Thanks for your letter and the enclosed 150 fr. I want to
tell you that I am glad I came here. Last week I painted three
more studies, one with backs of old houses, seen from my window,
two in the park.
Now these dealers are not the biggest ones in Antwerp, but
at all their places, among many things I did not like, I saw
things which pleased me: for instance one had a picture by Van
Goyen and a study by Troyon; at another's I saw a Mols and
small Dutch pictures; at another place there was that small
picture I mentioned to you, like Raffaelli (it is by Moormans),
and a few good watercolours; at another's I found various good
marines by young Belgians. I saw very little of figure
painting, and so I intend to try and do some.
The address that dealer in question gave me happens to be of
one of the big dealers, Nicolié, one of those who do not
have show windows, but exhibit in private houses. But I want to
come there with figure paintings.
also traced Linnig, whom you mentioned to me this summer when I
asked you whether you knew people in Antwerp; but he has
nothing but a few miserable little old pictures, paints
himself somewhat like Vertin, but seemed to me a discouraged
man - if he ever had any courage, which I doubt.
Shortly I hope to be able to go and see that picture you
wrote about. But I have been busy going backward and forward,
and also tracing those people, and with model-hunting too. The
latter is always tremendously difficult, but I have found them
elsewhere, and so I shall find them here too. For tomorrow I
have an appointment with a splendid old man - will he come?
Today I received the supply of colours which they forwarded
to me from Eindhoven, and I paid more than 50 fr. for it.
It is hard, terribly hard, to keep on working when one does
not sell, and when one literally has to pay for one's colour
out of what would not be too much for eating, drinking and
lodgings, however strictly calculated. And then the models
besides. But all the same there is a chance, and even a good
one, because comparatively speaking, there are only a few
painters at work nowadays.
In my opinion they are only half to blame for that (for the
other half, they are), for sometimes it is too hard.
All the same they are building State museums, 1
and the like, for hundreds of thousands of guilders, but
meanwhile the artists very often starve.
But, however this may be, I wanted to look into things
myself again, and I find the chance of doing something not
smaller, but bigger than I thought. I have seen several photos
of pictures by Jan van Beers, some of his things have, after
all, much character. But I imagine that someone like Manet, for
instance, is much more of a painter than Van Beers, and
paints more beautifully and artistically.
If only I were better known here, if only I could get hold
of the models I saw! Yesterday I was at the Café-concert
Scala, something like the Folies Bergères;
I found it very dull, and of course insipid - but the public
amused me. There were splendid women's heads, really
extraordinarily fine, among the good middle-class folks on the
back seats, and on the whole I think what is said about Antwerp
true, that the women are handsome.
I say it again, if only I had my choice of models! The mass
of German girls one sees at the café-concerts leave me
quite cool, one would say they are all manufactured after one
It seems that one sees that same race everywhere, just like
Bavarian beer, it seems to be an article exported
I find all those German elements, which nowadays nestle
themselves wherever one goes, so terribly annoying. It is sure
to be just the same in Paris, those Boches intruding
everywhere. But it is an unpleasant thing to talk about.
Through seeing some pictures by others, I get all kinds of
ideas for the time when
I shall be in the country again next spring; at the same
time my conviction that I must go on with all the vigour I
possess is also getting stronger.
Antwerp is beautiful in colour, and it is worth while just
for the subjects. One evening I saw a popular sailors' ball at
the docks; it was most interesting and they behaved
quitedecently. However, that will not be the case
at all those balls.
Here, for instance, nobody was drunk, or drank much.
There were several very handsome girls, the most beautiful
of whom was plain-faced. I mean, a figure that struck me as a
splendid Jordaens or Velásquez, or Goya - was one in
black silk, most likely some barmaid or such, with an ugly and
irregular face, but lively and piquant it la Frans Hals.
She danced perfectly in an old-fashioned style. Once she
danced with a well-to-do little farmer who carried a big green
umbrella under his arm, even when he waltzed very quickly.
Other girls wore ordinary jackets and skirts and red
scarves; sailors and cabin-boys, etc., the funniest types of
pensioned sea captains, who came to take a look, quite
striking. It does one good to see folks actually enjoy
Well, you see, I don't sit still, but I can't tell you
emphatically enough how difficult it is to be court
d'argent [short of money].
My best chance is in the figure, because there are
relatively very few who do it, and I must seize the
opportunity. I must work myself into it here, until I get into
touch with good figure painters - Verhaert, for instance, and
then I imagine portrait painting is the way to earn the means
for greater things.
I feel a power within me to do something, I see that my work
holds its own against other work, and that gives me a great
craving for work; lately, when I was in the country, I began to
doubt, because I noticed that Portier does not seem to care for
my things any more.
If I were better off, I should be able to paint more, but as
far as producing goes I am partly dependent on my purse.
I also have an idea for a kind of signboard, which I hope to
carry out. I mean, for instance, for a fishmonger, still life
of fishes, for flowers, for vegetables, for restaurants. I
think that if one takes well-composed subjects, 1 meter by
½ or ¾ meter in size, for instance, such a canvas
would cost me 50 fr., not more, even perhaps 30 fr., and if
possible I will try to make a few.
One thing is certain, that I want my things to be seen.
Later on we may lose courage, but we will try and put it off
for a long time.
Write me again if you should have the time. The end of the
month will certainly be terrible unless you can help me a
little more. A great deal may depend on my being able to stick
to my guns. And one must not look too hungry or shabby either.
On the contrary, one must try to make things hum.
Goodbye, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
An allusion to the building of the Rijksmuseum in
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 6-7 December 1885 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 438.
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