My dear Theo,
I definitely need to tell you that it would reassure me greatly if you were to approve my coming to Paris much earlier than June or July if need be. The more I think about it, the more desirable this appears to me.
Consider that if everything goes well and if I had good food &c. throughout that time, which will certainly not be plain sailing, consider that even in that case it will take 6 months or so before I’m entirely well.
But it would certainly take even longer if things were to be the same for me in Brabant from March to July as they’ve been for the past few months, and it’s likely they’d be no different.
Now at the moment it’s just because of reaction to over-exertion that I feel terribly weak, in fact even worse. Still, that’s the natural course of things and nothing unusual.
But where the issue is — to take better care of oneself — well in Brabant I’d wear myself out again taking models, the same old story would start all over again, and it doesn’t seem to me that any good could come of it. That way — we’d be straying from the path. So please give me permission to come sooner if need be. In fact I’d say right away, if need be.  1v:2
If I take a garret in Paris, bring my painting box and drawing materials with me — then as far as the work’s concerned I can finish the most pressing things at once — those studies of plaster casts that will certainly help me when I go to Cormon’s. I can go and draw either in the Louvre or in L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
For the rest, we could then also think about it and discuss it so much better before we go about setting ourselves up somewhere else.
Know that I don’t mind going to Nuenen in the month of March if need be and seeing how things are there, and how the people are, and whether or not I can get models.
But if that doesn’t work out, which is likely, then after March I could come straight to Paris and start drawing, in the Louvre, for instance.
I’ve given a lot of thought to what you wrote about taking a studio — but it seems to me that it would be a good thing if we were to look for it together and that before we start living together permanently — did it for a while — provisionally — and I started by renting a garret at the beginning of April, say, until June. Then I’ll be more accustomed to Paris again by the time I go to Cormon’s.  1v:3
And — I think this way I’ll remain more cheerful. I also have to tell you that although I still go there — it’s often insupportable for me, the carping of the fellows at the academy, for it has proved that they’re still spiteful. However, I make a point of avoiding any quarrel, and go my own way.
And I think I’m getting on the track of what I’m looking for, and perhaps I might find it even sooner if I were to sit in front of the plaster casts entirely on my own. All the same, I’m glad I went to the academy, if only because I have ample opportunity to observe the results of starting from the outline,1 because they do that systematically and they pick petty quarrels2 with me about it. Make an outline first — your outline isn’t right — I won’t correct that if you model before having conscientiously finished your outline.3 You see, it all comes down to that. And you really should see!!! how flat, how dead and how bloody boring the results of that system are. Oh, I tell you, I’m very glad to have seen it properly at close quarters — David or even worse — Pieneman4 in full bloom. I must have wanted to say at least twenty-five times — your outline’s just a trick &c. — but I haven’t thought it worthwhile arguing. All the same, even though I don’t say anything, I irritate them — and they me.
This doesn’t matter so much, though — the issue is to really go on trying to find a better system of working. So, patience and perseverance.
They go so far as to say — colour and modelling, that’s nothing, one learns that very quickly — it’s the outline that’s the essential thing and the most difficult.  1r:4 You see, one can learn something new at the academy — I never knew before that colour and modelling came of their own accord. Just yesterday I finished a drawing that I’ve made for the competition in the evening class. It’s the Germanicus figure that you know.5 Very well — I know for sure that I’ll certainly come last, because all the drawings by the others are the same, and mine is completely different. But I saw the drawing that will be considered to be the best being done — I was sitting just behind — and it’s correct, it’s anything you like, but it’s dead and so are all those drawings that I saw.
Enough about this — just let it bore us so much that we become enthusiastic about something nobler. And that we make haste to achieve it.
You also need to take better care of yourself, and should we succeed in uniting, the two of us would know more than each one individually, and could do more.
Tell me, did you notice that subtle remark of Paul Mantz’s — women are perhaps the supreme difficulty in life — it was in the article on Baudry?6 We’ll certainly experience our share of that, aside from what we may already have experienced. It struck me in a chapter from Zola’s L’oeuvre in Gil Blas — that the painter — Manet, of course — had a scene with a woman who had posed for him and had then cooled to the idea; oh curiously well described.7 What one can learn at the academy in this regard is — just don’t paint women then. They hardly ever use nude female models, not at all in class at any rate — very occasionally individually.
Even in the plaster cast class, 10 male figures as against 1 female figure. That’s nice and easy.
That must surely be better in Paris — and it occurs to me that one actually learns so much by constantly comparing male and female, which are always so very different in everything. It may be the supreme difficulty, but what would art and what would life be without that? Regards, write back about this soon, with a handshake.

