van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Etten, September 1881
Relevant paintings:

"Woman peeling potatoes," Vincent van Gogh

"Old man by the fire (Worn Out)," Vincent van Gogh

"Sower ," Vincent van Gogh

[See illustrations Page 1 below]

Dear Theo,

Though it is only a short time since I wrote to you, I have something more to tell you now.

For there has been a change in my drawings, both in the way I set about them and in the results.

Also, as a consequence of some of the things Mauve told me, I have started working with live models again. Luckily I have been able to get several people to sit here for me, including Piet Kaufman, the labourer.

Careful study and the constant and repeated copying of Bargue's Exercises au Fusain have given me a better insight into figure-drawing. I have learned to measure and to see and to look for the broad outlines, so that, thank God, what seemed utterly impossible to me before is slowly becoming possible now. I have drawn a man with a spade, that is un bècheur [a digger], five times over in a variety of poses, a sower twice, a girl with a broom twice. Then a woman in a white cap peeling potatoes and a shepherd leaning on his crook and finally an old, sick peasant sitting on a chair by the hearth with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees.

And it won't be left at that, of course. Once a few sheep have crossed the bridge, the whole flock follows. Now I must draw diggers, sowers, men and women at the plough, ceaslessly. Scrutinize and draw everything that is a part of country life. Just as many others have done and are doing. I no longer stand helpless before nature like I used to.

[See illustrations Page 2 below]

What is quite certain is that the drawings I have been doing lately bear little resemblance to anything I have done before.

The size of the figures is about the same as that of an Exercices au Fusain.

As for landscape, I don't see why it need suffer in any way as a result. On the contrary, it will gain. Enclosed are a few small sketches to give you an idea.

Of course I have to pay the people who pose. Not much, but because it happens every day it is one more expense until I manage to sell some drawings.

But since a figure is hardly ever a complete failure, I am sure that the outlay on the model will be fully recovered relatively soon.

For nowadays anyone who has learned to tackle a figure and hang on to it until it is safely down on paper, can earn quite a bit. I need hardly tell you that I am only sending you these sketches to give you some idea of the pose. I dashed them off today in no time at all and can see that there is much wrong with the proportions, more so anyway than in the actual drawings. I've had a nice letter from Rappard, who seems to be hard at work. He sent me some very good landscape sketches. I wish he would come back here for a few days.

[See illustrations Page 3 below]

This is a field or rather a stubble, where they are plowing and sowing. Have made a fairly large sketch of it with a gathering thunderstorm.

The other two sketches are poses of diggers. I hope to do several more of them.

[See illustrations Pages 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 below]

The other sower has a basket.

I am tremendously anxious to get a woman to pose with a seed basket, so as to find a little figure like the one I showed you last spring and which you can see in the foreground of the first little sketch.

Well, as Mauve says, the factory is in full swing.

In any case, write as soon as you can, and accept a handshake in my thoughts,

Ever yours, Vincent.

Illustrations of the complete letter.

At this time, Vincent was 28 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written September 1881 in Etten. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 150.

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
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