I feel strongly impelled to tell you again how much your
visit has stimulated me. 1 I intend to start a
number of larger compositions; in fact I've already started one
of them. It is a composition of “Peat Cutters in the
Do you remember I told you that there was such a beautiful
subject there in the dunes? It is something like putting up a
barricade. I started it as soon as I came back from you, for it
was already about ripe in my mind.
In the same way I have thought a lot about some other
compositions, for which I also have the studies. But if I
hadn't had the money you gave me, I should not have been able
to do it right now.
I saw an illustration in Harper's Weekly by Reinhardt - by
far the best thing I have seen of his so far - “Washed
Ashore.” A corpse has been washed ashore, a man is
kneeling beside it to see who it is, a number of fishermen and
women are giving information about the shipwrecked man to a
gendarme. So it somewhat resembles “Une
Épreuve” [A Questioning], which you have, but
there is something of, say, Régamey in this drawing by
Reinhardt; it is a very beautiful sheet.
How much beauty one can find, can't one?
I have some plans for large drawings which, my dear friend,
will perhaps arouse your sympathy.
I wish you had read Les Misérables - then it
would be easier for me to speak to you about it, for you might
be struck by the same things that are continually coming back
to my mind - this would not surprise me. I already knew the
book, but since I've reread it, many things in it keep
returning to my thoughts again and again.
You and I were taught something like history at school, but,
if your experience was the same as mine, that was not enough;
it was too dry and too conventional. Well, speaking for myself,
I should like particularly to have a clear survey of the period
from for instance 1770 to the present. The French Revolution is
the very greatest modern event, and everything in our own time
hinges on it too.
When I read something like Paris and London [A Tale of Two
Cities] by Dickens, and think it over, then I come to the
conclusion that one can get such splendid subjects for drawings
out of that revolutionary period - not bearing directly on
history proper, but rather incidents of everyday life and the
appearance of things as they used to be then. Take that drawing
by Howard Pyle and the other one by Abbey, both of which I
showed you some time ago - “Christmas in old New
York” and “Christmas in Old Virginia.”
Well, letting one's thoughts dwell on the period beginning
in those days and up to the present, one surveys an era in
which everything has changed. And several moments are
especially interesting. And in various French and English books
you find them described so impressively and with so much
ability that it becomes possible to get a clear image of those
Dickens, who usually wrote about his own time, could not
resist writing the Tale of Two Cities, and every now and then
we see descriptions of the old days inserted in his work - a
description of the London streets before there were street
lamps, for instance.
Now the question is, could one find Dutch subjects, taken,
for instance, from the time when the first street lamps were
put up, or before they existed? Just imagine a church pew or a
funeral scene around 1815; a house-moving, a public promenade,
a street on a winter's day of the same period or somewhat
In Les Misérables, although it treats of a
later era, I find what I have been looking for - aspects of the
past that induce me to remember how everything looked in my
great-grandfather's day, or even no longer ago than my
Hugo's Quatre-vingt-treize was something that was
illustrated by all the artists of the Graphic in a body.
And how impressively Caldecott does it!
I should like to see what kind of impression that
Quatre-vingt-treize and Les Misérables would make on
you. It's certain that you will think them beautiful. When I
visited you, I saw some nooks of the town which my imagination
enlivened with figures of the old days. Well, we shall probably
have some more talks about drawings from a past period. I hope
it will happen that you come here again this summer, as you
said you would. It is not impossible that my brother in Paris
will call on you this summer too; I want him to see your work
again, and so, when he is here, I should like the two of us to
go and see you.
With a handshake in thought,
Ever yours, Vincent
See letter 286 to Theo.
At this time, Vincent was 30 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Anthon van Rappard. Written c. 25 May 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number R36.
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