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I enclose a little sketch which I made in the soup kitchen.
They sell the soup in a large passage where the light falls
from above, through a door to the right.
Now I tried to find that same effect in the studio. In the
background I put a white screen, and on that I drew the hatch,
according to its real position and measurements; I closed the
farthest window entirely, and the middle window at the bottom,
so that the light falls from P, exactly as in the place
You see, when I have the models posing there, I get exactly
the same effect as in the real soup kitchen.
In the sketch above, you see the grouping in the studio. I
have put a line around the part I wanted to draw.
Of course I can study the poses of the figures as long and
as much and as correctly as I like, yet generally remaining
true to what I have seen.
I should like to try this again in watercolour, for
instance, and work hard on it to develop it more. It seems to
me that there is more opportunity for figure painting in the
studio now. Before the change, when I tried it last summer, the
figures got such a neutral, cold tone that one didn't feel
strongly inclined to paint them. The picturesqueness
disappeared, so to speak, as soon as they came into that strong
Do you know what I shall still need very much? Different
pieces of grey or brown cloth, to get the right shade of
In the above sketch, the wall is white, with wainscot
painted grey, the floor, darker. By paying attention to those
things, one gets the local colour so much more correctly. I
have a few of these things already, and also many real
clothes. Yesterday, for instance, I bought a very picturesque
patched smock of coarse linen. I am always on the lookout for
such things; by paying some attention to them, the models give
more satisfaction than if one leaves it all to chance.
I love my studio the way a sailor loves his ship. I know
that in time it will become just what I want, but my purse
doesn't always allow me to do what I should like. But the
things which one buys in this way are things that last, and
now I have a chance which perhaps I shouldn't get again
The change in the studio brings even more expenses -
indirectly rather than directly - for I won't consider it
finished before I have many more things which are necessary to
make it practical.
Your patient will cause you a great deal of expense; if you
can't send anything extra just now, I needn't stop working
because of that. Besides, not long ago you did send something
extra, so I want to emphasize that I should be able to pull
through if necessary. But I have a burning desire to push on,
and to make progress.
There is another thing spurring me on, namely that Rappard
is also working at top speed, more than he used to, and I want
to keep up with him, because then we'll get on better together,
and can profit more from each other's experience.
He has painted much more than I, and has drawn longer, but
we are both on just about the same level. I don't try to
compete with him as a painter, but I won't let him beat me in
drawing. I wish that in the future he and I should keep working
in the same direction, that is, types from the people, scenes
in a soup kitchen, hospital, etc. He has promised to come to
see me one of these days. I wish I could make some arrangement
with him about making a series of drawings from the people,
which we should lithograph as soon as they are good
enough - not before.
This and many other things give me a strong desire to push
At all events, whether you can send me something or
not, I can promise you better drawings before long.
The change in the studio itself, as far as it goes, enables
me to undertake some new things already.
But there would be fewer obstacles in the way, if you could
send me something extra just now. I am afraid that otherwise I
should be checked by some things, either by the lack of drawing
materials or by not being able to take models, or by the making
of a few more alterations.
I mention “better drawings,” this is meant
Among the studies of heads - old men, etc. - which I still
have, there are some which I will not be able to improve at
once, because there is unquestionably some touch of nature in
them, and at the same time something with which I am, of
course, not quite satisfied; so I dare not say “I shall
do it better in a few days.”
But I mean something else by “better drawings,”
that is, drawn from a different point of view, and with more
chiaroscuro in them, of which there is little or none in this
At all events, one thing I can promise you now, tomorrow
I'll have the house full of people, that is, the woman's
mother, and her younger sister, and a boy from the
neighbourhood, and all these persons, together with my own
people, will pose for the drawing of which this is the first
Rappard always works with models, too, and in my opinion
there is no better way. Especially if one sticks to one model,
one finds more and more qualities in it. So this letter
complements yesterday's, in so far as you will see from it that
today I made a plan for a new watercolour of the same kind I
sent you, and that tomorrow I shall have the models for it. I
hope to finish this one more thoroughly than the one I sent
you. Shall I succeed? I can't tell beforehand.
I started, though I am still short of a few things. But one
thing I have now that I didn't have before, and that is the
better light. And it is worth more to me than ever so many
colours. If I can have the colours too, please let me have
them; but I have had so many things from you already, and in
many respects I am so little satisfied with the result, till
now, that I hardly dare to ask for them. As in algebra the
product of two negatives is a positive, so I hope that the
product of failures may be success.
Adieu. My best wishes for your patient, or rather, your
Yours sincerely, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 3 March 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 271.
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