Antwerp, 1st half February 1886
I received your letter and enclosed 25 fr., and thank you
very much for both. I am very glad that you are not opposed to
my intention of coming to Paris. I think it will help me to
make progress, and if I did not go, I am afraid I should get
into a mess, and continue to go in the same circle and keep on
making the same mistakes. Besides, I do not think it would do
you any harm to come home to a studio in the evening.
For the rest, I must say exactly the same about myself as
you write about yourself: You will be disappointed in
Yet the thing to do is to combine. And the result may be a
much better understanding.
I have two more teeth that must be filled, then my upper
jaw, which was in the worst condition, will be all right. I
have still to pay 10 fr. on it, and then another 40 fr. to have
the lower jaw taken care of too.
Thus some of those ten years which I seem to have spent in
prison will disappear. Because bad teeth, which one rarely
sees nowadays when it is so easy to have them taken care of,
give the face a somewhat sunken look.
And then, even when taking the same food, one can digest it
better when one can chew well, so my stomach will have a better
chance to recover.
But I can feel that I am in a bad condition, and as you
write yourself, by neglecting it, it might become much worse.
But we will try to get over it.
I have not worked for a few days. I went to bed early a few
times (generally after drawing at the club it was one or two
o'clock) and I feel that it does me good.
I had a little note from Mother saying that they will start
packing in March.
Further, as you tell me that your lease is not up till the
end of June, perhaps it might be better after all if I went
back to Nuenen in the beginning of March; but if I should have
to meet with opposition and scenes like the ones before I left,
I should lose time there, and then I should go somewhere else,
if only for a few months, as I want to make some new things
out-of-doors to take to Paris with me.
That Sibert, the drawing-class teacher who at first spoke to
me in the way I wrote you about, definitely picked a fight with
me today, perhaps to get rid of me, but he did not succeed
because I told him, “Pourquoi cherchez-vous dispute avec
moi, je ne veux pas me disputer, et en tout cas je n'y tiens
aucunement à vous contredire, seulement vous me cherchez
dispute exprès.” [Why do you pick a quarrel with
me, I don't want to quarrel, and in any case I don't desire the
least bit to contradict you, only you pick a quarrel with me on
Apparently he did not expect this, and just this once could
not say much in answer, but next time he can of course start a
fight all right.
What's behind it is that the fellows in the class are
discussing my work, and that I have said - not to Sibert, but
outside the class to some of the fellows - that their drawings
were absolutely wrong.
I can tell you, if I went to Cormon, and if sooner or later
I got into trouble either with the teacher or with the pupils,
I should not mind it a bit. Even without a teacher I
might go through that course of drawing from the ancients, by
going and drawing at the Louvre, for instance. And if necessary
I should do so, though I should by far prefer to have my work
corrected, as long as it does not become deliberate
nagging - that correction without any other motive than a
certain peculiar-ity in one's way of working which is different
from that of the others.
If he begins again I shall say aloud in the class, “Je
veux bien faire mécaniquement tout ce que vous me direz
de faire, parce que j'y tiens à vous rendre ce qui vous
revient à la rigueur, si vous y tenez, mais pour ce qui
est de me mécaniser comme vous mecanisez les autres,
cela n'a, je vous assure, pas la moindre prise sur moi.
“Vous avez du reste commencé à me dire
tout autre chose, c'est a dire que vous m'avez dit: prenez
vous-y, comme vous voudrez.” [I am quite willing to do
all that you tell me to do mechanically, because, if necessary,
I particularly want to give you your due, if you desire it, but
as for mechanizing me as you mechanize the others, I assure
you it will not influence me in the least.
Anyway, you started by telling me something quite different,
that is, you said: Go to work just as you like.]
The reason I draw from the plaster casts, ne pas prendre
par le contour mais prendre par le milieux - I have not
mastered it yet, but I feel it more and more, and I shall
certainly carry it through, it is too interesting. I wish we
could be together in the Louvre for a few days and talk it
over. I think it would interest you.
This morning I am sending you Chérie, especially
because of the preface, which will certainly strike you.
And I wish that we too might work together somewhere at the
end of our lives, and looking back, might say - “Firstly,
we have done this, and secondly that, and thirdly
And if we have the wish and the courage, will there be
something to talk over then? We can try two things - make some
good things ourselves - and collect and do business with what
things of others we admire. But we must both live
somewhat more vigorously, and perhaps joining hands is a step
But now, allow me to touch on a delicate question. If I have
said some unpleasant things about our upbringing and our home,
this has been because of finding each other and understanding
each other in business; and when working together, we are on a
ground where there must be criticism.
Now I can perfectly understand that one can love a thing or
a person passionately, and cannot help it.
All right, I will not butt in, only in so far as it might
make a fatal separation between us where unity is necessary.
And our education, etc., will not prove to have been so good
that we will keep many illusions about it, and perhaps we would
have been happier with another education.
But if we keep to the positive fact of wanting to produce
and to be something, then we can talk over accomplished facts,
when it cannot be avoided, without getting angry, even if they
might concern, or stand in direct relation with, the Goupils or
our family. Besides, these questions are between you and me for
a better understanding of the situation, and not out of
But if we undertake something, it will be no unimportant
thing for either of us to improve our health, because we shall
need a long life, at least twenty-five or thirty years of
incessant work. The present time is so interesting if one
considers that it is possible we shall witness the beginning of
the end of a society.
And in the same way as there is infinite poetry in autumn,
or in a sunset, when one feels a mysterious aspiration in
nature, so it is now. And in art there is decadence if you
like, after Delacroix, Corot, Millet, Dupré, Troyon,
Breton, Rousseau and Daubigny, que soit, but a decadence so
full of charm that you can still expect enormously beautiful
things, and they are made every day.
I am longing terribly for the Louvre, the Luxembourg, etc.,
where everything will be new to me.
All my life I shall regret not having seen the Cent
chefs-d'oevre, the Delacroix exhibition and the Meissonier
exhibition. But there are other things left.
It is true that I may have made less progress through
wanting to get on here too quickly, but what shall I say? One
of the reasons was my health, and if I get that back as I hope,
my work here will prove to have been less unfruitful.
Am I right that if one asks permission, one may draw from
the plaster casts in the Louvre even if one is not at the Ecole
des Beaux-Arts? It would not surprise me if, once having got
used to the idea of living together, you will think it stranger
and stranger that for fully ten years we have been so little
Well, I certainly hope that this will be the end of it, and
that it will not begin again.
The apartment which you mention is perhaps rather expensive;
I mean, I should like a somewhat cheaper one just as well.
I wonder how those few months in Nuenen will be.
As I still have some furniture there, and as the country
there is very beautiful, and as I know the neighborhood pretty
well, it would perhaps be a good thing to keep a pied-a-terre
there in some inn, where I could leave the furniture, as
otherwise it would be lost, and under the circumstances it may
be of so much use.
The best things are sometimes made when one comes back to
I must finish this as I must go to the club. Think over what
would be the best thing to do.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 1st half February 1886 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 450.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.