Yours truly,

My being in Nuenen, at least for the month of March, would be because of the move, and I ought to go there for myself because of changing my abode. But if need be, as far as I’m concerned, I’d be prepared not to go back at all.


Br. 1990: 563 | CL: 452
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Antwerp, on or about Thursday, 11 February 1886

2. It is very likely that the use of the word ‘chicane’ here is derived from Chérie by Edmond de Goncourt. The expression ‘chercher chicane’ (to pick a petty quarrel) occurs in a passage criticizing the conservative linguistic views of the Académie Française (Goncourt 1884, préface, p. vii). Van Gogh had read the book some time before this, see letter 534.
3. Probably something Van Gogh put into the mouth of his teacher Verlat or Siberdt by way of example.
4. This could be either the history painter and former director of the Koninklijke Akademie in Amsterdam, Jan Willem Pieneman, or his son, the history painter Nicolaas Pieneman.
5. By the ‘Germanicus’ Van Gogh means a classical statue of the Roman general Julius Caesar Germanicus (15 BC - 19 AD) that he drew at Vinck’s evening class. The Germanicus is on an inventory of the collection of plaster casts at the Antwerp Academy in the period 1866-1896 (no. 542), but it is not there now. The version of the statue in the Louvre is one of the better-known ones. See cat. Amsterdam 2001, pp. 69-70. The statue was obviously very popular in studios – when Millet went to Delaroche’s studio his first drawing was ‘a study after the Germaniucus’ (une étude d’après le Germanicus) according to Sensier 1881, p. 60. Van Gogh was already familiar with it through Charles Bargue’s Cours de dessin. Modèles d’après la bosse (‘Ensembles. Germanicus’), no. 69. Ill. 2173 [2173]. Van Gogh’s drawing of the Germanicus is not known.
6. Paul Mantz, ‘Paul Baudry’, Le Temps (26 January 1886): ‘As far as women are concerned, who are the ultimate difficulty in art and sometimes in life’ (Vis-à-vis des femmes, qui sont dans l’art et quelquefois dans la vie la difficulté supreme). This appreciation of Baudry’s life and work was written on the occasion of his death on 17 January 1886.
7. See for Zola’s L’oeuvre letter 552, n. 11. The extract from Zola’s L’oeuvre quoted by Van Gogh appeared in Gil Blas on 11 January 1886. This accords with letter 552, in which he wrote, ‘The other day I saw an excerpt from Zola’s new book for the first time’. In the passage in question, the painter Claude Lantier receives a visit from Christine, the girl to whom he had offered shelter in his studio two months previously. On that occasion, he sketched her portrait. They are pleased to see each other again and talk amicably together until she sees the painting he is working on and recognizes her own face in that of the nude female figure. She feels that her honour has been impugned, because it appears as though the painting shows not just her face but her naked body too, but she is shocked above all by the direct, rough painting. She goes immediately, leaving the painter baffled: ‘Anger seized him in its turn: an oath hurled into empty space, a dreadful shrugging of the shoulders, as if to rid himself of this idiotic preoccupation. Could you ever be sure, with women!’ (La colère le prenait à son tour, un juron jeté dans le vide, un terrible haussement d’épaules, comme pour se débarrasser de cette préoccupation imbécile. Est-ce qu’on savait jamais, avec les femmes!) See Zola 1960-1967, vol. 5, pp. 504-507 (citation on p. 507).
Van Gogh’s assumption that this is about Manet probably has to do with the description of the painting on which Lantier is working, which is very reminiscent of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe. In fact, Lantier was based on Paul Cézanne. Several other characters in the novel are based on real people, among them the writer Sandoz, in whom we can recognize Zola himself.