van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Brussels, January 1881
Relevant paintings:

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

My dear Theo,

You will quite forgive me when you know that I wrote my last letter in a moment of spleen. My drawings went all wrong, and not knowing what to do, I began to write. I certainly ought to have waited for a better moment, and this will show you that I myself undoubtedly belong to that class of people of which I spoke in my last letter, namely, that class of people who do not always reflect on what they say or do. This being so, let us drop it.

I can tell you one thing; during these last days there has been a change for the better. I have finished at least a dozen drawings, or rather sketches in pencil and in pen and ink, which seem to me to be somewhat better. They vaguely resemble certain drawings by Lançon, or certain English wood engravings, but as yet they are more clumsy and awkward. They represent a porter, a miner, a snow shoveller, a walk in the snow, old women, a type of old man (“Ferragus” from Balzac's L'histoire des treize), etc. I am sending you two small ones, “En Route” and “Devant les Tisons” [In front of the wood fire]. I see perfectly well that they are not good, but they are beginning to look like something.

I have a model almost every day, an old porter, or some working man, or some boy, who poses for me. Next Sunday perhaps one or two soldiers will sit for me. And because now I am no longer in a bad humour, I have quite a different and better opinion of you, and of the world in general. Also I have again drawn a landscape - a heath - a thing I had not done for a long time.

I love landscape very much, but I love ten times more those studies from life, sometimes of startling realism, which have been drawn so masterfully by Gavarni, Henri Monnier, Daumier, De Lemud, Henri Pille, Th. Schuler, Ed. Morin, G. Doré (e.g. in his “London”), A. Lançon, De Groux, Félicien Rops, etc., etc. Now without in the least pretending to compare myself to those artists, still, by continuing to draw those types of working people, etc., I hope to arrive at the point of being able to illustrate papers and books. Especially when I am able to take more models, also female models, I shall make more progress - I feel it, and know it. And I shall also probably learn to make portraits. But the condition is to work hard, “Not a day without a line,” as Gavarni said.

So it is understood that for the present I shall stay here, till you perhaps find something better for me. Only write me now and then. I am for the moment busy drawing for the third time all the Exercices au Fusain by Bargue.

Enough for today; write me when you have a moment to spare, and believe me, with a handshake,

Yours sincerely, Vincent

72 Bd. du Midi

Someday I hope to go to see Mr. Horta.

Sketches enclosed with letter:

“Devant les Tisons” and “En Route”

At this time, Vincent was 27 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written January 1881 in Brussels. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 140.

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
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