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Today I have painted another head of a model, whom I could
not pay however; but having the opportunity, I profited by
it. [Painting lost]
I also have the firm promise that I shall paint somebody's
portrait, and in return for it, two studies that I can
But I must tell you that I am at the end of my rope, with my
last remaining 5 fr. I had to buy two canvases for those two
portraits, and the laundry woman has just brought me my clean
linen, so that for the moment I have only a few centimes
So I must ask you most urgently, for Heaven's sake don't put
off writing, and send me much or little, according to what you
can spare, but remember that I am literally starving.
If I succeeded in getting about 50 heads, then there is some
chance of getting work - that is, I can try to get employment
at a photographer's, which I would not like to do permanently
but only in time of need. The photographers seem to be quite
flourishing here. One also finds painted portraits in their
studios, which are obviously painted on a photographed
background, which is of course both weak and ineffective to
anybody who knows anything about painting.
Now it seems to me that one could get a much better
colouring if one worked from studies painted directly from life
on the photographs which one wants to have painted. And, after
all, this is at least one of the chances one might have to earn
But whatever and wherever I may want to start, of course I
must have things to show. Because I need all my good spirits,
all my vitality, I must confess I am afraid of feeling
I showed my view of “Het Steen” to another
dealer, who liked its tone and colour, but he was too engrossed
in making up his inventory, and besides, he has little room,
but he asked me to come back after New Year's. It is just the
thing for foreigners who want to have a souvenir of Antwerp,
and for that reason I shall make even more city views of that
So yesterday I made a few drawings of a spot with a view of
I also made a little one of the Park.
But I prefer painting people's eyes to cathedrals, for there
is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however
solemn and imposing the latter may be - a human soul, be it
that of a poor beggar or of a streetwalker, is more interesting
So I firmly believe that nothing helps so much to make
direct progress as working from the model.
Of course it is a great nuisance to have to pay the models -
now is the time when all energy is needed, and the pictures
will have to be energetic in order to find buyers.
That there is business to be done here, I am sure. There
seems to be a lot of beautiful women in this city, and I feel
sure that money is to be earned by painting women's portraits
or fantasy heads and figures of women.
The most expensive colours are sometimes the cheapest,
especially cobalt - the delicate tones one can get with it
cannot be compared with those of any other blue.
And although the quality of the colour is not everything in
a picture, it is what gives it life.
As to whether I should like to settle down here for good or
not - as the art trade does not seem exactly rose-coloured
here, and as there seems to be a certain tendency for each of
the painters to be his own art dealer, which I suppose will
increase more and more - the most sensible thing would be
perhaps to keep a studio here.
If you have any wishes or ideas about it, either in favour
of it or against it, I shall be glad if you will tell me so
But it strikes me at once that, if after a longer or shorter
time you might decide to set up yourself (independent of the
Goupils), Antwerp might be the place where, given the dismal
show windows at present, business might be done by showing good
things, which the other firms do not understand.
And then it is so convenient to cross over to England from
Why are all pictures always in frames in the art-dealing
business? It would be so much better for business if they were
light and easy to handle and dispatch.
Trade is so old-fashioned and…three times mouldy.
There must be renovation, for the old systems no longer
The prices, the public, everything needs renovation, and the
future is to work cheaply for the people, because the ordinary
art lovers seem to get more and more tight-fisted.
Starting with capital so very often leads only to losing
everything at first, including one's courage and energy;
whereas beginning with practically nothing rather makes one's
character firmer and more decided.
Goodbye, but try to write me by return mail, for I am
feeling rather faint, as I have somewhat overstrained myself
with one thing and another, and I need my strength.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 19 December 1885 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 441.
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