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Antwerp c. 15 December 1885
Today for the
first time I feel rather faint - I had painted
a picture of “Het Steen” and went to show it to
Oh dear. Do try to keep me afloat these two weeks, for I
want to paint some more figures. This morning I heard it said
that some of those pictures I wrote you about had been sold
privately - there was a rumour of 21,000 fr. I don't know if it
is true, but at all events there was a crowd of spectators when
I was there, and the exhibition for the raffle was also
crowded. If there were more better things on view, more
business would be done. But the shops have a desolate aspect.
The picture of “Het Steen” is rather elaborate, and
I shall make another one from a different spot on the quay.
[Both paintings lost]
But I greatly prefer to paint the figure, I also believe the
market might be overloaded with landscapes, and though painting
the figure presents more difficulties because of the models,
yet after all it gives perhaps a better chance. What the
dealers say is that women's heads or women's figures are most
likely to sell.
This spring I shall have to decide whether I shall stay in
the neighbourhood of Nuenen or not. I should like to hear your
opinion on the matter.
I cannot understand why Portier, after his first favourable
impression of my work, has become so absolutely indifferent to
it since then. I cannot get on when I must spend more on
colour than I receive, and I am not the least bit, literally
not the least bit, better off than I was years ago, that winter
in Brussels. Then I received 50 fr. less, but painting costs me
much more than 50 fr., and it has to be paid on the spot.
I do not feel faint as long as I am painting, but in the
long run those intervals are always sometimes rather too
melancholy, and it grieves me when I don't get on, and am
always in a bad fix. Do you know, for instance, that in the
whole time I've been here, I've only had three warm meals, and
for the rest nothing but bread? In this way one becomes
vegetarian more than is good for one. Especially as it was the
same thing in Nuenen for half a year, and even then I could not
pay my colour bill.
Painting is expensive, yet one must paint a great deal. I
have half a promise of a model to sit for a portrait, I would
do my utmost to get her. Now what I cannot understand is that
people like Portier, like Serret, for instance, if they cannot
sell, do not at least see their way of getting me some work or
Then I left the house, from which may be inferred as a
matter of course that they got what they wanted; for the
rest, I think of them extremely, extremely little, and I do not
desire them to think of me, as far as that goes.
Tell Mother so, if you like, for I do not want to say a
harsh word to her, but I positively decline to write. And
Mother is old, so I do not want to tell her sharply that I
refuse to write. Such things have happened to other painters
too, and it is one of those things it is better to leave
At the museum there is a portrait of Delroche painted by
Portaels. During his life he seemed such a big man, but how
hollow and empty he proved to be afterward! Manet and Courbet
did not seem serious during their lives, yet how they
proved themselves to be real painters!
By a curious mishap an accident has happened to the portrait
of Delaroche, so that a hole was cut right in the middle of the
forehead. It looks well, and really seems to belong to it. Ah!
there is quite a curious race of people of whom one would not
oppose at certain moments that they are actually absolutely
hollow and empty. One can be mistaken. And sometimes it is
quite refreshing to perceive one has been mistaken, though then
one has to begin all over again from the very beginning.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 15 December 1885 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 440.
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