Brussels, Feb. 1881
Dear Pa and Ma,
I received your letter and was glad to have it, for I had already been looking forward to it, especially because of Pa’s indisposition.1 It’s fortunate that he’s starting to get better.
Things continue to go quite well with my work, although it’s still imperfect and must improve a lot. I found a very good illustration of a skeleton in that painter’s2 studio. Because such things are fairly difficult to find, I asked him whether he’d give it to me for a day or two in order to copy it. At first he objected, probably because he thought that I wouldn’t be able to do it or that it would take me too long, but I insisted on having it and he allowed me to. That was last Sunday afternoon, and as soon as I got home I started on it, and on Monday evening it was finished, and to his surprise I brought it back to him on Tuesday morning already and he thought my drawing good, and in fact it isn’t that bad.3 I’ll profit even more from that man if only he has the time, he’s well informed on some points, especially perspective, and I can anyhow learn a lot from him.
Now I must tell you about something else I’ve done. As I told you in a letter, I bought a pair of trousers and a jacket second-hand about a month ago. It turned out so well that I bought another jacket and another pair of trousers from the same man. I was of course more or less provided for by the first one, but having two suits is actually better and they don’t wear out so fast, because one can alternate between them. I herewith send you a sample of the material. And I also needed to supplement my underclothes with 3 pairs of underwear for which I paid 2.75 francs apiece, and I also bought a pair of shoes for 4 francs. I really did have to buy a few things.
1v:2 These few things have made a noticeable hole in what was sent for this month, and I’ll have to tighten my belt rather, especially because I paid the painter 5 francs in advance for the lessons.
Don’t be concerned about these expenses, though, and don’t suspect me of recklessness, for in fact the opposite is sooner my failing, and if I could spend more I’d easily progress and make headway more quickly.
If you could send me some more this month4 without inconveniencing yourselves, I’d like to ask it of you after all.
But if you can’t, there’s no immediate hurry, because I mentioned to my landlord5 that I might find it hard to manage this month, and it’s all right with him if I pay him when it suits me, because by now he’s known me long enough not to demand absolutely that I pay in advance, at least not a whole month in advance.
As regards that other suit, I have another objective apart from wearing it myself for as long as possible, for the fact is that when it’s a bit older it will serve me in another way. You see, I’ll gradually need a small collection of work-clothes with which to dress the models for my drawings.
The blue smock of Brabant, for example, the grey linen suit that the miners wear and their leather hat, also a straw hat and clogs, a fisherman’s costume of brown fustian6 and a sou’wester. And most definitely the clothing made of that kind of black or brown velvet that’s very picturesque and characteristic — furthermore, a red doublet7 or vest.
1v:3 Likewise a couple of women’s costumes, such as that of Kempen8 and the area of Antwerp with the Brabantian cap and that of Blankenberge,9 for example, or Scheveningen or Katwijk.
However, it’s by no means my plan to buy all of this at once, but most certainly to gather this and that gradually, piece by piece, when the opportunity arises. And because one can obtain these clothes second-hand, it’s not wholly unattainable.
And all of this can get well and truly underway only when I have some kind of studio somewhere permanent.
This is the only true way to succeed, by drawing from a model with the necessary costumes. Only if I pursue drawing this thoroughly and seriously, always seeking to portray reality, shall I succeed, and then, despite the inevitable expenses, a living can be made out of it. Because a good draughtsman can certainly find work nowadays, and there’s a great demand for such individuals and there are positions to be had that pay very well. So the thing is to try and become as good at it as possible.
In Paris there are many draughtsmen who earn 10 or 15 francs a day, and in London and elsewhere just as much or even more, but one can’t achieve this all at once and I am by no means that far, but it could well come to that if I’m a little blessed and come again into contact with people like Mr Tersteeg and Theo and, more specifically, with good painters and draughtsmen. But only on the condition that a great deal of work and study be done.
It won’t surprise you if I tell you that I’m extraordinarily eager to know what Theo’s proposal could possibly be, or perhaps to hear something from Mr Tersteeg.
Because one way or another I must know anyway sometime in the month of March
1r:4 where I stand and how and where I’ll be able to work during the spring and summer months.
And should I gradually begin to earn some money, that wouldn’t be disagreeable at all, even though the main thing is that I progress and become better at drawing. Then much will fall into place later on, whether it takes a long time or not.
Models are expensive, relatively expensive at any rate, and if I could pay them and use them often I’d be able to work much better. But a studio then becomes indispensable. And people like Mr Tersteeg and Theo and others know this very well. Anyway, I’ll have to wait until they write about one thing and another, and meanwhile do what I can.
Made a drawing of miners in the snow that’s a little better than the one from last winter,10 it has more character and effect.
Am also collecting wood engravings again in the manner of those scrapbooks that Theo and Willemien used to have. For if I have that a bit more complete I may well profit by it, for it could very well be that one day I’ll do work for wood engravings.11
I want you to know that those clothes I bought are well cut and look better on me than anything else I can remember. I tell you this because you might think they were tawdry or out of the ordinary. This material is worn often, especially in the studios.12
And now I’ll close, after sending my regards to everyone and after congratulating you on Anna’s birthday,13 and believe me
At the moment that painter with whom I now take lessons is making a very good painting of a Blankenberge fisherman, among other things.