Vincent van Gogh - Plaster Statuette of a Female Torso 1887-1888

Plaster Statuette of a Female Torso 1887-1888
Plaster Statuette of a Female Torso
Oil on canvas 73.0 x 54.0 cm. Paris: Winter, 1887-1888
Private collection

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Thursday, 9 October 1884.
My dear Theo,
Here are the two photographs of the weavers. Next week I hope to send you two subjects from the decorations for Hermans.
You know well enough that your criticism, at least over the last 1 1/2 years, appears to me to be just a sort of vitriol. Don’t think that I don’t know that against that vitriol one must furnish oneself with a sort of hide that it can’t easily penetrate, and that if one is hardened to it, it doesn’t trouble one much — so — what do I care?
I also believe, moreover, that you mean well. So what more do you want?
I continue just to say this, that I maintain that it’s absolutely not only my fault if the money you give me produces a poor return not only for you, but also a poor return for me. The former, that it produces a poor return for you, saddens me more than the latter, that it also produces a poor return for me.
It can get better, you’ll say — yes, but then not only I, but also you, will have to change a great deal.
I wanted to let you know that in the winter, perhaps as early as next month, I’m going away from here for a while — I’ve thought about Antwerp — I’ve thought about The Hague. But in the last few days I’ve thought of something that’s possibly even better.
First of all, I want in any event to have a bit of city life, a bit of a change of scene, since I’ve been either in Drenthe or here in Nuenen for a full year and more. And I believe that this will be a beneficial change for me in general, for my mood, which hasn’t been nor could be as cheerful as I’d like, particularly recently.
Now look here — Stracké the sculptor lives in Den Bosch, he’s also the principal of a drawing academy there — I saw a terracotta by a pupil of his, and heard on that occasion that Stracké is definitely not ill-disposed or indifferent to anyone in this area who does something in art. That he has various models for the academy in Den Bosch, and that there are people he gives the opportunity to draw the nude or to model in clay. One probably has to pay the model oneself, though, but that’s not so very expensive, and moreover one has a good classroom for which one does not pay.

I’ll find out more about this, and then it’s not impossible that I might go to Stracké in the way that Breitner went to Cormon, say. This would be in the area and would also work out the cheapest.
I’ve bought a very fine work on anatomy, Anatomy for artists by John Marshall, which was expensive but which will also be of use to me all my life because it’s very good. What’s more, I also have what they use at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and what they use in Antwerp.
Things like that make large holes in my pocket, though. I tell you this solely to make you understand, for heaven’s sake, that if I haven’t paid Pa and Ma for being here at home it isn’t because I don’t want to pay but because I’ve incurred many expenses that for my part I simply don’t consider unnecessary.
The key to many things is a thorough knowledge of the human body, but it definitely costs money to learn it. And I think moreover that colour, that chiaroscuro, that perspective, that tone, that drawing, everything in short — certainly also have fixed laws that one must and can study like chemistry or algebra.
This is by no means the easiest view of things, and anyone who says — oh, it must all come naturally — is making light of it.
If that were enough — — But it’s not enough, because however much one knows instinctively, it’s precisely then that one must redouble one’s efforts, in my view, to get from instinct to REASON.
You mustn’t imagine that I earned anything from that work for Hermans — the first day I got two invoices for the stretchers, canvases and a number of tubes of paint that amounted to more than I’d received from him to pay them straightaway. I told him that I didn’t want to leave those bills outstanding, and did he want to put them in his name or would he give me something in advance. Oh no, he said, just leave them, they don´t have to be paid straightaway. I said — yes, they do, they have to be paid straightaway. Then he gave me 25 guilders.
Then I had all my expenses for models (not counting my time, effort &c.), but since then I haven’t seen any more money from him, which I also haven’t asked for. On the contrary — because he liked my work from first to last, if need be I consider I’ve already been paid. Since, moreover, the canvases remain my property and it’s up to me what I spend on them. But enough, since those strainers, canvases &c. I’ve certainly had 20 guilders in expenses, perhaps even more, but haven’t even got it back yet. Only the man is happy, and pleased with me. Then is it a good policy to ask for money? To my mind, precisely WHEN PEOPLE ARE HAPPY, one should take care to reduce one’s price rather than raise it.
Particularly when, after all, the sum isn’t such that receiving it or not makes a great deal of difference. If I get by, perhaps I’ll do it precisely by working more cheaply than others and by making it easier for the art lovers.
Well, Hermans is very good and a man to keep in with, and he’s certainly rich — but — has always been tight-fisted rather than generous. Something very different from an actual miser, but all the same — I’m earning less (a whole lot less) than nothing.
But having noticed this, I’m very amicable and obliging towards him. I have a very pleasant, congenial friend in him, and it’s certainly striking to see a man of 60 doing his best to learn to paint with the same freshness of enthusiasm as if he were 20. What he does isn’t beautiful, but he works hard and has already copied 4 of my 6 with a different sentiment, and his has something medieval, something of Peasant Bruegel about it. You once said to me that I would always be isolated. I don’t believe it — you’re decidedly mistaken in my character. And for my part I have absolutely no intention of becoming less passionate in ideas or in life than I am. By no means — if I meet with a rebuff, even if I’m often mistaken — often wrong — that — it’s all very well as far as it goes — fundamentally, though, I’m not wrong.
It’s neither the best paintings nor the best people — in which there are no errors or bias. And again, although these may seem to be toothless times, they aren’t really.
I also definitely deny that my assertion that certain parties are just as strongly opposed to each other in 84 as they were in 48 is exaggerated.
It’s something other than that ditch of yours, that I assure you — I’m speaking here of the parties, rather than specifically of you and me — but you and I also belong somewhere, stand either on the right or on the left, don’t we, whether or not we’re aware of it. For my part, I always have a bias — then, if you will and if you think you can do it, it’s up to you to stand neither on the right nor on the left — I take the liberty of doubting most strongly the feasibility of doing so.
And above all the practical use. I’ve had a relatively good letter from Utrecht, that she’s recovered to the extent that she can go to The Hague for a while, where she has to be for business. But I’m still far from easy about it. The tone of her letters is much more self-confident, much more correct and less prejudiced than when I first knew her. Something also of the complaint of a bird whose nest has been robbed — she isn’t as angry about society as I am, perhaps, but nonetheless she does see in it the ‘naughty boys who rob nests’ — and who take pleasure in it and laugh.

Pa will not accept the call, that’s certain.
But a piece of news these days is that the minister in Helvoirt has died and so the parish is vacant. I consider it very likely that now they’d want to have Pa back there again, and at least the family in Helvoirt will sound Pa out about it. But since it was only the day before yesterday that the good minister dropped dead, I know nothing more about whether or not they’ll call Pa. But would think it very likely.
Listen, about what I call a barricade and you a little ditch, there’s simply an old society that to my mind is going under through its own fault — there’s a new society that has come into being and grown, and will go on.
In short, there is what emanates from revolutionary and what emanates from anti-revolutionary principles.
Now I ask you whether you yourself haven’t often noted that the policy of hovering between the old and the new isn’t tenable. Just think about that.
Sooner or later it ends with one openly standing either on the right or on the left.
It isn’t a little ditch. And once more, then it was 48, now it’s 84 — then there was a barricade of paving-stones — now not of paving-stones, but a barricade as regards the irreconcilability of old and new — oh, that is still there, as much, certainly, in 84 as in 48.
Yours truly,