Brussels, 1 Nov.
72 blvd du Midi

My dear Theo,
I want to tell you a few things in reply to your letter.
First of all, that I went to see Mr Roelofs the day after I received your letter,1 and he told me that his opinion was that from now on I should concentrate on drawing from nature, i.e. whether plaster or model, but not without guidance from someone who understands it well. And he, and others too, seriously advised me definitely to go and work at a drawing academy, at least for a while, here or in Antwerp or anywhere I could, so I think I should in fact do something about getting admitted to that drawing academy, although I don’t particularly like the idea. Tuition is free here in Brussels, I hear that in Amsterdam, for example, it costs 100 guilders a year, and one can work in an adequately heated and lighted room, which is worth thinking about, especially for the winter.
I’m making headway with the examples of Bargue, and things are progressing. Moreover, I’ve recently drawn something that was a lot of work but I’m glad to have done it. Made, in fact, a pen drawing of a skeleton, rather large at that, on 5 sheets of Ingres paper.

sheet  the head, skeleton and muscles
torso, skeleton
hand  from the front, skeleton and muscles
from the back, 
pelvis and legs, skeleton.

I was prompted to do it by a manual written by Zahn, Esquisses anatomiques à l’usage des artistes.2 And it includes a number of other  1v:2 illustrations which seem to me very effective and clear. Of the hand, foot &c. &c.
And what I’m now going to do is complete the drawing of the muscles, i.e. that of the torso and legs, which will form the whole of the human body with what’s already made. Then there’s still the body seen from the back and from the side.
So you see that I’m pushing ahead with a vengeance, those things aren’t so very easy, and require time and moreover quite a bit of patience.
To be admitted to the drawing academy one must have permission from the mayor and be registered. I’m waiting for an answer to my request.3
I know, of course, that no matter how frugally, how poorly even, one lives, it will turn out to be more expensive in Brussels than in Cuesmes, for instance, but I shan’t succeed without any guidance, and I think it possible — if I only work hard, which I certainly do — that either Uncle Cent or Uncle Cor will do something, if not as a concession to me at least as a concession to Pa.
It’s my plan to get hold of the anatomical illustrations of a horse, cow and sheep, for example, from the veterinary school,4 and to draw them in the same way as the anatomy of a person.
There are laws of proportion, of light and shadow, of perspective, that one must know in order to be able to draw anything at all. If one lacks that knowledge, it will always remain a fruitless struggle and one will never give birth to anything.
That’s why I believe I’m steering a straight course by taking matters in hand in this way, and want to try and acquire a wealth of anatomy here this winter, it won’t do to wait longer and would ultimately prove to be more expensive because it would be a waste of time.  1v:3
I believe that this will also be your point of view.
Drawing is a hard and difficult struggle.
If I should be able to find some steady work here, all the better, but I don’t dare count on it yet, because I must first learn a great many things.5
Also went to see Mr Van Rappard, who now lives at rue Traversière 64, and have spoken to him.6 He has a fine appearance, I’ve not seen anything of his work other than a couple of small pen drawings of landscapes. But he lives rather sumptuously7 and, for financial reasons, I don’t know whether he’s the person with whom, for instance, I could live and work. But in any case I’ll go and see him again. But the impression I got of him was that there appears to be seriousness in him.
In Cuesmes, old boy, I couldn’t have stood it a month longer without falling ill with misery. You mustn’t think that I live in luxury here, for my food consists mainly of dry bread and some potatoes or chestnuts which people sell on the street corners, but I’ll manage very well with a slightly better room and by eating a slightly better meal from time to time in a restaurant if that were possible. But for nearly 2 years I endured one thing and another in the Borinage, that’s no pleasure trip. But it will easily amount to something more than 60 francs and really can’t be otherwise. Drawing materials and examples, for instance, for anatomy, it all costs money, and those are certainly essentials, and only in this way can it pay off later, otherwise I’ll never succeed.
I had great pleasure lately in reading an extract from the work by Lavater and Gall. Physiognomie et phrénologie. Namely character as it is expressed in facial characteristics and the shape of the skull.8
Drew The diggers by Millet9 after a photo by Braun10 that I found at Schmidt’s and which he lent me with that of The evening angelus.11 I sent both those drawings to Pa so that he could see that I’m doing something.
Write to me again soon. Address 72 blvd du Midi. I’m staying in a small boarding-house for 50 francs a month and have my bread and a cup of coffee here, morning, afternoon and evening. That isn’t very cheap but it’s expensive everywhere here.  1r:4
The Holbeins from the Modèles d’apres les maitres12 are splendid, I notice that now, drawing them, much more than before. But they aren’t easy, I assure you.
That Mr Schmidt was entangled in a money matter which would involve the Van Gogh family and for which he, namely Mr S., would be justly prosecuted, I knew not the slightest thing about all that when I went to see him, and I first learned of it from your letter.13 So that was rather unfortunate, though Mr Schmidt received me quite cordially all the same. Knowing it now, though, and matters being as they are, it would perhaps be wise not to go there often, without it being necessary deliberately to avoid meeting him.
I would have written to you sooner but was too busy with my skeleton.
I believe that the longer you think about it the more you’ll see the definite necessity of more artistic surroundings for me, for how is one supposed to learn to draw unless someone shows you? With the best will in the world one cannot succeed without also coming into and remaining in contact with artists who are already further along. Good will is of no avail if there’s absolutely no opportunity for development. As regards mediocre artists, to whose ranks you think I should not want to belong, what shall I say? That depends on what one calls mediocre. I’ll do what I can, but in no way do I despise the mediocre in its simple sense. And one certainly doesn’t rise above that level by despising that which is mediocre, in my opinion one must at least begin by having some respect for the mediocre as well, and by knowing that that, too, already means something and that one doesn’t achieve even that without much effort. Adieu for today, I shake your hand in thought. Write again soon if you can.



