Many thanks for the Illustrations you sent, I am much
obliged to you. I think the various drawings by Renouard
beautiful and I did not know one of them.
However - this is not to give you extra trouble, but because
I wrote things about them which perhaps cannot quite be applied
to other drawings of his - the real Renouard composition I
meant is not among them, perhaps that issue is sold out. The
breadth of the figure in it was superb, it was an old man and
some women and a child, 1 believe, sitting idle in a weaver's
cottage where the looms stood still.
I had not yet seen anything in reproduction from the
Salon of '84, and now I at least got some idea of a few
interesting pictures from the Salon number. For instance of
that composition by Puvis de Chavannes.
I imagine that the Harpignies with the setting sun must have
been splendid. And the pictures by Feyen-Perrin which they give
I was also struck by the figure of a girl by Emile Levy,
“Japonaise,” and the picture by Beyle,
“Brûleuses de Varech” [Women burning
seaweed], and the one by Collin, “L'Ete,” three
figures of nude women.
I am very busy painting those heads. I paint in the daytime
and draw in the evening. In this way I have already painted at
least some thirty and drawn as many.
With the result that I see a chance of doing it even better
before long, I hope.
I think that it will help me for the figure in
general. Today I had one white and black against the flesh
And I am also looking for blue all the time. Here the
peasant's figures are as a rule blue. That blue in the ripe
corn or against the withered leaves of a beech hedge - so that
the faded shades of darker and lighter blue are emphasized and
made to speak by contrast with the golden tones of
reddish-brown - is very beautiful and has struck me here from
the very first. The people here instinctively wear the most
beautiful blue that I have ever seen.
It is coarse linen which they weave themselves, warp black,
woof blue, the result of which is a black and blue striped
pattern. When this fades and becomes somewhat discoloured by
wind and weather, it is an infinitely quiet, delicate tone that
particularly brings out the flesh colours.
Well, blue enough to react to all colours in which hidden
orange elements are to be found, and discoloured enough not to
But this is a question of colour, and what matters more to
me at the point I'm at now is the question of form. I think the
best way to express form is with an almost monochrome
colouring, the tones of which differ principally in intensity
and in value. For instance, “La Source” by Jules
Breton was painted almost in one colour. But one really ought
to study each colour separately in connection with its contrast
before one can be positively sure of being harmonious.
When there was snow, I also painted a few studies of our
garden. The landscape has changed much since then; now we have
splendid evening skies of lilac with gold over dark silhouettes
of cottages between the masses of ruddy-coloured brushwood -
above which rise the spare black poplars, while the foregrounds
are of a faded and bleached green, varied by strips of black
earth and pale withered rushes along the ditch edges.
I certainly see all this too - I think it just as superb as
anybody else, but I am even more interested in the proportion
of a figure, the division of the oval of the head, and I cannot
master the rest before I have a better grip on the figure.
Well - first comes the figure; I personally cannot
understand the rest without it, and it is the figure that
creates the atmosphere. I can understand, however, that there
are people, like Daubigny and Harpignies and Ruysdael and so
many others, who are absolutely and irresistibly carried away
by the landscape itself; their work satisfies us fully because
they themselves were satisfied with sky and earth and a pool of
water and a shrub.
But I think it a mighty clever saying of Israëls, when
he remarked of a Dupré, It is just like “a picture
of the figure.”
Goodbye and many thanks again for the Illustrations.
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written February 1885 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 394.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.