van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Brussels, 15 October 1880

Dear Theo,

As you can see, I am writing you from Brussels. I thought it better to change my domicile for the present. And that for more than one reason.

In the first place, it was urgently necessary because the little room where I lived - which you saw last year - was so narrow and the light so bad that it was very inconvenient to draw there. It is true that if I could have had another room in that house, I would have stayed; but the people of the house wanted that room for their cooking and washing, and I could not have had it even if I had paid more. It is true that in spite of everything I drew Les Exercices au fusain and Les modèles d'apres la bosse de Bargue [Plaster-cast Models by Bargue] there - either in the little room or outside in the garden; but now that I am as far as the portraits after Holbein in the third part of the Cours de Dessin, it has become impossible.

It had already been a long time since I have seen enough pictures or drawings etc., and the very sight of some good things here in Brussels has given me new inspiration and has strengthened my desire to make good things myself.

If Mr. Schmidt would have the kindness to talk seriously about it to someone or other, I do not doubt that the thing could be satisfactorily arranged. He received me cordially, but still, if you yourself would put in a word or two in my behalf to recommend the thing to him, it would have more effect on him than I could make myself. It would be quite natural if he perhaps looked at me with some suspicion, because formerly I was with Goupil & Co., left, and have now returned to the art field.

So if you write him by return mail, you would render me a great service, and it would prevent my losing time.

I immediately took up my work here, namely the third part of Bargue, and I have a much better room here in a little hotel on the Bd. Du Midi than the small cabinet I used to have.

Father wrote me that for the present I may count on receiving 60 fr. a month through his intermediary. There are several young men who are beginning to study drawing and are in the same position of not being rich either. The thing that gives one strength in such circumstances is not to be always alone, but to be in contact and relation with others in the same position. So you see, this is my great desire - that through Mr. Schmidt I may have some chance to make the acquaintance of some of the young artists here. Will you do what I ask you to that effect, that is, write a little note to Mr. Schmidt?

I have made another pen drawing after “The Woodcutter” by Millet (the woodcut that you sent me). I think pen drawing is a good preparation, in case one should later want to learn etching. The pen is also very useful in accentuating pencil drawings, but one does not succeed in it at once. As to the drawing after “Le Buisson” by Ruysdael, I will work with the pen on it especially, and prepare myself by using it on other drawings. Among others, I have made one of the head of Dante which looks somewhat like an etching. But it is not as easy as it seems.

In our interview Mr. Schmidt spoke about my entering L'École des Beaux Arts here, but I told him frankly that I thought in my particular case it would be much better to work with some artist - especially since I have already finished two series of the Bargues and am on the third, which I could perhaps complete with the charcoal drawings by Allongé. However, I have not quite dismissed the idea of L'École des Beaux Arts; I might go there in the evening while I'm here if it is free or not too expensive.

But for the moment my aim must be to learn to make some drawings that are presentable and saleable as soon as possible, so that I can begin to earn something directly through my work. Because that is the necessity which is forced upon me. If you write me, please address your letters care of Mr. Schmidt, for I do not know whether or not I shall stay at this hotel any longer. I think you will approve of what I say, for to progress, it is necessary to continue with vigour.

Once having mastered my pencil, or watercolouring, or etching, I can go back to the country of the mines or weavers and work from life better than I can now; but first I must learn more of the technique.

Well, I shall finish this letter, hoping you will approve of what I have said.

With a handshake,


At this time, Vincent was 27 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 15 October 1880 in Brussels. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 137.

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