"Lithograph, Fisherman cutting bread," Vincent van Gogh
"Lithograph, Old man, head in hands," Vincent van Gogh
My warm thanks for your registered letter as well as for the
little roll. I found Buhot's paper in it, but I should like to
have had some explanation along with it, for instance, with
what must one draw on this paper? Perhaps you will tell me
Renouard's “Enfants Assistés” are
splendid, also his new drawing, “Banc des
Accusés,” though the latter is less important
than, for instance, his large prints of the “Prison
Mazas.”' I am very glad to have them and thank you
You will have received a copy of a lithograph by now.
Frankly, it was a misprint, but I sent it to you because a few
parts were exactly the way I intended the whole to be.
This time the autographic ink blotted badly and it had to be
fixed later, and black spots were everywhere. But look, for
instance, at that left leg with the muddy shoe. This proves
that this process can express material and can give
characteristic effects. The hands and the head are bad, but in
the print of the other old man they were the parts which were
best. I again witnessed the transferring to the stone
and the printing and I must tell you that I think great things
can be done with this process.
Today I was at Van der Weele's, who was rather pleased with
the little old man with his head in his hands; he intends to
try it himself. Sometimes he does wonderful things. He gave me
four of his etchings, a sheepfold, calves in the underbrush,
two sand carts and an ox plough, and I hope to get some more
later when he has new prints made of them.
He does not seem to have a great liking for Tersteeg, for
without my telling him anything about the man, and while we
were discussing the studies by V. d. W. himself, he said, Oh
well, as soon as I do this or that and go to Tersteeg, he will
make this or that unpleasant remark. I think this is true, and
I really regret very much that this is the way things are. I
would much rather have been mistaken in my opinion of Tersteeg,
but I am afraid he is accustomed to discouraging many persons
who deserve better. How tiresome such matters are.
Yesterday I received a letter, not from Rappard but from his
father, who tells me R. is sick.
I infer this from some expressions in his last letter when
he told me to continue the experiments in lithography, and said
that he himself felt so low that he couldn't do anything. What
a pity, isn't it? It is so hard when one has to give up work
for such a foolish reason as indisposition.
If I do not get news of his recovery soon, I have a good
mind to go and see him. Recently we have corresponded rather
frequently about our work; he has become quite enthusiastic
about collecting wood engravings, for instance, and I think it
quite possible that we shall become more and more interested in
At Van der Weele's I saw an excellent sketch of Breitner's,
an unfinished drawing - perhaps it cannot be finished; it
represents officers in front of an open window, bent over and
deliberating about some map or battle plan. Breitner really has
got a job at the high school in Rotterdam - a lucky thing for
him. But l think after all it is preferable if one can
manage to do without such jobs and give all one's time to one's
work. There seems to be something fatal in occupying such
positions; perhaps it is the very cares, the very dark, shadowy
side of an artist's life which is the best of it. It is risky
to say so, and there are moments when one speaks differently;
many are drowned by too heavy cares, but those who struggle
through will profit by it later.
You write about the question of making drawings in a smaller
size. I appreciate your speaking of that matter more calmly
than others, who have said the same thing to me in quite a
different way, and told me, If you don't work in a smaller
size, this and that will happen. I think it preposterous and
superficial to talk that way, and I can't believe what they say
Do you know what I think? All sizes have their advantages
and disadvantages; in general, for my own study I decidedly
need the figure with rather large proportions, so that the
head, hands and feet will not be too small and one can draw
So for my own practice I use the size of Exercices au Fusain
by Bargue as an example; one can easily take that size in with
one glance, and yet the details are not too small. But most
artists use a smaller size. I have done it this way from the
very beginning - sometimes a little smaller, sometimes a little
larger; and as far as my own study is concerned, I should be
acting contrary to my conviction if I changed.
But though my attention centers on drawing the human figure
on a good large scale - a thing which is exceedingly difficult,
I assure you - this doesn't mean that I am absolutely bound to
it. And so in answer to what you write, I shall ask you a
question, Have you a particular work in mind? Has anybody told
you something, for instance, like, If those figures were half
the size, these drawings might be used for this or that? And if
you know something or other about such a thing, for my part I
should take the trouble either to reduce the figures I already
have to half-size or draw new ones on a smaller scale.
Without a definite reason I should think it less important
than with one.
If I send you a few figures, for instance, half the size of
the former ones, and you should try to show them, though unable
quite to tell me yet to whom or to what end, that would be
reason enough for me to make them.
What I said just now is only to show you how I have tried to
keep some system in my work from the very beginning; I have set
a kind of rule for myself - not to become the slave of that
rule, but because it helps one to think more clearly.
