It is already late, but I will not put off acknowledging the
good receipt of your letter, with enclosed 150 fr.
By the way, let me begin by answering your question of some
time ago, about the picture by Franck or Francken at St.
André, which I saw today. I think it is a good picture -
especially fine in sentiment - the sentiment is not very
Flemish or Rubens-like. It reminds one more of Murillo. The
colour is warm, in a reddish colour scheme like Jordaens
The shadows in the flesh are very strong, that is what
Rubens has not, and Jordaens often has, and it gives something
mysterious to the picture which one must appreciate in that
I could not get near enough to analyze the technique close
up, which would have been well worth while. The head of Christ
is less conventional than the Flemish painters usually conceive
But l imagine I can also do it in that way, and the picture
did not tell me anything new. And as I am not satisfied with
what I can do now, and try to make progress - enough - let's
talk about other pictures. What struck me in that church was a
sketch by Van Dyck or Rubens (?), “The Deposition from
the Cross,” which hung high, but seemed very beautiful to
me. Much sentiment in the pale corpse - this by the way.
There is a painted window which I think superb - very, very
curious. A beach, a green sea with a castle on the rocks, a
sparkling blue sky of the most beautiful tones of blue,
greenish, whitish, deeper, higher of tone.
An enormous three-master, quaint and phantasmal, stands out
against the sky, diffusion everywhere, light in the dark, dark
in the light. In the blue a figure of the Holy Virgin, bright
yellow, white, orange. Higher up the window reappears dark
green, with black, with fiery red.
Well - do you remember it? It is very beautiful, and Leys
would certainly have fallen in love with it, or James Tissot in
his old style or Thijs Maris.
I saw some pictures bought for the Musée Moderne, by
Verhas and Farasyn. Verhas - Ladies mounted on donkeys, and
fisherboys on the beach. Farasyn - A large picture of the old
Also an Emile Wauters - “A Market in Cairo.” The
Verhas looks well, at all events it is a clever picture, daring
of colour, in a light colour scheme, several beautiful
combinations, including a figure in orange against light blue,
light green and white.
I am working on my portraits all the time, and at last I
have made two which are decidedly good “likenesses”
(one profile and one three-quarter). That isn't everything, it
isn't even the most important thing. But it still seems to me
worth while to aim at it, and perhaps it teaches one to draw.
Besides, I am getting more and more fond of making portraits.
Now, for instance, some of those very famous Rubenses -
“Vierge au Perroquet,” “Christ à la
Paille,” etc. I personally prefer to ignore them and look
rather at that boldly painted portrait of a man - painted with
such a remarkably firm hand - still sketchy here and there,
which is hanging not far from Rembrandt's
In “The Deposition from the Cross” by Van Dyck,
the large one, that one high up - there is also a portrait,
decidedly a portrait - not only of a head, but, thank God, of a
whole figure, splendid in yellow and lilac, a weeping woman
bending over, the torso and the legs under the clothes well and
intimately felt and expressed. Then art is high, when it is
simple and true.
And an Ingres, a David, who as painters certainly did not
always paint beautifully, yet how remarkably interesting even
they become when, putting their pedantry aside, they forget
themselves in being true, in reproducing a character like the
two heads in the Musée Moderne. In short - oh, if only
one could get the models one wants!!!
Now just tell me, always supposing that you want to be a
financier - and I have nothing against it, it is even a thing
that I highly approve of; but are you quite satisfied with your
own argument when at the beginning of the year you say, to my
disappointment, “I have so much to pay, you must try to
manage till the end of the month.”
Just listen, this is what I have to say against it, and just
think over whether I am right or not, at least if there is
truth in my argument. Am I less than your creditors? - who must
wait, they or I??? If one of us must wait, which
belongs to the human possibilities.
A creditor is no friend to be sure, and I, even if
you do not know it for sure, at least I am perhaps. And
do you realize how heavy are my burdens which the work demands
every day, how difficult it is to get the models, how expensive
the painting materials are? Do you realize that sometimes it is
almost literally impossible for me to keep going? and that I
must paint; that too much depends on my continuing to
work on here with aplomb immediately and without
Too much hesitation might make me fall in a way which I
could not redress for a long time. My situation is threatened
from every side, and it can only be saved by working on
vigorously. The colour bill is like a millstone round my neck,
and yet I must go on!!!
I too must keep people waiting, and without mercy; they will
get their money but they will have to wait, I passed
this sentence on them - the less credit they give, the longer
they will have to wait.
The only way to win at present is with very good work, with
something that is not ordinary. That higher work costs more in
money, in trouble, and in strenuous exertion; but now more than
ever it is the only way.
What I tell you is simple and clear. Do you understand or
don't you, that I am perfectly right when I point out to you
the absolute necessity of having my studio full of very
good heads if I want to get orders for portraits here?
That is possible, it is a thing we can see accomplished in the
end, though on the whole it is not easy to get them done.
Now, shall we say like impotent dullards and blockheads,
“We cannot do it, we have no money - there is nothing
doing, I tell you No.” This is what we'll say -
and please let's both say it together, Personally we will
endure poverty for it, and suffer want as long as it is
necessary, like one does in a besieged city which one
does not intend to surrender, but we will show that we are
Either one is brave or one is a coward. We must carry things
to such a height that the public begins to like it. I mean, for
instance, that the girls will begin to like having their
portraits painted - I am sure that there are some who want
Well, I shall see later on; but the most urgent thing is
that I have some fine heads to show. I must also try to make
acquaintances among the prostitutes, which is not a pleasant
task when one has a purse with very little in it. I can assure
you it is no pleasure then.
