My dear Theo,
I tore up a letter that I wrote to you first, and that’s why you’re receiving my reply a little later. I’ll start by thanking you for the 50 francs.
Which I appreciate as, for that matter, I do everything you do for me. But as I started to say, your letter disappoints me since you don’t accede to my request, because I still continue to believe so strongly that the reasons which I gave you in my last letter for preferring to come even sooner were justified. But since I don’t want to argue about that, after all, I just wanted to ask you to reconsider it again.
With a view to Cormon, it’s decidedly better for me to go on drawing plaster casts rather than working outdoors, because the more I have the structure of the figure in my head, the better I’ll be able to follow. I’ll be dealing with fellows who’ve been drawing plaster casts for years; if I do it for months, it’s not too much.
Because I’ve always worked from nature, I may perhaps be more daring than many others in dashing things off and tackling a group of things. But the others will most likely have more knowledge of the nude, for which I haven’t had so much opportunity. If I make up for that — the sooner the better — the more benefit I’ll get from Cormon. Moreover, my health — when I paint outdoors I don’t eat — and I won’t overcome it.
For I keep relapsing; my constitution is still far from strong.
And now as regards the cost, I believe it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.
So think it over carefully again.
We must act, because we have to put our backs into it.
While I’ve been here — all this time — I’ve had a comrade, an old Frenchman. I’ve painted his portrait, which Verlat liked1 and which you will see.
The winter was even harder for him than for me, and the poor devil is in a much worse state than I am, since his age makes it very critical.
Today I went with him to the same doctor I went to myself,2 and he’ll probably have to go into hospital and undergo an operation, which will be decided tomorrow. I eventually got him to that point, but he was dreading it so much that it took a long time before I could persuade him to go and hear the verdict. He knew that it was likely to be something quite serious and dared not entrust himself to the hospital doctor. I’m curious as to what will be decided. It’s possible I may stay here a few days longer in March for his sake.
After all, there’s nothing in the world as interesting as people, and one is never done with studying them. And that’s why people like Turgenev are great masters, because they learn to look at a person.
The books of the present, since Balzac, say, are unlike anything written in other centuries — and better perhaps.
I’m really looking forward to Turgenev just now because I’ve read a piece about him by Daudet in which both the man himself as a character and his work were analyzed — extremely good.3 For he’s an example as a person, and in his old age he was still young as regards continuing to work, as regards always being dissatisfied with himself, and trying to do it better and better all the time.
Regards — but do think about it again carefully; it would greatly reassure me if you could see the matter as I do.
And I wouldn’t insist on it like this if I didn’t think it was necessary, with a view to June, specifically, for me to go on drawing plaster casts at once.4
Anyway, write to me soon. For my own pleasure I’d rather paint something else, but as far as practical use is concerned, it’s unavoidable. With a handshake.
It’s precisely because I think, after all, that I’ve derived benefit from coming to Antwerp that I believe we should go straight on.