In my last letter I gave you, as I have before, a short and
concise answer to some things; but for all that, you must not
think that I am always in a freezing, unfriendly mood, which
Mauve would perhaps call a yellow-soap or salt-water mood.
Well, and even if I had written a yellow-soap or salt-water
letter, that would not be worse than if I had taken things too
You say, “you will deeply regret it someday.” My
dear boy, I think I have done much of that regretting before
this. I saw it coming and tried to avoid it; well, I did not
succeed, and bygones are bygones. Shall I continue to have
regrets? No, I really haven't time for regret. Drawing becomes
more and more a passion with me, and it is a passion just like
that of a sailor for the sea. Mauve has now shown me a new way
to make something, that is, how to paint watercolours. Well, I
am quite absorbed in this now and sit daubing and washing it
out again; in short, I am trying to find a way.
“Puisqu'il faut faire des efforts de perdu. Puisque
l'exécution d'une aquarelle a quelque chose de
diabolique. Puisqu'il y a du bon en tout mouvement
énergetique.” [Because one must make efforts like
those of the lost souls. Because there is something diabolical
about executing a watercolour. Because there is something good
in every energetic motion.]
Although I intended to write you more explicitly about what
happened at home and to try to explain things as they seemed to
me, although I wanted to speak to you about some other subjects
too, I have no time for it now, and I think it better to write
you about drawing again. I started at once a few smaller
watercolours and also a large one, at least almost as large as
one of those figure studies which I made at Etten. Now of
course it doesn't all succeed right away. Mauve himself says
that I shall spoil at least ten drawings before I know how to
handle the brush well. But behind it is a better future, so I
work with as much composure as I can, and am not disheartened
even by my mistakes.
This is a little sketch of one of the smaller watercolours;
it is a corner of my studio with a little girl grinding
You see, I am seeking for tone, a head or little hand which
has light and life in it, and which stands out against the
drowsy dusk of the background, and then boldly against it all
that part of the chimney and stove - iron and stone - and a
wooden floor. If I could get the drawing as I want it, I would
make three-fourths of it in a yellow-soap style, and would
treat only the corner where the little girl sits tenderly,
softly and with sentiment.
You understand that I cannot express everything as I feel
it, but the problem is to attack the difficulties; the
yellow-soap part is not yet yellow-soapy enough, and, on the
other hand, the tenderness is not tender enough.
But at any rate I have hammered the sketch onto the paper,
and the idea is expressed, and I think it a good one.
Of course, one cannot master the technique in a day.
This is the subject of the large drawing,
but I made it in a hurry and the sketch is horrible.
They tell me somebody came to see me today, I think Mr.
Tersteeg. I hope so, for he has promised to come and I should
like to talk with him about a few things.
He said he would be back tomorrow morning.
Theo, I have great trouble with models: I hunt for them, and
when I find them, it is hard to get them to come to the studio;
often they do not come at all. For instance, this morning a
blacksmith's boy could not come because his father wanted me to
pay a guilder an hour; of course I refused to do it. Tomorrow
that old woman will sit for me again, but she could not come
for three days.
When I go out, I often make sketches in the soup kitchens or
in the third-class waiting room, and such places. But outside
it is so deuced cold, especially for me, as I do not draw as
quickly as the more advanced, and must finish my sketches in
more detail if they are to be of any use.
So you see that I do not sit idle, and for the present I
think no more about Etten, but try to get rooted here. Of
course the models cost a lot of money, and I must tell you that
I also spend what is necessary for myself,
I hope you will not object to my going on.
But I repeat what I already said in my last letter, let me
know as nearly as possible what I can expect; and I wish you
could make some arrangement with Mr. Tersteeg, so that in case
of difficulties, I can go to him without any scruples. For my
part, I promise you to work as hard as I can; but with models,
for instance, whether I can work full speed, half speed, or
not at all often depends on the money I have or haven't got
in my pocket. So now I am making arrangements with a mother and
her baby, but I am afraid it will be too expensive. Of course
you understand that I like best to go full speed,
but…well, you know what I mean. I must hold myself in
until I have a little more scope and freedom.
Write me soon, and do send me the money for February as
early as possible, for I am quite sure I shall not have a cent
left by that time.
This is a little sketch of the Schenkweg, the view from my
Well, adieu, with a handshake,
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 12-16 January 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 170.
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