van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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 7 letters relate to food-and-drink - alcohol...Excerpt length: shorter longer  
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
(29 June 1888)
... of at once in a single half hour. After that, the only thing to bring ease and distraction, in my case and other people's too, is to stun oneself with a lot of drinking or heavy smoking. Not very virtuous, no doubt, but it's to return to the subject of Monticelli. I'd like to see a drunkard in front of a canvas or on the boards. It is too gross a lie, all the Roquette woman's malicious, Jesuitical slanders about Monticelli. Monticelli, the logical colourist, able to pursue the most complicated calculations, subdivided according to the scales of tones that he was balancing, certainly over-strained his brain at this work, just as Delacroix did, and Richard Wagner. And if perhaps he did drink, it was because he - and Jongkind too - having a stronger constitution than Delacroix, and more physical ailments (Delacroix was better off), well, if they hadn't drunk - I for one am inclined to believe - their nerves would have rebelled, and played them other tricks: Jules ...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
(c. 22 July 1888)
... my work, and come up again with my studies; if the storm within gets too loud, I take a glass too much to stun myself. Cracked, of course; when you look at what one ought to be. But in the old days I used to feel less of a painter, now painting is becoming a distraction for me, like rabbit hunting for the cracked-brained: they do it to distract themselves. My concentration becomes more intense, my hand more sure. That is why I almost dare to swear to you that my painting will improve. Because I have nothing left but that. Have you read in de Goncourt's book that Jules Dupré gave them the impression that he was cracked too? Jules Dupré had found a collector fellow who was paying him. If only I could find that, and not be such a burden on you! After the crisis which I went through when coming down here, I can make no plans or anything; I am decidedly better now, but hope, the desire to succeed is gone, and I...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
(c. 21 April 1889)
... the more; but I can't say it as I felt it. Meanwhile you do understand that if alcohol has undoubtedly been one of the great causes of my madness, then it came on very slowly and will go away slowly too, assuming it does go, of course. Or the same thing if it comes from smoking. But I should only hope that it - this recovery [probably a word has been omitted here] the frightful superstition of some people on the subject of alcohol, so that they prevail upon themselves never to drink or smoke. We are already ordered not to lie or steal, etc., and not to commit other crimes great or small and it would become too complicated if it was absolutely indispensable to have nothing but virtues in the society in which we are very undeniably planted, whether it be good or bad.
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
(6 July 1889)
... as it seems to me - pretty relative. I live soberly because I have a chance to, I drank in the past because I did not quite know how to do otherwise. Anyway, I don't care in the least!!! Very deliberate sobriety - it's true - leads nevertheless to a condition in which thoughts, if you have any, move more readily. In short, it is a difference like painting in grey or in colours. I am going to paint more in grey, in fact. Only instead of paying money to a landlord, you give it to the asylum, I do not see the difference - and it is hardly any cheaper. The work is a thing apart and has always cost me a lot.
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Wilhelmina van Gogh
(c. 20-22 October 1889)
... crises I have are of an epileptic nature. Consequently alcohol is also not the cause, though it must be understood that it does me no good either. But it is difficult to return to one's ordinary way of life while one is too despondent over the uncertainty of misfortune. And one goes on clinging to the affections of the past. So, as I told you, I feel a nearly irresistible urge to send something of my work to Holland, and if you should succeed in getting people to accept anything, it will be my duty to be grateful. You will probably think the interior of the empty bedroom with a wooden bedstead and two chairs the most unbeautiful thing of all - and notwithstanding this I have painted it twice , on a large scale. I wanted to achieve an effect of simplicity of the sort one finds described in Felix Holt. After being told this you may quickly understand this picture, but it will probably remain ridiculous in the eyes of others who have not been warned. ...

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