My dear Theo,
I have to write to you one more time because the sooner we can take an outright decision the better. As regards a studio — if we could find, in one and the same house, a room with an alcove and also a garret or a corner attic — then you could have that apartment of room and alcove, and we could make it just as comfortable as possible. And during the day the room could serve as studio, and the garret could serve for various more unsightly tools or for dirty work, and I could also sleep there — and you in the studio alcove.
It seems to me that such an arrangement or something similar would be perfectly satisfactory for the first year. What I’m not sure about is whether we’ll get on personally, although I don’t despair of it — but it’ll be much more agreeable for you to come home to a workplace than to an ordinary room, which always has something gloomy about it. And it’s that gloom that’s our worst enemy. When the doctor tells me that I have to take better care of myself, physically — well, who knows whether such a measure mightn’t do you good too. For you’re also neither happy nor in good spirits — let’s not mince words, you have too much worry and too little prosperity.
But perhaps it’s because of our policy that we’re each too much alone and our forces and resources are too divided, and in that form insufficient. So — unity is strength1 — would certainly be much better.
So there has to be more life, it seems to me, and we have to throw out all sorts of doubts and a certain lack of confidence.
Do you want a reason on which one can rely to preserve one’s serenity, even when one stands alone and isn’t understood and one’s material well-being has gone by the board? Well there’s still this — I believe — one feels instinctively that a tremendous amount is changing, and everything will change. We’re in the last quarter of a century that will end with another colossal revolution.2  1v:2
But suppose we both yet see the beginning of it at the end of our lives.
We’ll certainly not experience the better times of clear air and refreshment of the whole of society after those great storms. All the same, it’s something not to be taken in by the falseness of one’s time, in so far as one detects in it the unhealthy closeness and mugginess of the hours that precede the thunderstorm.
And says — it’s oppressive for us — but the next generations will be able to breathe more freely. Men like Zola and the De Goncourts believe in it with the simplicity of overgrown children. They, the most rigorous analysts — whose diagnosis is both so merciless and so accurate.
And particularly the one you mentioned, Turgenev, and Daudet — they don’t work without a goal or without looking towards the other side.
Only they all, and rightly, avoid prophesying utopias and are pessimists in so far as if one analyzes, one sees so terribly in the history of this century the way the revolutions fail, no matter how nobly they begin.
You see, where one gets support is when one doesn’t always have to walk alone with one’s feelings and thoughts, when one works and thinks in a group of people together. Then at the same time one can do more — and one is infinitely happier.
Well I’d already wanted to have that between us for a long time, and you see, I imagine that if you stayed on your own you’d become depressed because the times aren’t encouraging unless one finds satisfaction in one’s work.  1v:3
I’m sending you that novel by De Goncourt specifically for the introduction above all — which contains a résumé of their works and aims.
You’ll see that these fellows haven’t been precisely happy, in the same way as Delacroix said about himself, I haven’t been happy at all in the sense in which I understood it / wanted it in the past.3
Well, whether or not it comes soon — a moment will come for you, too, when you’ll be sure that material well-being has gone by the board, fatally and irrevocably. I’d safely dare say that, but adding this, that I think that at that same moment there will be a certain compensation of feeling a capacity for work.
What touches me is the magnificent serenity of the great thinkers of the present day, like, say, the last walk of the two De Goncourts, which you’ll find described.4 The last days of the ageing Turgenev were like that, too — he was with Daudet a great deal then.5 Sensitive, subtle, intelligent as women, sensitive to their own suffering, too, and always still full of life and self-assurance, no indifferent stoicism, no contempt for life — I say again, those fellows, they die like women die. No idée fixe about God or abstractions — always on the ground floor of life itself and attached only to that, again, like women who have loved much6 — touched and — as Silvestre says of Delacroix — thus died, almost smiling.7
Meanwhile, we haven’t yet reached that point, on the contrary we’re at the point of working first, living first — most likely with the normal kind of well-being going by the board.  1r:4 But whatever the future may be, you can be sure that I’d be very pleased indeed if I could work with Cormon for a year or so, unless there’s somewhere better for drawing in L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts or other studios I’ve heard about here.
The ancients won’t prevent us from being realistic, come on — on the contrary. Of course I’m also desperately longing for French paintings.
Apropos, don’t you like this?

