On my coming home I found your postcard, which arrived a few
moments after I went away this morning; I see from it that
apart from having your model this afternoon, you also had an
engagement in the morning. I am sorry you did not tell me, for
we might have gone together.
For the rest - the pleasure of seeing your work is no trifle
to me, and if it's true that I didn't upset your plans too
much, I'm delighted with my visit to you. 1
But it wasn't my fault, as I hadn't received your postcard,
which I only just found.
I repeat, I think your work is excellent - I think the
sketch of the “Woman Spinning” especially is
excellent too, indeed I do - that is it.
I wish you had a charcoal drawing of the “Tile
Painters” too; I suggest you still make one. Why? -
because such compositions most certainly come out strongly in
painting, in which state they are in many respects truer to
nature and more vigorously accented.... But the black
and white or the light and brown in itself may acquire a
peculiar charm - and has its own merits, and is at the same
time suitable for reproduction - a photograph of the painted
“Tile Painters” is doomed to be a failure, as the
blue would come out white in the reproduction.
I think the heads [studies] of the blind men eminently good.
Are you willing to decide in principle that we are to visit
each other again before the end of the year?
Here follows a passage from Dickens that expresses
forcefully what goes on in the mind of a figure painter while
he is working on a composition:
I was occupied with this story during many working hours of
two years. I must have been very ill employed, if I could not
leave its merits and demerits as a whole to express themselves
on its being read as a whole. But, as it is not unreasonable to
suppose that I may have held its various threads with a more
continuous attention than any one else can have given to
them during its desultory publication, it is not unreasonable
to ask that the weaving may be looked at in its complete state,
and with the pattern finished - Preface, Little
Here you are, my dear friend, beautifully expressed, how a
figure painter deserves to be looked at - as a
This is how I looked at your work today, and my sympathy for
you was confirmed by it. And as for you, I want you to go on
looking at me as a whole too, which many others don't do.
What I think excellent too is that one sees books in your
studio: Hugo, Zola, Dickens - figure painter's books. I shall
send you Erckmann-Chatrian's Histoire d'un Paysan. The
French Revolution - that is the central point - the
Constitution of 1789 being the modern Gospel, no less sublime
than that of 1 A.D. And how one can be a figure painter without
feeling something of it is incomprehensible to me - and I find
a certain emptiness in these figure painters' studios where the
modern writings are absent. And I think that's your impression
Do you know what I forgot to take with me? - the
“Grève des Charbonniers” [Strike of the
Miners] by Robe, which I think you have in duplicate. I have it
myself, but it was intended for Van der Weele, who - between
you and me - is sorely in need of seeing some foreign
compositions and, I think, is somewhat afflicted with Dutch
prejudices - though he has freed himself of them in his large
What I wanted to say about the printer's ink was, Just
dabble a little with it - at random, as it were, and out of
your own imagination, on a piece of paper or an old study, just
to see the effect. But go easy on the turpentine; then I think
you will find things in it that you will be able to use.
How beautiful your illustrations by Lhermitte, Perret and
Bastien Lepage are. If I were you, I should make more of those
beautiful heads, like the ones of those blind men. I am going
to try it with a finer pencil too.
Adieu, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
With reference to novelists, isn't it your opinion too that
one knows such writers as Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, Zola only when
one has a general idea of their works as a whole? I think the
same applies to Michelet and Erckmann-Chatrian.
See letter 286 to Theo.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Anthon van Rappard. Written c. 21 May 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number R35.
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