late summer of 1888.  The brothers have suggested to several artists that they come live with Vincent and paint in isolation and Gauguin and Bernard are not responding.  In the coming months, Gauguin will agree and Theo will receive a large inheritance defined in the will of their Uncle ‘Cent (from which Vincent was specifically excluded) which will end the brothers’ worries of money at long last.





“My dear Theo,


On 1, September I’ll have my rent to pay, and if you could send me the money for the week the same day as you receive yours for the month, first of all I would pay the rent the same day, then the outlay would cover both weeks for me. Lastly, if there was some way that you could send me the money on Sunday in your letter or by money order, it wouldn’t leave me indifferent to gain a day that way.


I have two models this week, an Arlésienne and the old peasant, whom I’m doing this time against a bright orange background, which, although it doesn’t pretend to represent a red sunset in trompe l’oeil, is perhaps a suggestion of it, all the same. Unfortunately, I fear that the little Arlésienne will stand me up for the rest of the painting. The last time she came she had innocently asked for the money in advance that I’d promised her for all the sittings, and as I made no difficulty about that she scampered without my seeing her again.  Anyway, one of these days she owes it to me to come back, and it would be a bit rich if she didn’t turn up at all. I have a bouquet on the go as well, and also a still life of a pair of old shoes.


I have a mass of ideas for my work, and by continuing the figure very assiduously, I’d possibly find something new. But what can you do, sometimes I feel too weak in the face of the given circumstances, and I’d have to be wiser and richer and younger to win the fight. Fortunately for me, I no longer count at all on any victory, and in painting I look for nothing more than the means of getting by in life.”


To Theo. Arles, Wednesday, 29 or Thursday, 30 August 1888





“Neither Gauguin nor Bernard has written to me again. I believe that Gauguin doesn’t give a damn, seeing that it isn’t happening right away, and for my part, seeing that Gauguin has been managing anyway for 6 months, I’m ceasing to believe in the urgent need to come to his assistance.


Now let’s be careful about it. If it doesn’t suit him, he could reproach me: ‘why have you made me come to this filthy part of the country?’  And I don’t want any of that.


Of course, we can remain friends with Gauguin all the same, but I see all too clearly that his attention is elsewhere.  I say to myself, let’s behave as if he wasn’t there, then if he comes, so much the better, if he doesn’t come, too bad.


How I’d like to set myself up so that I could have a home of my own! I never stop telling myself that if at the start we’d spent even 500 francs on furnishing, we would already have recouped all of it, and I would have furniture and I would be free of lodging-house keepers by now. I’m not pressing the point, but what we’re doing now isn’t wise. There will always be artists passing through here, wishing to escape the harshness of the north. And I feel myself that I’ll always be among that number. True that it would probably be better to go a bit further down, where you’d be more sheltered. True that it won’t be entirely easy to find, but all the more reason; if we set ourselves up here, the costs of moving shouldn’t be enormous. From here to Bordighera, for example, or somewhere near Nice. Once we’d settled, we’d stay there for the rest of our lives. Waiting until you’re very rich is a sorry system, and that’s what I don’t like about the De Goncourts, although it’s the truth — they end up paying a hundred thousand francs for their home and their peace of mind.  Now we’d have it for less than a thousand, in that we’d have a studio in the south where we could put someone up.


But if we have to make a fortune first……… we’ll be totally neurotic by the time we reach that sort of tranquillity, and that’s worse than our present state, in which we can still stand all sorts of noises. But let’s be wise enough to know that we’re getting dull-witted all the same.


It’s better to lodge others than not to be lodged ourselves here, especially lodging with an innkeeper, which even when you pay doesn’t provide you with a lodging where you feel at home.  As for Gauguin, he’s perhaps letting himself drift with the current without thinking about the future, it’s likely. And perhaps he’s saying that I’ll always be there, and that he has our word.


But there’s still time to take it back, and truly I feel very tempted to do so, because failing him, I would of course think about another partnership. Whereas at present we’re held to it. If Gauguin finds enough to live on as it is, have we the right to bother him? I’m avoiding writing to Gauguin for fear of saying too bluntly, look, for many months now we’ve been finding enough to live with lodging-house keepers, but claiming that we can’t join together, while at the same time even wearing ourselves out for the future.  If you’d wished, why didn’t you tell me to come to the north? I’d have done it by now.


It would have cost a mere hundred-franc note, whereas today, during these months that it’s been dragging on, I’ve already paid that same note to my lodging-house keeper, and you must have done the same with yours, or you’ve gone into debt for 100 francs. Which by now makes at least 100 francs pure waste for absolutely nothing.


That’s what rankles with me, and what makes me say that both he and I are behaving like madmen at the moment. Is that true or not? In fact, the truth is even more serious. If he’s not in need of changing his way of life, he’s either much richer than me or he has considerably better luck. Ruining oneself costs more than succeeding, and it’s certainly our fault if we haven’t more peace.


Handshake and more soon, because I really hope that you’ll still find time to tell me more about our sister’s stay with you.


Ever yours,


Boch will probably be with you in a week or ten days.


Including the sunflowers, I still have about fifteen new studies here at the moment.



Colours, ground more coarsely, in large tubes like the large tubes of silver white and zinc. For the decoration.”

Cobalt large tubes 6
Ultramarine 6
Veronese green 6
Emerald green 6
Vermilion 2
Chrome 1 lemon 6
,, 2 6
,, 3 6
Orange lead 2
Yellow ochre 1
6 Zinc white 6
6 Silver white 6


Small tubes
6 Prussian blue
6 Geranium lake
6 Carmine
6 Ordinary lake


To Theo. Arles, Tuesday, 4 September 1888



“As regards the exchanges, it’s precisely because I’ve often had occasion to hear mention in your letters of Laval, Moret and the other young man, that I have a great desire to get to know them. But — I don’t have 5 dry studies — will have to add at least two slightly more serious attempts at paintings, a portrait of myself and a landscape angry with a nasty mistral.


Then I would have a study of a little garden of multicoloured flowers.  A study of grey and dusty thistles, and lastly a still life of old peasants’ shoes.  And a small landscape of nothing at all, in which there’s nothing but a bit of an expanse. Now, if these studies aren’t found pleasing, and if one or other preferred not to take part, all you have to do is keep those that are wanted and return with the exchanges those that aren’t wanted. We’re in no hurry, and in exchanges it’s better on both sides to try to give something good.


If it’s dry enough to be rolled up after being exposed to the sun tomorrow, I’ll add a landscape of men unloading sand, another project and attempt at a painting, in which there’s a more fully developed sense of purpose.


I can’t send a repetition of the night café yet because it hasn’t even been started, but I’m very willing to do it for you, but once again, it’s better on both sides to try to exchange good things than to do them too hastily.”


To Emile Bernard. Arles, Wednesday, 3 October 1888




Painting, Oil on Canvas – 44 x 53 cm – Size 10 Carre’
Arles: August 30, 1888
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York, United States of America, North America
F: 461, JH: 1569

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