Now it is some days since I started looking through the
If I were to write you about all that is beautiful in them,
and if my description were not to be too superficial, I should
really have to write a tome. I cannot refrain, however, from
mentioning just a few sheets that are absolutely “hors
Take, for instance, Frank Hol's “The Foundling.”
It represents some policemen in their waterproof capes who have
picked up a baby exposed among the beams and planks of the
Thames Embankment. Some inquisitive people are looking on, and
in the background one sees the grey silhouette of the town
through the mist. Then, also by him, there is a burial - some
people entering a churchyard - beautiful of sentiment; he calls
this sheet “I am the Resurrection and the
There is another burial by Nash, but this time on shipboard.
One sees the corpse near the railing, the sailors are standing
by, and the captain is reading the liturgy.
You know Hol's “Third Class Waiting Room” from a
small reproduction of it that I sent you last summer, but the
Graphic contains the large one - infinitely more beautiful.
I have been interested before now in the work of C. Green,
but I had no idea that he could do such splendid things as, for
instance, “A Bench in the Hospital,” patients
waiting for the doctor. By the same, “A Quay at
Liverpool” and “Land once More,” passengers
coming ashore, and “Here They Come,” spectators at
the Derby races (Buckmann has done the same scene under the
same title, and his work is also very good). I did not know
Gordon Thompson; he also has a “Spectators at the Derby,” and
there is “Clapham Road” - quite close to the spot
where I used to live, incidentally. This sheet is incredibly
clever; it resembles Dürer or Matsys, for instance.
You know the work of Percy Macquoid - Heilbuth - Tissot -
when you see it, it seems to be the non plus ultra of elegance
and mild refined feeling. In a certain sense it really is the
non plus ultra.
But compared with them, Pinwell and Fred. Walker are what
the nightingale is to the lark. On a page of the Graphic called
“The Sisters,” for instance, Pinwell draws two
women in black in a dark room, a composition of the utmost
simplicity, into which he has brought a serious sentiment that
I can compare only with the full warble of the nightingale on a
spring night. And then there are two more sketches by him in
Byley's Home; and, among other things by Fred. Walker, a
splendid sheet, “The Old Gate,” and also “The
Harbor of Refuge.”
Herkomer has in them, among other things (I am not speaking
of the sheets I had already), “Divine Service”
(pews in a church), “Treat to the Whitechapel
Poor,” “Lodginghouse St. Giles,” “The
Workhouse (women),” “Charcoal
Burners,” “Wirtshaus” [Public House],
“The Cardinals Walk Rome,” “Kegelbahn,”
“Carnival Time,” “Anxious Times,”
“The Arrest of a Poacher,” Then (without the large
figures occurring in it) the very first sketch of “The
Last Muster,” under the title, “Sunday at
Chelsea.” In a later issue one can read about this sheet
that, when Herkomer showed it for the first time, not
one of the members of the Graphic board thought the drawing
good, with only one exception - the manager, who published the
sketch immediately and ordered a more elaborate drawing.
So you see, things may change in the world - for instance,
later on the Graphic published a sheet representing the
spectators looking at the ultimate painting of “The Last
You know Ridley's “Miner's Head.” Now I also
have his “Boat Race Spectators”; I already had a
“Hospital” by him - both serious, elaborate
But something new by Ridley is a series of six or seven
drawings, “Miners, Pits and Pitmen,” which remind
one of etchings of Whistler or Seymour Haden, or Stamland's
[Staniland's] “The Rush to the Pit's Mouth,” also
from the mining district.
Now a sheet that struck me particularly - Abbey's
“Christmas in Old Virginia,” engraved by Swain.
This drawing is evidently done wholly with the pen, like
Caldecott's and Barnard's, for example, but the figures are
Small has a superb drawing, “Claxton [Caxton] Showing
Specimens of His Printing to the King.” It makes one
think of Leys; there are many beautiful things by Small in the
Graphics, of course, but this one and the
“Ploughing Match” are the most beautiful drawings
of his I know.
His “A Queue in Paris during the Siege” is
excellent, and so are several of his “London
Sketches” and “Irish Sketches.”
Then Green has “The Girl I Left behind Me,” also
uncommonly good - a group of soldiers returning from the war,
and the meeting of one of them with the girl who has remained
faithful to him. “Irish Churchyard” is no less
Boughton's “Waning of the Honeymoon.” Nash's
“Laborers' Meeting” and “Lifeboat” and
“Sunday Evening at Sea.”
Gregory's “Hospital in Paris during the Siege.”
Buckmann's “Hampstead Heath.”
