Antwerp, 1st half February 1886
I must write once again, for the sooner we can make up our
minds, the better.
As to a studio, if we can find in one and the same house a
room with an alcove and also a garret or corner of an attic,
then you could have that room and alcove, and we could make
ourselves as comfortable as can be. And during the daytime the
room might serve as a studio, and the garret would serve for
various more or less unsightly implements, and for dirty work;
besides, I could sleep there, and you in the alcove of the
Such an arrangement or something similar would be perfectly
satisfactory for the first year, I think. What I am not sure of
is whether we shall get on personally, though I don't despair
of it, but it will be much more comfortable for you to come
home in the evening to a studio than to an ordinary room which
is always more or less dreary, and that dreariness is our worst
But perhaps the fault is in ourselves, because we are both
too isolated, and because our forces and resources are too much
divided and therefore insufficient. So union is strength, that
would be much better.
So I think there must be more animation, and we must throw
all doubts overboard, and also a certain lack of confidence. Do
you want a motive for keeping one's serenity even when
one is isolated and misunderstood, and has lost all chance for
This one thing remains - faith; one feels
instinctively that an enormous number of things are changing
and that everything will change. We are living in the last
quarter of a century that will end again in a tremendous
But suppose both of us see its beginning at the end of our
lives. We certainly shall not live to see the better times of
pure air and the rejuvenation of all society after those big
But it is already something not to be duped by the falsity
of one's time, and to scent the unhealthy closeness and
oppressiveness of the hours that precede the thunderstorm.
And to say, We are still in the closeness, but the following
generations will be able to breathe more freely.
Zola and the de Goncourts believe in it with the
simplicity of grown-up children. They, the most rigorous
analysts whose diagnoses are both so merciless and so
And the very ones you have mentioned too, Turgenev and
Daudet, they do not work without an aim or without looking
ahead. But all avoid, and with reason, prophesying Utopias, and
are pessimistic in that if one begins to analyze, the history
of this country shows terribly clearly how revolutions may come
to nothing, though they begin ever so nobly.
You see the thing that supports one is that one doesn't
always have to be alone with one's feelings and thoughts when
one works and thinks together with other people.
At the same time that increases one's strength, and one is
Now I have wanted it to be this way between us for a long
time already, and I imagine if you stayed alone, you would get
depressed, because times are not cheerful unless one finds
satisfaction in one's work.
I am sending you that novel by de Goncourt, especially for
the preface, which gives a summary of their work and aims. You
will see that those people have not been exactly happy, in the
same way as Delacroix said of himself, “Je n'ai pas du
tout été heureux dans le sens ou je l'entendais,
le désirais autrefois.” [I have not been at all
happy in the sense in which I understood, I desired it
formerly.] Well it may come sooner or later, but for you too
there will come a moment when you know for sure that all
chance of material happiness is lost, fatally and irrevocably.
I feel sure of it, but remember that at the same moment there
will be a certain compensation in feeling the power to work
within one's self.
What cuts me to the heart is the beautiful serenity of the
great thinkers of the present, as, for instance, that last walk
of the two de Goncourts, of which you will read the
description. The last days of the old Turgenev were the same
way, too; he was with Daudet a great deal then. Sensitive,
delicate, intelligent like women, also sensitive to their own
suffering, and yet always full of life and consciousness of
themselves, no indifferent stoicism, no contempt for life. I
repeat - those fellows, they die the way women die. No fixed
idea about God, no abstractions, always on the firm ground of
life itself, and only attached to that. I repeat - like women
who have loved much, hurt by life, and as Silvestre says of
Delacroix, “Ainsi il mourut presqu'en
Meanwhile we are not yet that far; on the contrary, we have
to work first, to live first, although without happiness in the
ordinary sense of the word.
But whatever there may be of the future, you may be sure
that I shall be very glad if I can work a year at Cormon's,
unless there is a better opportunity for drawing at the Ecole
des Beaux-Arts or some other studio that I have heard mentioned
The ancients will not prevent us from being realistic, on
the contrary. Of course I am also longing enormously for the
By the way - don't you like this little poem?
Tout le mal est venu de la femme - Raison
Obscurcie, appétit de lucre, trahison
[Translation of the whole poem].
All evil has come from woman - Obscured reason, appetite for
Golden cups in which the wine is mixed with lees,
Every crime, every happy lie, every folly
Comes from her. Yet adore her, as the gods
Made her...and it is still the best thing they did.
After all painting has the secret of being able to give one
a second youth.
Tell me, have you ever read anything by Carlyle? Perhaps it
is not even necessary if you only see the face of that man and
know that his work is something like Michelet's; Whistler and
Legros have both painted his portrait.
He is also one who dared a great deal, and had a different
insight into things than the rest. But always when I study the
lives of such men, I find the same story, lack of money, bad
health, opposition, isolation - in short, trouble from
beginning to end.
Mantz's article on Paul Baudry was very good, and I like
this especially: “Il a travaillé au renouvellement
du sourire.” [He has worked at the renewal of the
Could one say of Delacroix, “Il a travaillé au
renouvellement de la passion”? Perhaps so.
Well, at all events write soon. Goodbye,
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 451.
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