Brussels,1 15 Oct. 1880

Dear Theo,
As you see, I’m writing to you from Brussels. Because I thought it was the right thing to do to move somewhere else for the moment. And that for more than one reason. First, it was from urgent necessity, as the little study where I was staying and which you were able to see last year2 was so cramped and the light there was so bad that it was very inconvenient for drawing.
It’s true that if I could have had another room in the house I could have stayed, but the people of the house needed it, this other room, to do their household chores and washing, and even if I paid a little more there was no way of having it. It’s also true that for the Exercices au fusain and Les modèles d’après la bosse from Bargue, I did draw them there all the same, either in the little study or outside in the garden, but now that I’ve come to the portraits after Holbein &c. in the 3rd part of the Cours de dessin,3 it wouldn’t do any more.
That means that I’ve moved, and now to remedy things somewhat radically, here’s my plan, which I’ve begun to carry out. I’ve been to see Mr Schmidt, here in Brussels, and have spoken to him about the matter. That’s to say, I’ve asked him if through his good offices there might not be a way for me to make contact and connection with some artist, so that I could continue to learn in some serious studio. Because I feel that it’s absolutely necessary to have good things before one’s eyes, and also to see artists at work. Because that makes me feel more strongly what I lack, and at the same time I’m learning the way to remedy it.
For a long time now I haven’t seen enough paintings or drawings &c., and the mere sight of a few good things here in Brussels has raised my morale, so to speak, and has further increased the desire that I have to learn to do something with my own hands.
If Mr Schmidt would have the kindness to speak seriously to someone or other I have no doubt that things could work out rather effectively. He received me warmly, but nevertheless, if you would say a word or two in my favour to recommend the matter to him, that would have more effect on him than I could produce, because it’s very natural that he perhaps regards me with some mistrust, due to the fact that I was previously with the firm of G&Cie., then moved, and am now returning again to matters of art.  1v:2
So if you would write him a short line by return of post you’d be doing me a great service and it would save time.
I went straight back to my work here, that’s to say the 3rd part of the Bargues, and have a much more suitable room than the little study, in a small lodging-house in blvd du Midi.
My father wrote to me that for the time being I could expect to receive 60 francs a month through him. There are several young people who are beginning the study of drawing and are in the same situation and aren’t rich, either.
But the thing that gives strength in such circumstances is that one isn’t always alone, but is in contact and connected with others who are in the same situation.4
And so that’s what my great desire is — that through Mr Schmidt’s good offices some door might be opened for me to meet some of the young artists here.
So would you do the thing in question to that effect, i.e. write a short line to Mr S.?
I’ve done a pen drawing after Millet’s woodcutter (the wood engraving that you sent me).5 I believe that drawing with the pen is a good preparation if later you might wish to learn etching. You can do a great deal with the pen, also, to enhance pencil drawings, but you don’t succeed the first time.
As for the drawing after Ruisdael’s Bush,6 I’d above all like to work at it in pen, and am preparing myself for that by making trial attempts with other drawings. Among others, I’ve done one of the head of Dante,7 which is somewhat like an etching. But it’s not as easy as it seems.
At our meeting Mr Schmidt spoke to me about entering L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts8 here, but I told him frankly that it seemed to me that it was far more preferable in my particular case to work at some artist’s. Especially since I’ve already done two series of Bargues and have the 3rd in hand, which I could perhaps complete with Allongé’s charcoals.9 I don’t, however, dismiss the idea of L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, inasmuch as, for example, I could go there in the evening as long as I’m here, if it’s free or not expensive.  1v:3
But my goal must, for the moment at least, remain to learn as quickly as possible to do presentable and saleable drawings, so that I’ll begin to earn an income directly through my work. Because such indeed is the necessity that is imposed upon me.
If you write to me, please address the letter care of Mr Schmidt, because I don’t know if I’ll stay for a long or short time in my present lodgings.
I believe that you’ll approve of what I’m telling you, because in order to make progress it’s necessary to continue with a certain amount of energy.
Once I am master of my pencil or of watercolour or of etching, I can return to the region of the miners or weavers, to do things better from life than thus far. But first I must acquire a modicum of skill.
Mr Schmidt asked at length for news of you and pays you compliments; he’s in the process of moving to another shop in rue du Marché aux Herbes, opposite passage d’Hubert,10 and this shop is certainly very fine, as far as I’ve been able to see it so far.
Well then, I conclude for the moment, hoping that you’ll be in agreement with what I’ve told you.
I believe that a lodging and perhaps also a diet slightly better than that of the Borinage will also help to build me up a bit. Because I’ve certainly experienced some sufferings in the Belgian ‘black country’, and my health hasn’t been too good lately. But provided that I succeed one day in being able actually to draw what I wish to express, I’ll forget all that and will remember only the good aspect of things, which also exists if one is willing to observe it. But I must nevertheless try to build myself up a little, because I need all my energy.
Shaking your hand



