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The weeks pass quickly and it is Sunday again.
I have often been to Scheveningen these last few days, and
one evening I just hit that curious moment when a fishing smack
was coming in. Near the monument is a little wooden shed in
which a man sits on the lookout. As soon as the boat came in
sight, the fellow appeared with a large blue flag, followed by
a crowd of little children who just reached his knees. It was
apparently a great pleasure for them to stand near the man with
the flag, and I suppose they fancied they were helping the
fishing smack come in. A few minutes after the man had waved
his flag, a fellow on an old horse arrived who had to go and
get the anchor.
Then the group was joined by several men and women -
including mothers with children - to welcome the crew. When the
boat was near enough, the man on horseback went into the water
and came back with the anchor.
Then the men were carried ashore on the backs of men wearing
high wading boots, and there was a great cheer of welcome at
each new arrival. When they were all ashore, the whole troop
marched home like a flock of sheep or like a caravan, with the
man on the camel - I mean the man on the horse - towering over
them like a tall spectre.
Of course I tried to sketch the various incidents most
carefully. I have also painted part of it, namely, the group of
which I enclose a little sketch.
Then I painted another study of a marine, nothing but a bit
of sand, sea, sky - grey and lonely. I sometimes long for that
quiet, where there is nothing but the gray sea - with a
solitary sea bird - except for that, no voice other than the
roaring of the waves. It is a refreshing change from the noisy
bustle of the Geest or the potato market.
For the rest, this week I have been working on sketches for
I also carried the large one of the bench out further,
and then I made a sketch of women in the hospital
garden, and part of the Geest.
You can see from the enclosed sketch what I want to make -
groups of people who are in action some way or another. But how
difficult it is to bring life and movement into it and to put
the figures in their places, yet separate from each other. It
is that great problem, moutonner: groups of
figures form one whole, but in it the head or shoulders of one
rise above those of another; in the foreground the legs of the
first figures standout strongly, and somewhat higher the skirts
and trousers form a kind of confusion in which the lines are
still quite visible. Then to the right or the left, according
to the point of view, the greater or lesser extension or
shortening of the sides. As to composition, all possible scenes
with figures - either a market or the arrival of a boat, a
group of people in line at the soup kitchen, in the waiting
room of the station, the hospital, the pawnshop... groups
talking in the street or walking around - are based on that
same principle of the flock of sheep, from which the word
moutonner is surely derived, and it all depends on the
same problems of light and brown and perspective. There is the
same effect of the chestnut trees here as you describe in your
last letter, as you will have seen from the drawing of the
little bench; only here very little of the new green leaves is
still visible, though some time ago I also noticed it, but here
they are withered by the many gales.
Soon the leaves will really start to fall here, and then
especially I hope to paint many studies of the wood and also of
the beach, for though there are no effects of autumn leaves
there, the peculiar light of autumn evenings has its own
effect, and it is twice as beautiful there during this time of
the year, as it is everywhere.
Am rather short of colours and other things, but you know
how it is - I can vary my work in different ways, and there are
always so many things to draw. For the group of figures in the
enclosed sketch varies infinitely and requires innumerable
separate studies and sketches of each figure, which one must
catch quickly in the street. In this way it gradually gets
character and vigour. Recently I made a study of ladies and
gentlemen on the beach, a hustling crowd of people.
Sooner or later, after some more study, I should love to do
drawings for illustrations. Perhaps one thing will result from
the other. The main thing is to continue working.
I certainly hope you are well, and that you will write me
about yourself and the things which strike you in your
surroundings. Adieu, with a handshake,
I am so afraid that you are in great embarrassment because
of the occurrence you wrote me about, and I hope things will
You see from the little sketch that I have started the thing
I mentioned in my last letter, namely, regularly sketching the
scenes of working people, of fishermen, which strike me -
either drawing or painting them; and these are the very things
which, with some practice, might serve as illustrations, I
Of course the characters must be much more vigorously
executed for that purpose.
I made about ten different sketches of the fishing smack's
arrival, also of the weighing of the anchor which I sent you in
my last letter.
[Sketch of People on Beach with Fishing Boat, JH 205,
enclosed in letter]
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 17 September 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 231.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.