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I still think of your pleasant visit very often, which I hope will soon be repeated,
and then for a somewhat longer time.
Since you were here, I have been working hard on the figure
of a woman spinning, of which I enclose a scratch.
It is fairly large sized, and painted in a dark tone; the
figure is dressed in blue, with a mouse-coloured shawl.
I hope to make another one, of an old man at the spooling
wheel, near a little window, of which you perhaps remember a
I should be very glad to receive the measures of your frames
soon, then I should be able to get going. Perhaps if the
measure fits, I shall make a small one of that woman
I just copy for you the following passage from Les artistes
de mon temps by Ch. Blanc.
Trois mois environ avant la mort d'Eug. Delacroix, nous le
rencontrâmes dans les galeries du palais Royal, sur les
dix heures du soir, Paul Chenavard et moi. C'était au
sortir d'un grand diner où l'on avait agité des
questions d'art, et la conversation s'était
prolongée entre nous deux sur le même sujet, avec
cette vivacité, cette chaleur, que l'on met surtout aux
discussions inutiles. Nous en étions à la
couleur, et je disais:
“Pour moi les grands colouristes sont ceux, qui ne
font pas le ton local,” et j'allais développer mon
thème, lorsque nous aperçumes Eugène
Delacroix dans la galerie de la Rotunde.
Il vint à nous en s'écriant: je suis sûr
qu'ils parlent peinture. En effet, lui dis-je, j'étais
sur le point de soutenir une proposition qui n'est pas, je
crois, un paradoxe, et dont vous êtes en tout cas
meilleur juge que personne; je disais que les grands
colouristes ne font pas le ton local, et avec vous je n'ai pas
besoin sans doute d'aller plus loin.
Eugène Delacroix fit deux pas en arrière,
selon son habitude en clignant les yeux: “Cela est
parfaitement vrai,” dit-il, “voilà un ton
par exemple (il montrait du doigt le ton gris et sale du
pavé), eh bien, si l'on disait à Paul
Veronèse: peignez-moi une belle femme blonde dont la
chair soit de ce ton-là; il la peindrait, et la femme
serait une blonde dans son tableau.”
[About three months before his death, Paul Chenavard and I
met Eug. Delacroix in the Palais Royal galleries, about ten
o'clock in the evening. It was after a big dinner, during which
questions of art had been debated, and the conversation on the
subject had been prolonged between us, with the liveliness and
warmth which people tend to do in useless discussions. We were
talking about colour, and I said:
“For me, the great colourists are those who don't
paint local colour,” and I was getting ready to enlarge
on my theme, when we caught sight of Eugène Delacroix in
the Rotonde gallery.
He came toward us, crying: I'm sure you are talking about
painting. In effect, I told him. I was at the point of
defending a proposition which is not, I think, a paradox, and
of which you are a better judge than anyone; I said that the
great colourists don't paint local colour, and with you I don't
need to go any further.
Eugène Delacroix took two steps backwards, as was his
habit, and blinking his eyes: “That is perfectly
true,” he said, “there is a tone, for instance (he
pointed his finger to a grey and dirty tone of the pavement),
very well, if one said to Paul Veronese: paint me a beautiful
blonde woman whose flesh has that tone, he would paint her, and
the woman would be a blonde in his painting.”]
As to drab colour, in my opinion, one must not judge the
colours of a painting separately; a drab colour, for instance,
next to a strong brownish-red, a dark blue or olive-green may
express the very delicate, fresh green of a meadow or a little
And yet I believe De Bock, who baptized certain colours
“drab colours,” certainly would not contradict this
- for I myself heard him say once that in some pictures by
Corot, for instance in evening skies, there are colours which
are very luminous in the picture and, considered
separately, are in fact of a rather dark, greyish
Father and Mother will write you soon and thank you for your
But to revert to that question of painting an evening sky,
or a blonde woman with a drab colour like the grey of the
pavement, if one considers it well, that question has a
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 speak about
colour, they really mean tone.
And perhaps at present there are more tonists than
This is not the same, though they may easily go
I quite agree with you that nowadays it is often very hard
to satisfy the need to talk with people who know how to
give advice and from whom one learns and gets
light without their playing the schoolmaster, or without
their using nothing but big empty words, which are, after all,
banalities or platitudes.
Well, but nature is a thing about which one can learn
a great deal. Goodbye, please don't forget the rabbet
measure of your frames. Believe me,
At this time, Vincent was 31 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written early June 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 370.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.