Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (c. 1 August 1882) ... hard at work and need a few more things.
As far as I understand it, we of course agree perfectly
about black in nature. Absolute black does not really exist.
But like white, it is present in almost every colour, and forms
the endless variety of greys, - different in tone and strength.
So that in nature one really sees nothing else but those tones
There are but three fundamental colours - red, yellow and
blue; “composites” are orange, green and
By adding black and some white one gets the endless
varieties of greys - red grey, yellow-grey,
blue-grey, green-grey, orange-grey,
violet-grey. To say, for instance, how many green-greys
there are is impossible; there are endless varieties.
But the whole chemistry of colours is not more complicated
than those few simple rules. And to have a clear notion of this
is worth more than seventy different colours of paint, - since
with those three principal colours...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (12 October 1883) ... gamut.
Mind you, to see it like that, one must not look at the
local colour by itself, but in conjunction with the colour of
That sky is grey -but so iridescent that even our pure white
would be unable to render this light and shimmer. Now,
if one begins by painting this sky grey, thus remaining far
below the intensity of nature, how much more necessary it is to
tone down the browns and yellowish-greys of the soil to a lower
key, in order to be consistent. I think if once one analyses it
thus, it is so logical, one can hardly understand not having
always seen it so.
But it is the local colour of a green field, or a ruddy
brown heath, which, considered apart, easily leads one
Write again soon, for your last letter was remarkably brief,
too brief, but it was obviously written in the office.
What about that Triennial Exhibition? There will be many
beautiful things. I long to hear about it, because these
certainly are the characteristic things...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (early June 1884) ... meaning.
In the first place:
A dark colour may seem light, or rather give that
effect; this is in fact more a question of tone.
But then, as regards the real colour, a reddish-grey,
hardly red at all, will appear more or less red according to
the colours next to it.
And it is the same with blue and yellow.
One has to put but a very little yellow into a colour to
make it seem very yellow if one puts that colour in or next to
a violet or a lilac tone.
I remember how somebody tried to paint a red roof, on which
the light was falling, by means of vermilion and chrome, etc.!
That didn't work.
Jaap Maris did it in many a watercolour, by putting a very
little highlight of red-ochre on a colour that was reddish. And
it expressed the sunlight on the red roofs perfectly.
As soon as I have time, I shall copy another part of that
article on Delacroix, about the laws which always remain true
for colours. I sometimes think that when people...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (early June 1884) ... the
Past] by Fromentin with great pleasure. And that book
frequently deals with the same questions which have greatly
preoccupied me of late, and which, in fact, I am continually
thinking of, especially because when I was last in The Hague I
heard things Israëls had said about starting with a deep
colour scheme, thus making even relatively dark colours seem
light. In short, to express light by opposing it to black. I
already know what you're going to say about “too
black,” but at the same time I am not quite convinced yet
that a grey sky, for instance, must always be painted in
the local tone. Mauve does it, but Ruysdael does not,
Dupré does not. Corot and Daubigny???
Well, it is the same with figure painting as it is with
landscape. I mean Israëls paints a white wall quite
differently from Regnault or Fortuny.
And consequently, the figure stands out quite differently
When I hear you mention...
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (early July 1884) ... in the
reddish bronze of the corn.
It would be a thing that gave a good impression of summer. I
think summer is not easy to express; generally, at least often,
a summer effect is either impossible or ugly, at least I think
so, but then, as opposition, there is the twilight.
But I mean to say that it is not easy to find a summer sun
effect which is as rich and as simple, and as pleasant to look
at as the characteristic effects of the other seasons.
Spring is tender, green young corn and pink apple
Autumn is the contrast of the yellow leaves against violet
Winter is the snow with black silhouettes.
But now, if summer is the opposition of blues against an
element of orange, in the gold bronze of the corn, one could
paint a picture which expressed the mood of the seasons in each
of the contrasts of the complementary colours (red and green,
blue and orange, yellow and violet, white and black.