Br. 1990: 158 | CL: 137
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Brussels, Friday, 15 October 1880

1. Van Gogh had meanwhile installed himself in Brussels in a small lodging-house at 72 boulevard du Midi (Zuidlaan). He was not registered at this address, however. For a photo of this location (from the Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles), see Tralbaut 1969, p. 74.
2. Theo had visited Vincent in August 1879; see letter 154.
3. Vincent’s mention of the third part of Cours de dessin actually refers to the second part, Modèles d’après les maîtres de toutes les époques et de toutes les écoles; he took Exercices au fusain to be the first part, even though it appeared independently. The second part of Cours de dessin contains many portraits, the majority of which (at least 22) are after Hans Holbein. The copy consulted by the Van Gogh Museum contains a total of 60 sample sheets (this series appeared from October 1868 to April 1870), but there must have been 67. Three drawings by Van Gogh after Holbein are known; see letter 160, n. 12 and letter 169.
4. Cf. the saying ‘l’union fait la force’ (strength through unity).
5. It is not certain which woodcut after Millet’s The woodcutter Theo sent; perhaps it was the print of ‘an old woodcutter alone in the wood’, about which Vincent had enquired a month earlier (see letter 157, n. 28).
7. Charles Bargue’s Cours de dessin contained two sample drawings of the head of Dante Alighieri. In vol. 1, Modèles d’après la bosse (‘Heads in profile’), no. 34 is a drawing from a plaster cast. Ill. 1897 [1897]. In vol. 2, Modèles d’après les maîtres de toutes les époques et de toutes les écoles, no. 32 is Raphael’s Head of Dante Alighieri (after The disputation of the Holy Sacrament in the Vatican). Ill. 1898 [1898].
[1897] [1898]
8. Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Bruxelles (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of the City of Brussels). On this academy, see De Bodt 1995, pp. 49-56.
9. It is not certain exactly which course by Auguste Allongé Van Gogh is referring to here. By this time there were several on the market, in both book and loose-leaf form, such as the Collection de 30 paysages au fusain par A. Allongé. Paris 1877; Collection de 18 facsimilés d’après A. Allongé. Paris 1877; and La forêt de Fontainebleau. Douze compositions facsimilés par Allongé. Paris 1879. There was, moreover, an advertisement in Karl Robert, Le fusain sans maitre: Traité pratique et complet sur l’étude du paysage au fusain. Followed by lessons reproduced by means of heliogravure by the house of Goupil & Cie after Allongé, with the ‘Spécialité de l’étude du Paysage au fusain par M.M. Allongé & Karl Robert’, including Le fusain and La forêt de Fontainebleau (4th ed. Paris 1879).
10. Schmidt had his shop at rue du Marché aux Herbes 89; he himself moved house on 12 December 1880 from Hofbergstraat 58 to Ukkel (SAB). For the location of his shop, see the photograph in De Bodt 1995, ill. 39.