Everything that is bad came from woman —
Clouded Reason, an appetite for lucre, betrayal
Golden cups in which wines are mixed with lees.
Every crime, every happy lie, every kind of madness
Comes from her..... Adore her none the less, since the gods
Made her... and — she is the best thing that they have made.8

After all, working has the secret of being able to give someone a second youth.
Tell me, have you ever read anything by Carlyle? Actually that’s not necessary when one sees the fellow’s face and knows his work is something like Michelet. Whistler and Legros have both made his portrait.9 That’s another one who dared a great deal and had a different insight on many things from the rest. But the more I look into it, always the same story — lack of money, poor health, opposition, isolation, in short, trouble from beginning to end.10
Mantz’s piece about Paul Baudry was very good, and I found that ‘he worked on the renewal of the smile’ particularly singular.11
Could one say of Delacroix ‘he worked on the renewal of passion’? Perhaps so. Anyway — do write soon in any event, and regards.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 562 | CL: 451
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Antwerp, on or about Tuesday, 9 February 1886

1. Saying.
2. A reference to the French Revolution (1789).
a. Means: ‘mislukken’ (fail).
3. Taken from the essay ‘Eugène Delacroix’, in Silvestre, Histoire des artistes vivants français et étrangers: ‘I feel happy no longer to be happy as I understood it in the past’ (Je me sens heureux de ne plus être heureux comme je l’entendais autrefois) (see Silvestre, Histoire, pp. 41-84 (quotation on p. 43)).
b. Means: ‘zeker’ (certainly, safely).
4. See for the preface to Chérie: letter 559, n. 3.
5. Van Gogh may have learned that Daudet was often with Turgenev in his last days from the article that he mentions in letter 565: Alphonse Daudet, ‘Mémoires d’un homme de lettres. Tourguéneff’, Le Temps (10 November 1883); published in an English translation as ‘Tourguéneff in Paris. Reminiscences by Daudet’, Century Magazine 27 (November 1883), pp. 48-53. Theo must have written to Vincent about this article or sent it to him. In it, Daudet stresses Turgenev’s gentle character and his love of nature, and he describes their conversations: ‘When we were done with the books and issues of the day, the conversation widened and we came back to ever-present arguments, ideas and talked of love and death’ (Quand on en avait fini avec les livres et les préoccupations du jour, la conversation s’élargissait, on revenait au thèses, aux idées toujours présentes, on parlait de l’amour et de la mort).
c. Means: ‘zoals’ (as, like).
7. See for this quotation from Silvestre’s Eugène Delacroix: letter 526, n. 2. The end of the sentence is ungrammatical because Van Gogh incorporated these words of Silvestre’s literally.
8. The closing lines of the comedy Socrate et sa femme (Paris 1885) by Théodore Faullain de Banville. See ed. Paris 1886, p. 39. These lines, spoken by Xanthippe (‘Tout ... d’elle’) and Socrates (‘Adorez-là ... mieux’), also appear in Van Gogh’s Antwerp sketchbook. See Van der Wolk 1987, p. 95. There is a good chance that Van Gogh read this passage in a periodical or newspaper. The final two lines, for example, were quoted in a review in L’Art moderne. Revue critique des arts et de la littérature 6 (7 February 1886), p. 43. Theo knew what Vincent was talking about. He and Andries Bonger had seen a performance of Socrate et sa femme at the Théâtre Français on 25 December 1885 (FR b1832).
9. James Abbot McNeil Whistler, Arrangement in grey and black, no. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, 1872-1873 (Glasgow, Glasgow Museums: Art Gallery & Museum Kelvingrove). Ill. 1424 [1424]. Van Gogh may have seen this painting when he was in England since it was on show in an exhibition in Pall Mall, London, in 1874. See A. McLaren Young et al., The paintings of James McNeill Whistler. 2 vols. New Haven and London 1980, vol. 1, pp. 82-84, cat. no. 137. By the second reference Van Gogh may mean Legros’s Carlyle in his study or one of the other portraits of Carlyle by Legros that have survived, cf. letter 358, n. 2.
10. After the death of his wife in 1866 (their marriage was childless) Carlyle led a lonely and reclusive existence. He seldom left his house and published very little after this time. See Heffer 1995.
11. In ‘Paul Baudry’ in Le Temps (26 January 1886), an appreciation written on the occasion of Baudry’s death on 17 January, Paul Mantz wrote: ‘Baudry had been created to work on the renewal of the smile, and he did his duty delightfully’ (Baudry avait été créé pour travailler au renouvellement du sourire, et il a délicieusement fait son devoir). Theo must have drawn Vincent’s attention to this article or sent it to him.