Some things that have happened induce me to write you, more
to make myself clear than because I enjoy it. As for the fact
that I simply returned your previous letter, there were two
reasons for that. In the first place, even if your remarks
about the lithograph were right, even if I were unable to
contradict them, you still had no right to condemn my whole
work in the insulting way you did.
And in the second place, seeing that, not only on my part
but also on my family's, you have received more friendship than
you have given, you cannot demand as an
obligation that we send you anything more than a printed
notification on an occasion such as my father's death.
Especially not that I should have done so, because already
before that you had not replied to a previous letter of mine.
Especially not that I should have done so, because on the
occasion of my father's death you did give a sign of life in a
letter addressed to my mother - but it was such a letter that,
when it arrived, those at home wondered why you had not written
to me! I did not crave a letter from you then,
nor do I now. So
possible omissions are not to be imputed to me but to the
family. And I can tell you besides that you are an exception,
since I asked those at home whether they had sent you a
notification and it appeared they had forgotten to.
Well, enough and more than enough of this. The reason I am
writing you again is certainly not to answer your remarks on
the subject - nor to repeat my remarks about what you said
about painting. You have been able to reread your letter - if
you still think it justified, if you really mean that
“when you take the necessary pains you express yourself
damned correctly,” well, then the best thing is simply to
leave you to your delusions.
To come to the point - the reason I am writing you - though
it was you who insulted me in the first place, and not
I who insulted you - is simply that I have known you so
long that I do not consider this a reason to break off all
intercourse with you.
What I have to say to you I say as one painter to another -
and this will be true as long as you and I are painting -
whether we keep up our acquaintance or not....
Millet was mentioned. All right, my friend, I'll answer
You wrote, “And such a one dares invoke Millet and
My answer to that is that I most seriously advise you
not to fight with me. As for me - I go my own way - you
see I don't want to pick a quarrel with anyone, so not with
you either, even now. I should let you say whatever you
liked; if you were to have more observations of the same kind,
it would leave me stone cold, and that would be all. But for
the moment I want to say this much, you have said more than
once that I do not care for the form of the figure, it is
beneath me to pay attention to it, and - my dear fellow - it is
beneath you to say such an unwarranted thing. You have known me
for years - just tell me, have you ever seen me work otherwise
than after the model, never sparing expense, however heavy at
times, though I am surely poor enough.
Not in your last letter, but repeatedly and ad
nauseam in your previous letters you wrote about
“technique,” which was the reason for the
letter to which you did not reply. What I answered to that, and
what I answer again is, There is the conventional meaning,
which is being given more and more to the word technique,
and the real meaning - science. Very well,
Meissonier himself says, “La science nul ne l'a”
(nobody has science).
In the first place, however, “la science” is not
the same thing as “de la science," and you can hardly
deny it. But even this is not the core of the question.
For instance, they say of Haverman - and so do you - that he
has so much technique. But not only Haverman -
how many others have something that is on a level with the kind
of knowledge that Haverman has of art? - among the French
painters, e.g. Jacquet - and he is better.
What I assert is simply this, that drawing a figure
academically correctly - that an even, premeditated stroke of
the brush - have little to do - at least less than is generally
supposed - with the urgent necessities of the domain of the
painting art nowadays.
If, instead of saying Haverman has much
“technique,” you said H. has much
“métier,” I could agree with you for once.
Perhaps you will understand what I mean if I say that, when
Haverman sits before a nice ladylike girl's head, he will make
it more beautiful than almost anybody else, but put him before
a peasant - and - he won't even start in, his art
seeming to apply (as far as I know) principally to subjects
that are just about exactly antipodean to Millet's or
Lhermitte's - and that are on the contrary rather analogous to
Cabanel's, who for all his, what I call, métier, has
produced little that has proved lasting, or contributed to
progress. And - I beseech you - don't confuse this with the
style of painting of a Millet or Lhermitte.
What I said and will say again is - that all too often the
word “technique” is used in a conventional sense,
that all too often it is not used in good faith. People are
praising the technique of all those Italians and
Spaniards, and they are men who are more conventional, who have
to a greater extent nothing but routine, than anybody else -
and I am afraid that with such fellows as Haverman the
métier so soon changes into a routine. And then what is
What I want to ask you now is, What is the real reason you
have broken with me?
The reason I am writing you again is just my love for
Millet, for Breton and for all those who paint
peasants and the common people, and I count you
I do not say this because you were very useful to me as a
friend - for, amice, you were distressingly little useful to me
- and don't think ill of me if for the first and last time I
tell you flatly - I don't know a drier friendship than yours.
But first I am not doing it for this reason, and second, this
too might have improved - but having created my own
opportunities to find models, etc., I am not so little-minded
as to keep silent about it. On the contrary - if any painter,
no matter who, should come to this district, I should be glad
to invite him to my house and show him the way...For the very
reason that it is not always easy to find models who are
willing to pose, and that it is not a matter of indifference to
all of them to have a pied à terre somewhere. And
therefore I tell you, if you want to come and paint here, you
need not feel embarrassed because we have had a fight. And even
though I am living in my studio on my own now, you can always
stay with me.
But it may be that - you will say superciliously that you
don't care for it - well, it would be all the same to me. I am
so accustomed to insults - they leave me so perfectly
cold - that a man like you will probably find it difficult to
understand how utterly cold such a letter as yours, for
instance, leaves me. And being indifferent to it, I feel as
little resentment as a pole. But on the other hand - I have
enough clarity of mind and serenity to answer as I do now. If
you want to break with me, it's all right by me. If you want to
go on painting here, you don't have to pay attention to these
little bickerings in our correspondence.
What you did the last time you were here had and has my full
sympathy; and, amice Rappard, it is because you worked so
damned well that last time, and because I think you might
desire the opportunity you have here to remain unchanged, that
I am writing to you. Make up your mind; but I tell you this
unreservedly - despite all my appreciation of your painting, I
feel uneasy about the future from one point of view, I mean as
to whether you will be able to keep it up; I am some times
afraid that, because of influences which you cannot help being
exposed to on account of your social position and station in
life, you will not remain in the long run as good as you are at
present - i.e. as a painter in your painting; all the rest is
none of my concern.
I tell you therefore as one painter to another, If you want
to look for pictures here, it will be quite the same as it
was before. You can come and stay with me just the
same as formerly, even though I am now on my own. Do you see? I
thought you might have derived advantage from it and might
still derive advantage from it; but I want to add, If you can
find the same advantages elsewhere, all right, there will be no
reason for me to mourn over it, and then adieu.
You wrote me nothing about your work, nor do I about
Believe me, don't quarrel with me about Millet. Millet is a
man I will not quarrel about, although I don't refuse to talk
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Anthon van Rappard. Written June 1885 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number R52.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.