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I already wrote you the day before yesterday that although
on the one hand I felt far from well, I nevertheless began to
see some light.
However, I am sorry to have to tell you more categorically
that I am literally worn out and overworked.
I will not mention it, so don't you, either.
But I have lived then, and I do here, without
any money for a dinner, because the work costs me too much, and
I have relied too much on my being strong enough to stand
What the doctor tells me is that I absolutely must take
better care of myself and until I feel stronger I must take
It is an absolute breakdown.
Now I have made it worse by smoking a great deal, which I
did the more because then one does not feel an empty stomach so
Well, manger de la vache enragée, that is what I have
my share of.
For it is not just the food, at the same time it is all the
worry and trouble one has.
You know how, for various reasons, the time in Nuenen was
far from easy for me. Then I came here, and am very glad I did,
but it has also been a difficult time for me.
What we must do, and where the greatest trouble lies, is
this. To pay the models oneself is too great a burden; as long
as one hasn't enough money, one must use the opportunities
offered by the studios like those of Verlat or Cormon. And one
must live in the artists' world, and work at the clubs where
one shares the cost of the models.
It is true that I haven't thought of this before, at least I
haven't done what was necessary, but now I wish I had done it a
year earlier. If it could be arranged so that we lived in the
same city, it would certainly be by far the best, at least for
But the more I think about it, the more certain I am that it
would perhaps be better not to spend too much on a studio the
first year, because that first year I shall mainly have to
For speaking of Cormon, I think he would tell me much the
same thing as Verlat, namely that I must draw from the nude or
plaster casts for a year, just because I have always been
drawing from life.
That is not asking too much, for I tell you that there are
some fellows here who have been plodding at it for three years,
and are not yet allowed to give it up, yet they paint too. In
that one year I must drill myself in the man's and the woman's
figure, both in detail and as a whole, and then I shall know it
almost by heart.
Drawing in itself, the technique of it, comes easily enough
to me. I am beginning to do it like writing, with the same
ease. But at that very point it gets more interesting if one is
not satisfied with the skill gradually acquired, but aims
seriously and thoroughly at originality and broadness of
conception - the drawing of the mass instead of the outlines,
the solid modelling.
And when people like Verlat or Cormon, for instance, demand
this of a fellow, I assure you it is no bad sign. For there are
plenty of those whom Verlat simply lets drudge on, for they
will never attain anything. You speak of clever fellows in that
studio of Cormon's - just because I would damn well like to be
one of them, I feel for myself that I must insist on devoting
at least a year in Paris to drawing from the nude and from
plaster casts. For the rest, let me do what presents itself in
the way of painting, when an effect out-of-doors strikes me or
when I have a good model, etc. And do not think this is a
long way, for it is a short one. One who can draw
a figure from memory is much more productive than one who
cannot. And you will see how productive I shall become by
taking the trouble to draw for a whole year.
Neither must you suppose that those years of drawing
out-of-doors have been wasted. For that is just the thing that
those who have worked only at academies and studios lack - the
power to see the reality in which they live and the ability to
find subjects. Well, wouldn't it be wise to postpone renting a
studio, at least for the first half year, just because we need
the money so badly?
But for the rest, I am very sympathetic to founding a
studio, inasmuch as one might combine with other painters to
take models together.
The more energy, the better. And in hard times especially,
one must look for friendship and co-operation.
But, Theo, this indisposition is a damn bad thing just now;
I regret it terribly, but yet I keep courage. It will
You understand that if I had put off doing something about
it, it would have become worse and worse. But my opinion is
that one must not think that people whose health is impaired,
wholly or partly, are no good for painting. It is necessary to
reach the sixties, or at least the fifties, if one begins at
thirty. But one need not be perfectly healthy, one may have all
kinds of ailments. The work need not suffer from it. On the
contrary, nervous people are more sensitive and refined.
But, Theo, just because my health is decidedly impaired, I
am resolved to apply myself to the higher figure, and to try to
refine myself. It overtook me so unexpectedly, I had been
feeling weak and feverish, but I went on anyway; but I began to
feel worried when more and more of my teeth broke off and I
began to look more and more sick. Well, we will try to remedy
As to this month, I paid for my room in advance (25 fr.);
for food, 30 fr. in advance; and 50 fr. to the dentist; then a
visit to the doctor and some drawing materials; there now
remain six francs.
The main thing will be not to fall ill this month, which is
not easy to achieve; it certainly might happen. I always
believe that I have a certain toughness in common with the
peasants, who also do not eat so particularly well, and yet
live and work on.
But don't you worry about it. If you can send some more
money, very well; but if you can't, I'll await events in all
What I do not like is that I am feverish, and I argue in
this way: I may have become weak, but I have been as careful as
I could not to take unwholesome food. Neither is the
overexertion too great - because, notwithstanding everything, I
keep up my spirits, so it is only that I am overstrained
because I am weak. I think it will redress itself. But
you understand, if it got worse and took a vicious turn, it
might develop into malignant typhus or at least typhoid fever.
And the only reason why I do not suppose this will happen is,
in the first place, that I have had a great deal of fresh air;
in the second place, I repeat, though I obviously haven't had
enough nourishment, I have been careful to take very simple
food instead of the rotten things in the cheap restaurants; and
thirdly, that I have a certain calmness and serenity,
notwithstanding everything, so we must wait and see how things
You must not worry about it, for I don't either. I repeat,
suppose I got a fever; I have lived and nourished myself so
simply that it is improbable that it should become so very
malignant. After all, things don't just happen, and there is a
reason for everything.
Do write soon, for I badly need to hear from you. As to
going to Nuenen, I should like to know what you think best.
But it is not necessary for me to go, for somebody
like Rijke, the gardener, for instance, can do the necessary
packing or dispatching just as well. But if you think it would
be better, I can be ready by March.
Goodbye, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 3 February 1886 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 449.
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