Fildes has a scene in a prison yard where policemen are
holding a thief or a murderer whose picture they want to take.
The fellow won't submit to it and is struggling. In the
opposite corner of the composition, the photographer and the
There are many more beautiful compositions from America by
Boyd Houghton, chiefly smaller ones, which might be etchings,
but also larger sheets such as “Paris under the Red
Flag,” “Mormon Tabernacle,” “Cabin of
Emigrant Ship” - they're not like anything else. His
details are emphasized surprisingly, and the aspect is
something like an etching by - yes, by whom? - by Fortuny, or
perhaps Whistler? Highly curious.
Edwin Edward's “The Foundling,” “Sea
Bathing,” “The Meet,” etc. Two drawings - I
don't know whose - of the Turko-Russian War, “Osman
Pasha” and “An Old Battleground,” which are
remarkable in their realism.
Stock's “Sermon Time” and “Last
Hodgson's “Navvies” and
Gow's “No Surrender.”
Small's “Swan-Upping Game of Polo,”
“Boat Race,” “Queen's Ladies Royal
Academy,” “Walking Match.”
Green's “An Artist,” “One Stone,”
Well, in this matter it's easy to start summing up, but to
stop is something else - that is difficult; there is so much
more, in fact there is no end of them. For I am speaking almost
exclusively of the larger sheets; but, to mention a single
example, among the small drawings there are illustrations of
Victor Hugo's Quatre-vingt-treize [Ninety-Three] by Herkomer,
Green, Small - seldom has a book been illustrated like this
one! - fortunately it is this book, for it is fully
But there is one volume missing from the collection, namely
the first one. But I got very nice drawings from this volume at
one time - among other things, Fildes's “Applicants at a
Casual Ward” (from “Home and the Homeless”)
and his “The Empty Chair” (Dickens's studio).
Write me again soon - for you are recovered now, aren't
Ever yours, Vincent
I got two more volumes (1876) for good measure this week,
but I took them anyway, because there are marvelous things in
them; indeed I have them, but I want as many duplicates as I
can find - e.g. Herkomer's “Old Women” - there's a
masterpiece for you! Have you got it???
A beautiful “Woman's Figure” and “During
the Reign of Terror” by Percy Macquoid; also little
sketches: “Cats” - “Chinese” -
Finally a large drawing: a corner of a studio - a lay figure
that has fallen over, draperies worried by two playful dogs.
There is preciosity in it, but it does not quite satisfy me; I
think it somewhat high falutin' and over-refined. There is
another magnificent illustration by Fildes (for a novel): two
men in a churchyard in the twilight.
You will understand why I am of two minds about the
following question. If I cut out the sheets and mount them,
they will show up better and I can arrange them according to
the artists who did them. But then I mutilate the text, which
is useful in many respects if one wants to look something up,
for instance about exhibitions, although the “general
surveys” of them are very superficial.
And besides, one damages the novels, as e.g.
Quatre-vingt-treize by Hugo.
I'd also have to spend a lot on mounting board. But it is
certain that the large sheets especially would show up
infinitely better mounted than folded in half. And also one
gets a better survey of the whole if one arranges them
according to the artists.
But isn't it queer that in an artistic town like The Hague a
man like me should be the highest bidder at a book
auction? One would think that other buyers would turn up - but
no! I really did not expect to get them.
Before the auction the Jew spoke to me about them; I told
him that I should very much like to have them, but that I could
not afford to buy something like that. He told me afterward
that he had bought them on speculation, because there were
hardly any bidders, and if I wanted to have them they were
mine. That was quite a different matter, and my brother helped
me buy them - dirt cheap - a guilder a volume.
However glad I am to have them, it makes me sad to think
that so few take an interest in them. I think it's wonderful to
find such a treasure, but I would rather see so lively an
interest in them that I should not be able to get hold of them
for the time being.
Oh, Rappard - in many respect it's like this - much that has
great value nowadays is ignored and looked down upon as
worthless rubbish, garbage, wastepaper.
Don't you think there is something very dull about our
times? Or am I imagining it? A certain absence of passion and
warmth and cordiality - it's true that the
“dealers” and such fellows say, “The desired
change will come about in the nature of things” (isn't
this statement highly satisfactory?), but personally I don't
see that “nature of things” so very clearly.
It isn't unpleasant, after all, to study the
Graphics; yet I can't help thinking very selfishly while
doing so, “What business is it of mine? I don't intend to
be bored, even if the times are dull.” But one isn't
always selfish, and as soon as one isn't, one may grieve
bitterly over it.
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Anthon van Rappard. Written c. 25-30 January 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number R24.
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