Of course all my attention is concentrated on gaining what I
want to gain, namely - freedom of scope for my career. That
means overcoming the obstacles instead of being buried under
them. I have already told you that my health is very poor and
that I shall have to act energetically to rebuild it.
Further, I have told you that there is no reason for me to
go and work again in the country for the first year, that it is
infinitely better for my whole future to draw from the plaster
casts and from the nude in the city. Must one be on one's guard
against a general fall in prices, diverse slumps, and
consequently the rigidity of business routine these last years,
or mustn't one? However, I don't ask you to have a fixed
opinion about it. I don't have one either.
One cannot predict anything with certainty in such a large
field. So let's leave it at that. But if one analyzes from up
close, one sees that the greatest and most energetic people of
the century have always worked against the grain, and
they have always worked out of personal initiative. Both in
painting and in literature. (I do not know anything about
music, but I suppose it has been the same there.) To begin on a
small scale, to persevere quand même, to produce much
with small capital, to have character instead of money, more
audacity than credit, like Millet and Sensier, Balzac, Zola, de
Goncourt, Delacroix. But to start a studio in Paris at once
might not be so good as doing it after a year of study,
both for you and for me.
Let me draw for a year at Cormon's while you thoroughly
investigate business conditions once more, and the various
opportunities. And then I think we may risk it.
Because in a time of financial crisis like the present,
money is what ammunition is to a soldier in a hostile country -
don't let's waste our powder.
Further - I have heard several fellows, both painters and
ordinary people, complain, “I have taken an expensive
room to induce people to come to me, but since then nobody has
come, and I myself do not feel at home in it.”
Still, I believe that for portraits it is necessary to have
a certain comfort in the studio, otherwise people who come to
pose there would get disgusted.
But if one wants to start a studio, one must consider well
where to rent it, where one has the greatest chance of getting
visitors, and making friends, and getting known.
Because of the primary necessity of drawing for a year,
for the moment the question of a good studio is quite
secondary, and anything will do.
If we do it quietly and intelligently, I don't think that
this year of drawing would be a misfortune. On the contrary, we
shall have time to consider everything at our ease, and to look
before we leap.
If I came to Paris, the most practical thing to do would be
to wait for a year before taking a studio. In that year we
would get to know each other better and more intimately, which
may bring a great change, and then we should be less afraid to
undertake bigger things, because meanwhile we should have
fortified the weak points.
If we work for another year, if we recover our health, both
you and I - then we can resist things so much better
But what must I do now? Look here, going back to Brabant is
really a useless detour, and I shall lose money and time by it.
Why can't I go straight to Paris from here, if you like, and go
on working here till I leave?
If I do not take some nourishing food I am sure to get sick.
It would not be my fault, and indeed I should not care much,
let come what may.
If I go to Brabant, I have the expenses of my journey, I
must also pay for my room there, which I have given up, and
must find another place to store my things, which would be no
less than 50 francs rent, and another 50 francs in advance for
a new storage place and for moving. I should also be obliged to
pay an outstanding colour bill, and of course I should begin to
paint there again.
Now I thought that through force majeure, I am free to
declare myself unable to fulfill those obligations for the
moment, i.e. not to pay my rent there, but say, “Put my
furniture in your attic, keep it as a security, I shall pay you
when I come to get it”; then I need not rent a new place
If I am so weak as to spend money all the time, even
though I cannot afford it, I do myself too much
harm, and make myself unfit for my work.
I think you will agree with me. If you remember how I have
complained lately that I could not go on in that way, you see
that there was reason for it.
If I had known beforehand what I have noticed here about
opportunities to work in a studio, I should have done it
Now - as I must go on, and as I am ill at the same
time, I cannot but ask you to allow me to stay here till I go
to Paris, and by all means let me go to Paris no later than
when the course here ends - that is March 31.
Then we shall still have the unavoidable expenses of the
journey to Paris. You will have to move too, which also brings
expenses. So Brabant is a useless detour, a loss of time,
The way things are now, I must live from hand to mouth, and
what is unpaid must wait.
When I have recovered my health and begin to sell in Paris -
all right, then I can pay the rent and the colours.
I can't now, I don't have the money, neither do you,
Besides, I have had so much unpleasantness there that I need
not consider any of their feelings.
It would also be a weakness on your part if you tried to
You continually write me that you have no money; all right,
so that's a fact. If it is not possible to make money
for food, it need not be possible for rent either, or for
superfluous travelling expenses.
And I know too well that at home Rijke, the gardener, or
Husing is much more fit than I to pack things up and send them
off. I'd do it if I were there, but to travel there on purpose
when there are at least six pairs of hands as good as mine at
their disposal, No. After all I don't care, but I tell you only
what is right, and I point out to you the urgency of carrying
through what will help us on. It would not be pleasant for me
to come back sick either; you can't say anything against
Let me recover my health first; I am now too far below the
In short - the conclusion of this and the previous letter
is: To go on quietly either here or, much better still, at
Cormon's; besides, I am sick, though I keep going.
If I saw a possibility of doing it, I should not object to
going back to Brabant. I should even do it gladly if I could,
but neither you nor I have the means, and they can spare me
there better than they can use me.
Goodbye - write me soon,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 15-17 February 1886 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 454.
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