Br. 1990: 159 | CL: 138
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Brussels, Monday, 1 November 1880

1. Vincent – evidently following Theo’s advice – had turned to the painter Willem Roelofs, who had been active in Brussels since 1848. By now firmly established as a successful artist and senior member of the community, he occupied an influential position in the artistic life of the city and could prove to be an important contact. Cf. De Bodt 1995, pp. 55-56, 100-102.
2. A. de Zahn [Albert von Zahn], Esquisses anatomiques à l’usage des artistes pour servir aux études d’après nature et d’après l’antique. Leipzig (Librairie Arnold) 1865. This book contains 29 illustrations of anatomical models. The ones Van Gogh mentions are ills. 3094 [3094], 3095 [3095], 3096 [3096], 3097 [3097] and 3098 [3098] respectively. There is a copy in the Rijksmuseum Research Library (shelf mark 808 E 171).
The Paris bookseller Auguste Ghio had a copy of the book for sale for 1 franc in December 1871 (see Adolphe Chenu, Le mémorial de Napoléon iii. Paris 1872, p. 443). It was reprinted many times and translated. Cf. A. von Zahn, Anatomisches Taschenbüchlein. 17. Auflage. Leipzig (Max Möhring) n.d. [1946].
[3094] [3095] [3096] [3097] [3098]
3. From the first week of November 1880 Van Gogh was enrolled as a student at the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) at Brussels for the course ‘Dessin d’après l’antique: torse et fragments’ (Drawing from antiquity: torso and fragments), under registration number 8488. See exhib. cat. Brussels 1987, pp. 239-242; and De Bodt 1995, p. 278. Van Gogh’s failure to write anything at all about his experiences at the Academy led Hulsker to doubt whether he actually attended any classes (Hulsker 1990-1, p. 91). He must have done, though, for he took part in a concours on 5 December 1880. See Bart Moens, De kunstenaarsopleiding van Vincent van Gogh in Brussel. Unpublished bachelor’s thesis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel 2012, pp. 36-47. It emerges from letter 161 and others that Van Gogh left the academy shortly afterwards, probably because he finished last in the concours.
4. L’Ecole vétérinaire (veterinary college) near boulevard du Midi where Van Gogh lived. See Baedeker 1885, p. 49.
5. Van Gogh’s goal was to become an illustrator of books or magazines (see letters 162 and 164).
6. Apparently acting on advice from Theo (as he had done in the case of Willem Roelofs), Vincent went to visit Anthon Gerard Alexander van Rappard. Theo must have met Van Rappard in Paris when the latter was a pupil (from October 1879) in the studio of Jean Léon Gérôme. Mrs van Gogh wrote on 5 July 1880: ‘Nice that until October you’ll have a good friend in Mr de Bock and then Rappard’ (FR b2495). After Vincent’s death, Van Rappard recalled that they had met in Brussels at 9 o’clock in the morning in his room. See Pickvance 1992, p. 102.
The emphasis Van Gogh places on the report that Van Rappard ‘now lives’ at rue Traversière (Dwarsstraat) 64, in the St Joost-ten-Noode district in the east of Brussels, suggests that Theo did not know his current address. Cf. exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1974, pp. 11 (with a different house number), 59 and 68.
