Thanks for your letter and the enclosed 150 francs. I also
received the two Lhermittes today. He is the absolute master of
the figure, he does what he likes with it - proceeding neither
from the colour nor from the local tone but rather from the
light - as Rembrandt did - there is an astonishing mastery in
everything he does, above all excelling in modelling, he
perfectly satisfies all that honesty demands.
People talk a great deal about Poussin. Bracquemond also
speaks of him. The French call Poussin the very greatest
painter among the old masters. Well, it is certainly true that
what is said about Poussin, of whom I know so very little, is
also true of Lhermitte and Millet. But with this difference,
that Poussin seems to me the original grain; the others, the
full ear. As for me, I think the modern ones the most
These last two weeks I have had a lot of trouble with the
reverend gentlemen of the clergy, who gave me to understand,
albeit with the best intentions and believing like so many
others that they were obliged to intervene - that I ought not
to be too familiar with people below me in station. But while
they put the matter to me in these terms, they used quite a
different tone with the “people of lower station,”
namely, threatening them if they allowed themselves to be
painted. This time I went straight to the Burgomaster and told
him all about it, pointing out that it was no business of the
priests, and that they ought to stick to their own sphere of
more abstract concerns. In any case, for the moment I am having
no more opposition from them and I hope it will stay like
A girl I had frequently painted was about to have a baby and
they suspected me, though I had nothing to do with it. But I
heard what had really happened from the girl herself, namely
that a member of the priest's own congregation in Nuenen had
played a particularly ugly part in the affair, and so they
could not get at me, at least not on that occasion. But you can
see that it isn't easy to paint people in their own home or to
draw them going about their business.
Well, they will not easily get the better of me in this
case, and this winter I hope to keep the very same models, who
are thoroughly typical of the old Brabant race.
I again have a few new drawings, but I could by no means get
anybody to pose for me in the fields these days.
Happily for me, the priest is getting rather unpopular. But
it is a bad thing, and if it continued, I should have to move.
You will ask, What's the use of making yourself disagreeable? -
but sometimes it cannot be avoided. If I had argued gently with
them, they would undoubtedly have got the better of me. And
when they hinder me in my work, I sometimes do not see any
other way than an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The
priest even went so far as to promise the people money if they
refused to be painted: but they answered quite spiritedly that
they would rather earn money from me than beg some from
But you see they do it only for the sake of earning money,
and they do nothing for nothing here.
You ask me if Rappard has ever sold anything. I know that at
present he is better off than he used to be, that, for
instance, for some time he took models from the nude every day,
that now, for the picture of a brickyard, he rented a small
house on the spot itself, and had it improved with a skylight;
I know that he made another trip through Drenthe, and that he
will also go to Terschelling. All these things are rather
expensive, and the money for it must come from somewhere.
Though he may possess some money of his own, he must certainly
earn something too, otherwise he couldn't do what he does.
Perhaps his family buys, or friends - that may be - but
But tonight I am much too occupied with Lhermitte's drawings
to go on writing about other things. When I think of Millet or
of Lhermitte, I find modern art as great as Michelangelo and
Rembrandt - ancient art is infinite, modern art infinite too -
the ancient masters are geniuses - the modern ones are
geniuses too. A person like Chenavard does not think so
perhaps. But I, for my part, am convinced that in this respect
one can have faith in modern art.
The fact that I have a definite belief about art makes me
sure of what I want in my own work, and I shall try to reach it
even at the risk of my own life.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written early September 1885 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 423.
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