My dear Mr Livens,
Since I am here in Paris I have very often thought of your self and work.1 You will remember that I liked your colour, your ideas on art and litterature and I add, most of all, your personality.
I have already before now thought that I ought to let you know what I was doing, where I was.
But what refrained me was that I find living in Paris is much dearer than in Antwerp and not knowing what your circumstances are I dare not say Come over to Paris, without warning you that it costs one dearer than Antwerp and that if poor, one has to suffer many things. As you may imagine. But on the other hand there is more chance of selling.
There is also a good chance of exchanging pictures with other artists.
In one word, with much energy, with a sincere personal feeling of colour in nature I would say an artist can get on here notwithstanding the many obstructions. And I intend remaining here still longer.  1v:2
There is much to be seen here – for instance Delacroix to name only one master.
In Antwerp I did not even know what the Impressionists were, now I have seen them2 and though not being one of the club, yet I have much admired certain Impressionist pictures – degas, nude figure – Claude Monet, landscape.3
And now for what regards what I myself have been doing, I have lacked money for paying models, else I had entirely given myself to figure painting but I have made a series of colour studies in painting simply flowers,4 red poppies, blue corn flowers and myosotys. White and rose roses, yellow chrysantemums – seeking oppositions of blue with orange, red and green, yellow and violet, seeking THE BROKEN AND NEUTRAL TONESa to harmonise brutal extremes.  1v:3
Trying to render intense COLOUR and not a grey harmony.5
Now after these gymnastics6 I lately did two heads7 which I dare say are better in light and colour than those I did before.
So as we said at the time in COLOUR seeking life, the true drawing is modelling with colour.
I did a dozen landscapes too, frankly green, frankly blue.8
And so I am struggling for life and progress in art.
Now I would very much like to know what you are doing and whether you ever think of going to Paris.
If ever you did come here, write to me before and I will, if you like, share my lodgings and studio9 with you so long as I have any. In spring – say February or even sooner – I may be going to the south of France,10 the land of the blue tones and gay colours.  1r:4
And look here, if I knew you had longings for the same we might combine. I felt sure at the time that you are a thorough colourist and since I saw the Impressionists I assure you that neither your colour nor mine as it is developping itself, is exactly the same as their theories but so much dare I say, we have a chance and a good one of finding friends.
I hope your health is all right. I was rather low down in health when in Antwerp but got better here.
Write to me, in any case remember me to Allan, Briët, Rink, Durand,11 but I have not so often thought on any of them as I did think of you – almost daily.
Shaking hands cordially.

Yours truly,

My present adress is

Mr Vincent van Gogh
54 Rue Lepic

What regards my chances of sale, look here, they are certainly not much but still I do have a beginning.
At this present moment I have found four dealers who have exhibited studies of mine.12 And I have exchanged studies with several artists.13
Now the prices are 50 francs. Certainly not much but – as far as I can see one must sell cheap to rise, and even at costing price. And mind my dear fellow, Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be here and if it became worse and harder even – the french air clears up the brain and does one good – a world of good.
I have been in Cormons studio for three or four months but did not find that as useful as I had expected it to be.14 It may be my fault however, any how I left there too as I left Antwerp and since I worked alone, and fancy that since I feel my own self more.  2v:6
Trade is slow here, the great dealers sell Millet, Delacroix, Corot, Daubigny, Dupré, a few other masters at exorbitant prices. They do little or nothing for young artists. The second class dealers contrariwise sell those but at very low prices. If I asked more I would do nothing, I fancy. However I have faith in colour, even what regards the price the public will pay for it in the longer run.
But for the present things are awfully hard, therefore let anyone who risks to go over here consider there is no laying on roses at all.
What is to be gained is progress and, what the deuce, that it is to be found here I dare ascertain. Anyone who has a solid position elsewhere, let him stay where he is but for adventurers as myself I think they lose nothing in risking more. Especially as in my case I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate and feeling nowhere so much myself a stranger as in my family and country.
Kindly remember me to your landlady Mrs Roosmaelen15 and say her that if she will exhibit something of my work I will send her a small picture of mine.


