My dear Theo,
Today, for the first time, I feel rather dejected1 — I’d made a painting of Het Steen2 and took it round the dealers. Two of them were out, and one didn’t like it, and one lamented in a dreadful manner that literally no one had set foot in his shop in a fortnight. This isn’t very cheering, particularly when the weather’s cold and bleak, and one has already broken into one’s last 5 franc piece and is faced with a fortnight in which one sees no way ahead.
But anyway. Only see that you keep me going for this fortnight because I want to get something more in figures. I heard it said this morning, though, that quite a few of those paintings I wrote to you about3 were sold privately. A figure of 21 thousand was mentioned. I don’t know whether it’s true.
But in any event it was crowded with visitors when I saw it, and the exhibition for the lottery was crowded, too.4 If they showed more and better things, more would sell. But the shops look grim.  1v:2
The painting of Het Steen is quite elaborate, and I’ll make another one from a different point on the quay.5
All the same, I’d so much rather paint figures — I also think that the market could get rather full of landscapes, and although one has far more difficulties with figures because of the models — all the same, it may be a better chance. What the dealers say is that they still think women’s heads or figures of women are most likely to sell.
This spring I’ll have to decide whether or not I’ll stay in the Nuenen area. I’d like you to give the question some thought.
I really can’t understand why Portier, having expressed himself so clearly about my work — has since apparently become deeply indifferent.
I won’t make progress if I have to spend more on paint than I receive. And for myself I’m no better, literally no better off than I was years ago when I spent that winter in Brussels.6
I had 50 francs less then, but painting costs much more than 50 francs, and has to be laid out immediately.  1v:3
I don’t feel dejected as long as I’m painting, but in the long run — the periods in between can sometimes be very depressing.
And it grieves me when I can’t develop things a little, and one’s always between the devil and the deep sea.
For you have to understand, for instance, that ever since I’ve been here I’ve only had some hot food 3 times, and that otherwise it’s always just bread. Thus one becomes more of a vegetarian than is good for one. Particularly when it had to be the same in Nuenen for a good six months, and I still couldn’t even manage to settle my paint bill.
Painting is expensive and one has to paint a lot. I have a half promise of getting a model for a portrait; I’ll try to push that through.7 Now, what I can’t understand is that someone like Portier, say, like Serret — if they can’t sell — don’t at least come up with an idea to market work.
Listen Theo, something else — I believe that it won’t seem incomprehensible to you that I don’t have the slightest desire to write to the people at home while they’re with my charming sister Anna and other members of my family who are also so charming to me.8 As I’ve received a letter from Ma, who asks me to write and said she’d asked you for my address, will you let them know that I won’t write, which for that matter I already made quite plain when I left? You’ll understand when something happens as it did in March,9 it’s one of those things that is decisive.  1r:4 I left the house then &c. It follows automatically that, since they got their way, I hardly think about them at all, hardly at all; for that matter don’t want them to think about me either. Certainly it’s an unfortunate thing that it has to be like this. But then there are those memories like, for instance, that until the end Pa also spoke and acted towards me, yes, like the priest.10
Don’t they understand that themselves — that precisely when one has ceased to be angry about it, it has definitely become a matter of stranger than strangers to one another?
Tell Ma this if you like, for I don’t wish to be harsh to her, but I don’t intend to start writing. And Ma is old, so I don’t want to write that I won’t write in a sharp way. It’s been the same with other painters, too, and there are things one shouldn’t meddle with any further.
At the museum there’s a portrait of Delaroche, painted by Portaels.11 How important he12 seemed in life. How hollow and empty he proved to be later. Manet and Courbet, who didn’t seem to be serious during their lifetimes, how much so they actually were as painters.13
By a curious chance, an accident to Delaroche’s portrait has left it with a hole in the middle of the forehead. It looks good and actually seems to belong there. Ah — there’s a very curious race of people whom one wouldn’t think at certain times are indeed absolutely and utterly hollow and empty. One can be mistaken. And it’s a relief when one realizes that one has been mistaken — even if one then has to start from the beginning again.14 Regards.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 551 | CL: 440
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Antwerp, on or about Thursday, 17 December 1885

1. In view of what follows this means: ‘in a depressed mood’ (cf. l. 58); it must have been exacerbated by the fact that Van Gogh felt physically weak because he had had virtually no hot food (l. 66) and, as he says a week or two later, his appetite was suppressed during this period (letter 550).
2. A painting of Het Steen Castle on the Scheldt in Antwerp is not known, although two drawings of it (possibly preliminary sketches) have survived: View of Het Steen (F 1350 / JH 976 and F 1351 / JH 977).
3. See for this sale of paintings letter 547, n. 11.
4. See for this lottery letter 547, n. 10.
5. This work is not known.
6. Van Gogh was in Brussels from early October 1880 until 12 April 1881. See letters 159-165.
7. In the end this came to nothing.
8. Mrs van Gogh and her daughter Willemien were evidently staying in Leiderdorp with Anna and Joan van Houten-Van Gogh and their two daughters Sara and Annie.
9. See for the frictions surrounding Van Gogh’s departure from his parents’ house letter 490, nn. 8 and 9.
10. Andreas Pauwels, the priest in Nuenen, had frustrated Van Gogh’s endeavours by forbidding his Catholic parishioners to model for him. See letter 531.
11. Jean François Portaels, Paul Delaroche, c. 1850 (Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten). Ill. 1220 [1220].
13. Van Gogh could have read about Courbet’s ‘caprices burlesques’ in Silvestre’s Histoire des artistes vivants français et étrangers (see Silvestre, Histoire, pp. 242-277 (quotation on p. 247).
14. Van Gogh is also referring here to his own change of heart about Delaroche, whom he had previously greatly admired.