Van Gogh's relationship with food was complicated. Like his fellow Protestants, he equated virtue with abstinence from luxury. He often reduced food to its essence, "bread," which was pure nourishment or fuel. He often quoted the Biblical imperative: "In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat thy bread." Nevertheless, he realized that virtue could lead to excess. While studying in Antwerp during the winter of 1885, he complained to Theo about his self-imposed frugality. In Arles, he tried to restore his energy by improving his eating habits. Because he suffered from stomach problems, he tried to persuade restaurant owners to prepare special food for him, such as strong brew, but he met with little success. Once he found a new and better restaurant to have his meals, Van Gogh felt his health improve immensely. In the Saint-Rémy asylum, van Gogh felt that a good appetite and regular meals could help to improve his sanity in all respects. In the first days of September 1889, following a major attack, he started to eat his way back to sanity. Dr. Peyron and Dr. Gachet encouraged Vincent to eat heartily.
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (17 September 1875) ...
Your loving brother, Vincent
You are eating properly, aren't you? In particular eat
especially as much bread as you can. Sleep well, I must go and
polish my boots for tomorrow.
*The same is true of the feeling for art. Do not succumb...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (14 October 1875) ... and that of Icarus to fly to the
To my mind, there
is nothing wrong with having a reasonably
strong body, so make sure you feed yourself properly, and if
you feel very hungry sometimes, or rather, have a good
appetite, then eat well....
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (9 November 1875) ... time, I go to bed at an
equally good hour. Every
morning my worthy Englishman prepares
oatmeal - how I wish you could be here some morning.
I shall write more soon. Write again soon and about
everything. With a firm handshake, I am always...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (15 November 1875) ... take this
note yourself, won't you?
Every morning my dear
Englishman prepares oatmeal, his
father sent him 25 pounds of it. I wish you could taste it with
I am so glad that I met this boy. I have learned from him,
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (30 October 1877) ... Scotland and colouring them
(red and green). I thought
of those pickles which Uncle is so
fond of and which I have learned to like too. The soul of man
is singularly strange, and I think it is excellent to have one
- like a map of England,...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (1 November 1880) ... with misery, if I
had stayed a month longer. You must not imagine that I live
richly here, for my chief food is dry bread or some potatoes or
chestnuts which people sell here on the street corners, but by
having a somewhat better room and by occasionally...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (c. 12-16 January 1882) ... I also spend what is necessary for myself,
though living as
cheaply as possible. (I take my meals in the soup kitchen.) Yet
I hope you will not object to my going on.
But I repeat what I already said in my last letter, let me