Br. 1990: 572 | CL: 459a
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Horace Mann Livens
Date: Paris, September or October 1886

1. The Englishman Horace Mann Livens went to study at the Antwerp Academy in 1885, when he was twenty-three. During the time that Van Gogh was living and studying there Livens took the winter courses ‘Life’ en ‘Antique statues’. See Antwerp, Bibliotheek Koninklijke Academie, Register 1885-1891, inv. no. 289. Livens painted a small watercolour portrait of Van Gogh that was to appear in the magazine Van Nu en Straks (1893).
2. The main exhibitions of Impressionist works during Van Gogh’s stay in Paris up to this point were the VIIIe exposition de peinture, the last group exhibition of the impressionists (15 May - 15 June 1886), the Ve exposition internationale de peinture at Georges Petit (15 June - 15 July 1886) and the IIe exposition de la Société des Artistes Indépendants (20 August - 21 September 1886). See Rewald 1978, p. 12 and Welsh-Ovcharov 1976, pp. 218-219.
Before he went to Paris, Van Gogh was reliant for his understanding of Impressionism on information he got from Theo; he had not then seen it for himself. By now, though, he knew exactly what it was about. Henceforth he uses the term Impressionism in the letters in a very general sense for all forms of modern art. He uses it to refer not only to ‘traditional’ Impressionism, but also to what would now be described as ‘Neo-Impressionism’, ‘Synthetism’, ‘Cloisonnism’ etc.
3. Here ‘nude figure’ and ‘landscape’ could be understood as references to genres, but Van Gogh could also have had specific works by Degas and Monet in mind. Theo handled Monet’s work from 1885 onwards, and he could have brought Vincent into contact with it. Vincent may also have been to the Ve exposition internationale de peinture at Georges Petit’s gallery, where there were 13 recent paintings by Monet – at any rate there were ten landscapes among them. See Wildenstein 1996, cat. nos. 889, 893, 994, 1032?, 1044, 1053, 1054, 1065, 1067, 1070.
There were seven Degas nudes in pastel at the VIIIe exposition de peinture, including Woman getting up (Princeton, Princeton University Art Museum, The Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, Inc.). Ill. 59 [59]. See for the identification of the other pastels: Richard Thomson, Degas. The nudes. London 1988, pp. 130-132.
4. It is not possible to identify the works he refers to here. See also letter 568, n. 9. Theo wrote to their mother about these flower still lifes in June-July 1886 (FR b942). See Documentation, June-July 1886.
a. Van Gogh wrote in French ‘LES TONS ROMPUS ET NEUTRES’.
5. Van Gogh is thus saying that he favours intensification over subtlety; see for the term ‘harmonist’, which occurs in Baudelaire: letter 536, n. 18.
6. Cf. the ‘gymnastics of coloured composition’ (gymnastique de composition colorée) which Bracquemond discusses in Du dessin et de la couleur: letter 536, n. 22.
7. It is not possible to say with certainty which ‘two heads’ are meant here, but they could be Self-portrait as a painter (F 181 / JH 1090) and Self-portrait with pipe (F 180 / JH 1194).
[647] [648]
8. For ‘frankly’ read ‘really’. It is not possible to say exactly which landscapes he means here; ‘a dozen’ does not have to be taken literally. For a suggested identification, see Van Tilborgh 2007, p. 70, n. 31, and Louis van Tilborgh and Ella Hendriks, ‘Dirk Hannema and the rediscovery of a painting by Vincent van Gogh’, The Burlington Magazine, June 2010, p. 403, n. 87. Cf. also Date.
