My dear Theo,
Wanted to tell you that Verlat has seen my work at last, and when he saw the two landscapes and the still life that I brought with me from the country,1 he said — ‘yes, but that doesn’t concern me’ — when I showed him the two portraits,2 he said — that’s different, if it’s the figure you can come. So I’m going to begin tomorrow by starting work in the painting class at the academy.3 While I’ve moreover arranged with Vinck (a pupil of Leys’s by whom I saw things in the manner of Leys, medieval) to draw some plaster casts in the evening.4
I don’t think I can go wrong with either of these two things — and I can probably learn something there that could be useful to me, be it for painting, be it for drawing. And in any event it’s an attempt to get to know people. I saw in passing that there are several people of my age working in the painting class and in the drawing class. And certainly if I were to become a little friendly with Verlat or Vinck or whomever, it would save me money for models. Anyway — that’s mainly the practical side of the matter.  1v:2
I also have to go to two people with a view to portraits; I don’t know if anything will come of it.
One is a matter of making two portraits of a couple of very pretty girls — types with very dark eyes, dark hair — two sisters who, I imagine, are being kept.5
And the other is a portrait of a married woman. But I tell you, nothing is settled yet and it could fall through.
I do know, though, that if need be I’d be prepared to do them for nothing, just so that I can practise.
But, when you think that I’ll have to go and work either there or elsewhere at someone’s home etc., I’ll have to do something about my clothes, because I’ve been wearing mine for two years and they’ve suffered, particularly recently. If it were just a 40-franc suit, say, it would be good enough.
And if Verlat says that I have to purchase some painting gear or other, I also have to be prepared to do that too.  1v:3
Accordingly. Try, as I asked you, to send 50 francs, then I can get by till the end of the month and would buy myself a new pair of trousers and waistcoat at once, and the jacket in February.
It’s dreadfully cold here, and I often feel far from well, but anyway, as long as the painting’s going, that doesn’t really matter.
I’ve already drawn there 2 evenings, and I have to say that that I think it’s very good to draw plaster casts, particularly for doing peasant figures, for instance, but not, please, as it’s usually done! I actually find all the drawings I see there hopelessly bad — and fundamentally wrong. And I know that mine are totally different — time will just have to tell who’s right. Damn it, not one of them has any feeling for what a classical statue is.
I, who haven’t seen a good cast of a classical piece for years — and the ones they have here are very fine — and who have always had live models in front of me in those years — I’m astounded by  1r:4 the ancients’ immense knowledge and aptness of sentiment now that I really see it again.6 Anyway. All the same, it’s to be expected that the academic gentlemen will accuse me of heresy, but — so be it.
I’d like to make some progress with Verlat if I could. I find much of what he does both hard and wrong in colour, and — paint — but I know that he also has his good days. That, for instance, he paints a better portrait than most of the others. And so we’ll see. I continue to feel cheerful in spite of everything, precisely because it does me good to be in all sorts of circumstances so unlike the country, and it could well be that I found myself at home here.
Anyway. But do your best to write to me soon, and it’s really necessary that I have that extra 50 francs for the month. I won’t manage otherwise, and things are too urgent.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 556 | CL: 445
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Antwerp, Tuesday, 19 or Wednesday, 20 January 1886

1. The paintings Van Gogh brought with him from Nuenen were an unknown ‘mill’, Avenue of poplars (F 45 / JH 959 [2538]) and Still life with Bible (F 117 / JH 946 [2535]). See letter 542, nn. 3-5.
[2538] [2535]
2. One of the portraits was probably Head of an old man (F 205 / JH 971 [2541]). The second portrait may have been one of the portraits of women referred to in letter 550. Cf. letter 552, n. 9.
3. Van Gogh had enrolled at the Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten on Monday, 18 January. The Certificate of Registration only refers to his enrolment in the evening ‘Classical Statues’ drawing class (FR b1495; illustrated in cat. Amsterdam 2001, p. 14, ill. 5). There is no record of his having attended the ‘Figure’ painting class that Verlat taught during the day, but that course was virtually at an end anyway, as we learn from letter 555 (Antwerp, Bibliotheek Koninklijke Academie, Register 1885-1891, inv. no. 289). His fellow student Victor Hageman recounted his recollections of Van Gogh’s arrival at the Academy to the biographer Louis Piérard; Van Gogh burst into the Academy like a bomb, and his clothes – a blue stockman’s smock and a fur cap – and his furious manner of painting and drawing caused a sensation. See Louis Piérard, ‘Van Gogh à Anvers’, Les Marges 13 (1914), pp. 47-53 and Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 3, pp. 159-162.
4. The history painter Frans Kasper Huibrecht Vinck studied with Henri Leys around 1866 and was very much influenced by him. He was an instructor at the Academy, associated with at least the grade three course, of which the subject ‘Shaded drawing of ornaments of different styles and of the bust’ (‘Dessin ombré d’ornements de différents style et de buste’) was a part. The Jaarlijksch Verslag lists E. Dujardin as the teacher for these drawing lessons, but it can be inferred from letter 555 that Van Gogh had spoken to Vinck himself. See Koninklijke Academie der Schoone Kunsten te Antwerpen. Academisch Jaar 1885-1886. Jaarlijksch Verslag. Antwerp 1886, and cat. Amsterdam 2001, p. 13 (n. 22).
5. These two women were discussed in letter 550.
6. This passage may have been prompted in part by reading ‘Sur une Vénus’ by Guy de Maupassant in the most recent Gil Blas, that of 12 January 1886 (we know from letter 552 that Van Gogh read this magazine). In it Maupassant wrote lyrically about the Syracuse Venus (3rd century BC.), with her voluptuous curves: ‘Never has the human form seemed more wonderful yet more disturbing to me … It is at the same time a symbol and the faithful expression of a reality … It is a woman’s body which expresses all the true poetry of a caress’ (Jamais la forme humaine ne m’est apparue plus admirable et plus troublante ... Elle est en même temps un symbole et l’expression exacte d’une réalité ... C’est un corps de femme qui exprime toute la poésie réelle de la caresse). See also letter 557, n. 10, and Sund 1992, pp. 150-152, where the classical statue and Maupassant’s response to it are linked to some of Van Gogh’s drawings of this period.