But it is not taking trouble that I am afraid of But I
believe that you have so accustomed yourself to thinking it all
right that I am always to be neglected that you forget too
easily how I have not had my due for so many years already.
And that my wanting to enlarge my business is not only good
for me, but for you too, because only in that way can I earn
And now another thing. Theoretically at least you say that
it is necessary to be well dressed and so on for the occasions
when one has to go and see people, etc. Well, the time has come
when it is necessary even for me, who, as you know, am not keen
on such things. Are such things necessary or not??? Does
anything depend on it - Yes or No?
Well, given that period of having to break through, the
monthly allowance is too small for me to possibly make both
You are thrifty yourself, you understand what is
absolutely needed. And I ask you, can one do what is
absolutely necessary with what remains for one's own use after
paying for painting materials, models, and rent? If I had some
friends, if I were a little known, yes, then it would be
easier; but I have no friends, and my job is to try and make
But do not let me forget to thank you for sending the second
volume of de Goncourt's book. It is a delightful thing to be
able to study that period - from which so much can be
learned by - to use the expression - notre fin du
siècle in which we live.
I cannot tell you how glad I am that I went to Antwerp, and
how many remarkable things there are here for me, who has been
out of it all for so long.
How glad I am to see the city again, much as I like the
peasants in the country. How the bringing together of contrasts
gives me new ideas - the contrasts between the absolute
quiet of the country and the bustle here. I needed it
Ah, if only I could bring home to you how much more
satisfaction you yourself might find, how much more you would
be a friend to me if, instead of that frigid and unkind
slighting and keeping me at a distance (only think of last
summer, and the preceding summers!), you could at long last
gain the conviction that this is not the right way.
Always to be in a state of exile, forever having to make
great efforts, always half measures But never mind - the family
stranger than strangers is one fact - and being through with
Holland is a second fact. It is quite a relief.
That is my only feeling, and yet I have been so deeply
attached to it all that at first the estrangement drove me
crazy. But I have looked over the cards too narrowly to let
myself hesitate now. And I have got my self-confidence and my
serenity back. The secret of that clique - Delaroche-esqueness,
mediocrity. Retrogression - I abhor it!
As far as you are concerned - you are still dangling between
the two parties, and I have always told you that your character
will have to set in a definite mold - that you will have to go
through an inner struggle and possibly a social struggle for
the sake of your position, both more serious than you ever went
through in the past.
I know you think this merciless to those at home. And yet I
tell you that at times Father himself felt vaguely that
he had made a mistake and had taken the wrong side. But he
tried to reconcile irreconcilable things, and...he had not as
much firmness of character as he seemed to have, and as I
thought him to have when I was a boy and even later. Oh
As to the “Tassaert Exhibition,” if ever a man
was wronged, it is he. To mention another at the same time - I
do not wait for exhibitions to form an opinion about painters -
Chaplin will also have to be recognized. As to
Tassaert's colour, he is a harmonist, and his work, painted
almost in one tone, is beautiful because of the modelling,
because of the delicate intuition of the female forms, because
of something passionate in the expressions - and I think he
belongs to the race of the Greuzes and Prudhons - better, more
modern, more serious in sentiment than Greuze. Chaplin is a
greater colourist than he.
And I think it rather a pity that Tassaert, who painted
human flesh so well, did not put more glow and life into the
colour. But he is certainly better than Scheffer and Delaroche
and Dubuffe and Gérôme, who are so little
What a great pity it is that a fellow like
Gérôme, who painted “The Prisoner” and
“The Russian Camp” and “The Syrian
Shepherds,” is so cold and sterile. They will also have
to recognize Isabey, Ziem too, these two are real
painters, and that is what is needed in painting after
I must finish. What colour is in a picture, enthusiasm is in
life, therefore - it is no little thing to try to keep that
Because of the models this month I think I shall go and see
Verlat, who is the director of the academy here - and I must
see what the conditions are, and if one could work there from
the nude. I shall take a portrait and some drawings with me
I have an immense longing to improve my knowledge of the
nude. I have seen a large bronze group by Lambeau - two figures
- a man embracing a woman, superb. Something like Paul
Dubois, for instance, or in short the first-class people. It
has been bought for the museum.
I often envy the sculptors. But it is somewhat the same
everywhere. I ought to be able to earn more in order to be able
to work more.
I must also tell you that in view of that longing to study
the figure, in case I should not succeed here, I should rather
go farther away than go back to Holland before I had worked for
a time at some studio. That “farther” might perhaps
be Paris, without any hesitation.
You may be of the opinion that I am an impossible character
- but that's absolutely your own business. For instance,
I need not care, and I am not going to. I know
that your business routine induces you again and again to lapse
into the old evil with regard to me. What I seek is so
straightforward that in the end you cannot but give in. So
let's conclude by saying, The sooner the better.
Goodbye, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
As to the end of the month - I beg you most kindly but
urgently - let one of your creditors wait, i.e. at least for 50
fr. (they can stand it, do not be afraid), but please do not
let it be me, for even then it will still be tough for
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written early January 1886 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 443.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.