9. At the beginning of June 1886 the Van Gogh brothers had moved from 25 rue Laval to a larger apartment at 54 rue Lepic, likewise in Montmartre. Vincent had his own studio there. Theo wrote to Caroline van Stockum-Haanebeek about this apartment on 10 July 1887: ‘As you may know, I am living with my brother Vincent, who is studying painting with indefatigable diligence. Since he needs quite a lot of space for his work, we are living in quite a large apartment in Montmartre (rue Lepic 54) which, as you know, is a suburb of Paris built up against a hill. The remarkable thing about our flat is that from the windows we have a magnificent view across the city with the hills of Meudon, St-Cloud etc. on the horizon, and a piece of sky above it that is almost as big as when one stands on the dunes. With the different effects created by the variations in the sky it is a subject for I don’t know how many paintings’ (FR b727).
10. Van Gogh did not go to Arles until February 1888, but the fact that he was already toying with the idea of going to the south in the winter of 1886-1887 is confirmed by a letter from Theo to his mother written on 28 February 1887: ‘Things are going along the same as ever here; I obviously didn’t express myself clearly, for you seem to think that Vincent has gone. That’s not the case; he’s still here and doesn’t seem to be planning to go away in the spring as he had originally planned to do. He has painted a couple of portraits that turned out well, but he always does it for nothing. It’s a shame that he doesn’t have any desire to start earning, because if he wanted to he could do it here; but one can’t change a person’ (FR b906).
11. Henry Allan, Arthur Henri Christiaan Briët, Paulus Philippus Rink and Ernest Durand were fellow students at the academy in Antwerp. According to the files of the Koninklijke Academie, the first three took the ‘Life’ course in the winter of 1885-1886, Durand took the ‘Antique Statues’ course. Livens was enrolled for both classes, Van Gogh only for the latter (Antwerp, Bibliotheek Koninklijke Academie. Register 1885-1891, inv. no. 289). While Van Gogh was in Antwerp, Briët was living at number 20 Korte Beeldekensstraat, in other words just around the corner from him.
12. From letter 718 it emerges that Van Gogh exhibited work at the paint merchant Julien Tanguy’s shop and with the art dealers Pierre Firmin Martin and Georges Thomas. We do not know who the fourth dealer was; it may have been the courtier dealer Alphonse Portier, who lived in the same building as Theo and Vincent. See Welsh-Ovcharov 1976, p. 20 and exhib. cat. Paris 1988, pp. 338-343.
13. The works acquired through exchanges up to this point probably included Frank Myers Boggs, Honfleur harbour (with the dedication ‘à l’ami Vincent’) and Coal barges on the Thames (with the dedication ‘A son ami Vincent’); Cristóbal de Antonio, Portrait of a young woman (with the dedication ‘A mon ami Vincent’), John Peter Russell, Seated female nude, and Vincent van Gogh [1310] (inscribed ‘Amitié’), and Fabian, View from Montmartre (all Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). We do not know whether all these artists also had works by Van Gogh, but we do know that Russell had Shoes (F 332 / JH 1234). See cat. Amsterdam 2011 for the works that Van Gogh may have exchanged.
[650] [1310] [654] [655]
14. The period (or periods) when Van Gogh worked at Cormon’s studio has been the subject of debate. We agree with Van Tilborgh, who argued that this must have been in the months immediately after Van Gogh’s arrival in Paris (early March to early June 1886). See – also for a summary of previous points of view and of literature: Van Tilborgh 2007. The studio was at 104 boulevard de Clichy, in the 18th arrondissement (see Destremau 1997).
15. Isabella Adriana de Duerwaerder, the widow of Theodor Jacques van Roosmaelen, lived at 25 Mutsaardstraat (district 2) in Antwerp and was a ‘shopkeeper in artists’ materials’. Various English and Scottish students at the Antwerp Academy were registered as lodging at this address in the 1880-1893 period. On 6 March 1893, Mrs van Roosmaelen moved to number 16 Blindenstraat in Antwerp, near the entrance to the Academy. See SAA, Civil registration and Alick P.F. Ritchie, ‘L’Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts d’Anvers’, The Studio 1 (1893), pp. 141-142.