After arriving in The Hague in late 1881 after an argument with his father, Vincent found a studio at Schenkweg 138 within a week. The building was soon too small for him, however, because he became involved with the pregnant prostitute Clasina Maria “Sien” Hoornik (1850–1904) and the couple decided to live together. The apartment was also run-down. Vincent therefore made plans to move to the adjacent building at Schenkweg 136.
On 1 May 1882, he wrote to his brother Theo:
“The studio is larger than mine, the light very good. There’s an attic, completely panelled over, so that one doesn’t see the roof tiles. Extremely large, where one can partition off as many rooms as one likes (and I have the planks to do it). Rent 12.50 guilders a month, a strong, well-built house, but it won’t bring in any more, because it’s ‘only in Schenkweg’ and the rich people the owner had hoped for won’t come here. I’d like it very much, and the owner would like to have me rent it; he spoke to me about it first and then I went to see it.’’
As a beginning artist, Vincent depended financially on his brother, and he needed Theo’s approval to rent the apartment next door, which cost 5.50 guilders more per month than the one at number 138. Vincent saw the new studio’s availability as a fortunate opportunity, and he pressed his brother for a reply:
Theo increased his monthly payments to Vincent to 150 francs (about 75 guilders). In July, Vincent, who had just come out of hospital, managed to move all his possessions with his new landlord’s help, and he was able to take a satisfied look around his new home:
“The studio looks so authentic, it seems to me: plain, grey-brown wallpaper, scrubbed floorboards, muslin fixed to laths in front of the windows, everything bright. And of course the studies on the wall, an easel on each side, and a big pine-wood work-table. Adjoining the studio is a sort of alcove where the drawing boards, portfolios, boxes, sticks, &c. are, and also where all the prints lie. And in the corner a cupboard with all the little pots and bottles, and also all my books. Then the little living room with a table, some kitchen chairs, a paraffin stove, a big wicker armchair for the woman in the little corner by the window overlooking the yard and meadows familiar to you from the drawing, and next to it a small iron cradle with a green coverlet.”
In spite of his brother’s monthly payments, it is likely that Vincent occasionally still paid his rent with a drawing, having run out of money.
Work in the studio went well. Vincent drew life studies, views from the window, city scenes and larger, more detailed works. His most willing model was his girlfriend, Sien, who always had the patience to sit for Vincent and was able to handle his peevish moods. The studio’s only drawback was that Vincent had difficulty controlling the light. This caused him particular trouble when drawing from life. People who had looked fine in an alleyway, say, often looked less attractive the moment they entered the studio, to Vincent’s chagrin. In early 1883, he came up with a clever system of four shutters with canvas stretched over them, which could be opened and closed separately. The shutters allowed him to adjust the amount of light striking his model from above and below.
Vincent continued to live and work in the second studio on Schenkweg until the end of his time in The Hague (11 September 1883).