Antwerp, 1st half February 1886
I decidedly want to tell you that it would make me feel much
better if you would approve of my coming to Paris much earlier
than June or July. The more I think about it, the more anxious
I am to do so.
Just think, if all goes well, and if I had good food, etc.,
all that time, which certainly will leave something to be
desired, even in that case it will take about six months before
I shall have recovered entirely.
But it would certainly take a much longer time if between
March and July I had to go through the same things in Brabant
as I have had to go through these last months - and probably it
wouldn't be any different.
In that way we stray from our path. So please allow me
to come sooner, I should almost say at once.
If I rent a garret in Paris, and bring my paintbox and
drawing materials with me, then I can finish what is most
pressing at once - those studies from the ancients, which
certainly will help me a great deal when I go to Cormon's. I
can go and draw either at the Louvre or at the Ecole des
For the rest, before settling in a new place, we could plan
and arrange things so much better. If it must be, I am willing
to go to Nuenen for the month of March, to see how things are
there and how the people are and whether or not I can get
models there. But if not so, which I presume to be the case, I
should go straight to Paris after March, and start drawing at
the Louvre, for instance.
I have carefully thought over what you wrote about taking a
studio, but I think it would be a good thing if we looked for
it together, and if before going to live together definitely,
we did so temporarily, and if I began by renting a garret, say
from April till June.
Then I shall feel at home again in Paris by the time I go to
And in this way I shall keep up my spirits better.
I must also tell you that, although I keep going there, that
nagging of those fellows at the academy is often almost
unbearable, for they remain positively spiteful.
But I try systematically to avoid all quarrels, and go my
own way. And I feel I am on the track of what I am seeking, and
perhaps I should find it the sooner if I could go my own way
when drawing from the plaster casts.
After all I am glad I went to the academy, for the very
reason that I have abundant opportunity to observe the results
of prendre par le contour.
For that is what they do systematically, and that is why
they nag me. “Faites d'abord un contour, votre contour
n'est pas juste, je ne corrigerai pas ça, si vous
modelez avant d'avoir sérieusement arrêté
votre contour.” [First make a contour, your contour isn't
right; I won't correct it if you do your modelling before
having seriously fixed your contour.]
You see that it always comes to the same thing. And now you
ought to see how flat, how lifeless and how insipid the results
of that system are; oh, I can tell you I am very glad just to
be able to see it close up. Like David, or even worse, like
Pieneman in full bloom. I wanted to say at least twenty-five
times, “Votre contour est un truc, [Your contour is a
joke] etc.” but I have not thought it worth while to
quarrel. Yet I irritate them even though I don't say anything;
and they, me.
But this doesn't matter so much, the problem is to go on
trying to find a better working method. So - patience and
They go so far as to say, “La couleur et le
modelé c'est peu de chose, cela s'apprend très
vite, c'est le contour qui est l'essentiel et le plus
difficile.” [Colour and modelling aren't much, one can
learn that very quickly, it's the contour that is essential and
the most difficult.]
You see, one can learn some new things at the academy. I
never knew before that colour and modelling came so easily.
Just yesterday I finished the drawing I made for the evening
class's competition. It is the figure of Germanicus that you
know. Well, I am sure I shall place last, because all the
drawings of the others are exactly alike, and mine is
absolutely different. But I saw how that drawing they will
think best was made. I was sitting just behind it, and it is
correct, it is whatever you like, but it is dead, and
that's what all the drawings I saw are.
Enough of this, but let it annoy us so much that it makes us
enthusiastic for something nobler, and that we hasten to
You, too, need a more vigorous life, and if we might succeed
in joining hands, together we should know more than each
separately, and should be able to do more.
Tell me, did you notice that ingenious saying of Paul
Mantz's, “Dans la vie les femmes sont peut être
la difficulté suprême.” It was in an
article on Baudry.
We shall experience our share of it, besides the experience
we may have already gathered.
In a chapter in L'Oeuvre by Zola, in the Gil Blas, it struck
me that the painter, Manet of course, had a scene with a woman
who had posed for him, and to whom he had later become
indifferent, oh - curiously well described. What one can learn
in this respect from the academy here is never to paint
They hardly ever use nude women models. At least not at all
in the class, and it's extremely unusual privately.
Even in the antiquities class there are ten men's figures to
one woman's figure. That is easy enough.
In Paris, of course, this will be better, and it seems to me
that, in fact, one learns so much from the constant comparing
of the male figure with the female, which are always and in
everything so totally different. It may be
“supremely” difficult, but what would art and what
would life be without it?
Goodbye, write me soon. With a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
My being in Nuenen, at least for the month of March, would
only be for the moving, and I have to be there also for my
change of domicile. But as to myself, I am quite willing not to
go back there at all.
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 452.
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