7. Van Rappard was a well-to-do member of the nobility.
a. Read: ‘dat alles kost geld’ (all of that costs money).
8. Johann Caspar Lavater and Franz Joseph Gall co-authored a textbook on physiognomy. In this popular mixture of physiognomy and phrenology, parallels were drawn between people’s facial features and skull structure and their character or disposition. These theories were summed up in Alexandre Ysabeau, Lavater et Gall. Physiognomonie et phrénologie rendues intelligibles pour tout le monde. Paris 1862. Van Gogh presumably consulted this survey by Ysabeau – he speaks in fact of an ‘extract’ – the title of which he spelled incorrectly.
He could have discovered this book while reading Gavarni, l’homme & l’oeuvre. He must have become familiar with this work by Edmond and Jules De Goncourt around this time, and they, too, connected the way in which Gavarni depicted the heads of his figures with Gall and Lavater (Goncourt 1873, p. 262). Cf. cat. Amsterdam 1996, pp. 18, 174; The faces of physiognomy. Interdisciplinary approaches to Johann Caspar Lavater. Ed. E. Shookman. Drawer 1993; Georges Lanteri-Laura, Histoire du phrénologie. L’homme et son cerveau selon F.J. Gall. Paris 1993.
9. Two drawn copies after a reproduction of Millet’s The diggers are known from this period: Diggers, after Millet (F 829 / JH C.B. [2327]) and (F 828 / JH Juv. 13 [2328]). It is not clear which version Van Gogh is referring to here.
[2327] [2328]
10. Photograph (isograph) of Jean-François Millet, The two diggers (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, t*52). Ill. 1899 [1899]. See exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1988, pp. 11, 30-31, 91-94, cat. nos. 2, 29-30; and exhib. cat. Paris 1998, pp. 142-144, cat. nos. 71-72.
Braun was a publisher who ran an international business in reproductions after paintings and other photographs. After the death of Adolphe Braun, the firm was taken over by his son Gaston and associates. See M. Auer, Encyclopédie internationale des photographes de 1839 à nos jours / Photographers encyclopaedia international 1839 to the present. 2 vols. Hermance 1985.
11. Van Gogh's copy after the photograph, published by Braun, of Millet’s The evening angelus was most likely The angelus, after Millet (F 834 / JH Juv. 14 [2329]), which was drawn on Ingres paper, according to cat. Otterlo 1970, p. 5.
12. There are three known copies after the Holbein illustrations in Bargue’s Cours de dessin, two of the Daughter of Jacob Meyer, after Holbein (Cours de dessin, pl. 10). Ill. 937 [937]. It is generally assumed that in letter 169 Van Gogh is referring to the Daughter of Jacob Meyer, after Holbein (F 833 / JH 13 [2339]), and that the other copies – Daughter of Jacob Meyer (F 847 / JH Juv. 12) and Figure of a woman, after Holbein (F 848 / JH -) – were done in Brussels; they are dated between October 1880 and April 1881. See De la Faille 1970, pp. 316, 334; Heenk 1995, p. 30; Hulsker 1996, cat. no. 13 and Juv. 12, pp. 14-16, 489. Cf. also letter 159, n. 3.
[937] [2339]
13. The family correspondence makes no mention whatever of this money matter, which presumably concerned Uncle Vincent or Uncle Cor van Gogh, or perhaps the take-over of Uncle Hein’s Brussels branch.
b. Meaning: ‘vaak’ (often).