It is not at all difficult, for instance, to reduce a
certain figure to half-size; sometimes, however, it loses
something essential - sometimes the figure gains by it, too. At
all events, I'll send you a few before long, but if you have
something particular in mind, tell me what it is - it may help
me in choosing my figures.
Once more, thanks for what you sent. What I wrote in my last
letter about the plan of publishing prints for the people is a
thing I hope you will consider sometime. I myself have no fixed
plan yet, seeing that in order to have it clearly before me, I
have to do things in connection with the drawings themselves
and with the process of reproduction. But I have no doubt of
the possibility of doing such a thing, nor of its usefulness;
nor can I doubt the possibility of finding people who would be
sympathetic to it. Well, I think it might be done in such a way
that no one would regret having contributed to it.
With a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
While I am writing to you, I read your last letter once
more, especially what you say about the size; I will give you
an example of an artist whom you know, Théophile
Schuler, who illustrated the works of Erckmann-Chatrian. One
sees clearly from those small illustrations that he could work
very well in a small size, though one can see it even better
from the things he made at the time for L'Illustration and
Magasin Pittoresque, among others, the Album des Vosges, to
which Brion and Jundt also contributed.
I think, however, that one would be very much mistaken in
believing that such a thing as, for instance, the print
“Le Bénédicité” [Grace before
Meat] (a family of woodcutters and farmers at table) was made
in one fell swoop. No, in most cases the solidity and pith of
the small size is only acquired after much more serious study
than those who think lightly of illustration work would
suppose. Oh, boy, you are one of the best informed of the art
dealers I know, and you speak about it with so much more truth
and feeling than most of them; but if you knew the drudgery
those little things have cost - as, for instance, the prints in
the Album des Vosges or those first things in the Graphic - I
think you would be awed by it.
With me, at least, it is such that whenever I learn more
about the life and works of people like Schuler, Lançon,
Renouard and so many others, I perceive that what is seen of
them is only a little wisp of smoke coming out of their
chimneys, and that within their hearts and studios there is a
big blaze. It is the same with an artist's illustration work as
it is with a little church spire in the distance, it looks
small and insignificant, but when one gets nearer, it proves to
be quite an imposing edifice - I mean, only a small part of
their work comes before the public.
Well, some pictures make a big splash in their enormous
frames, and later one is astonished because they leave such an
empty, unsatisfied feeling; in contrast to this, some simple
wood engraving or lithograph or etching is sometimes
overlooked, but one comes back to it and becomes more and more
attached to it, and feels something grand in it.
I know a drawing by Tenniel representing “Two
Dominies” (of course this is not the English title, but
it is the subject): one is a city dominie, large, pompous and
imposing; the other is rather shabby, a simple village curate,
apparently the father of a large and poor family. I often think
that one also finds those two types among painters; many
illustrators belong to the village clergymen group of painters,
whereas perhaps persons like Bouguereau and Makart and many
others belong rather to the former type.
Whether I personally have to work on a large or a small
scale is immaterial to me, but what the illustrations demand is
only part of what I ask of myself. Of myself I decidedly demand
that I can draw the figure of a size such that head, hands and
feet do not become too small and the details remain distinct. I
cannot do this nearly as well as I have set myself to do it,
and for that very reason I must not relax on this point. If I
exact this, I demand no more of myself than many others do. So,
for instance, about that series of drawings I am now working
on, I do not know what the definite form or size will be. After
long reflection I decided on the size of that little old man
with his head in his hands, but when it comes to printing, I
can of course reduce the size of these cartoons.
And the practical reason for drawing the figures on a rather
large scale is proved, for instance, by the Exercices au
Fusain, de Modèles d'après les Maîtres,
published by Goupil and Co. I started with them, and up to now
I have found no better guide to studies from the living model.
This publication was intended to bring healthy ideas about
study into the schools as well as and especially into the
studio. I have listened to what Bargue says in his examples;
though my work is far from being as beautiful as his, I believe
the examples indicate a straight road in keeping with what
other artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, have taught before.
At all events, it gave a certain method to my ideas about
drawing, which makes the work more systematic than it would be
if one put no method into one's work. You see, this is a thing
which I may not let go of, but I repeat, I can reduce the size
of any figure among my studies if it's desirable.
I must say, I am very eager for you to see all the things
which I've made since last summer together. How about those
drawings which you wrote me you sent via the Rue Chaptal? I
have not received them yet, but I suppose they are still with
you, because very shortly after that you wrote me that Buhot
had seen some of them. Of course I am in no immediate hurry for
them, and only ask in case they were left behind somewhere. And
if you think it better to keep them with you so you can show
them to someone some time or other, I have nothing against it,
but I wish you could make a new choice out of the whole
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 2 or 3 December 1882 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 250.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.