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Thanks for the money, your letter and the Raffaelli
catalogue. I think the drawings in it masterly. What he himself
says further about “le charactéristique” is
His article is a mixture of very simple words that come from
the heart and from a nervous artistic temperament; these are
striking. And besides - of words which, I think, Raffaelli
himself understands as little as those who must read them. So
it is an article full of very fine things and full of mistakes.
That's what I like to read more than anything else. For what he
talks about is so intensely complicated after all.
Yet the substance of what he says is satisfactory in the
reading, and with all his queer sallies he says something that
is healthy and true.
Theo, you must not think that if I saw Uhde's picture myself
I should lose the impression I got from it. I repeat, I think
it will be the same with this man as with Knaus and Labrichon.
After a few things of character, it is the very technique that
will be his undoing, that is to say, he will become more and
more correct in his work and more and more dry.
In my opinion as a painter Raffaelli ranks much higher than
You never hear me being pessimistic about Lhermitte, do you?
So I am not a man who always doubts. On the contrary, I have a
very strong confidence in some people.
I had never seen anything of Raffaelli's except those two
blacksmiths; I wrote you about it at the time.
Raffaelli and especially Lhermitte possess what Raffaelli
I am afraid that this will be Uhde's weak point, that he
will no longer know his own mind.
So much for that. You say that the silvery grey Uhde uses is
so beautiful and that if I saw the picture I should think
differently of it.
No, boy - I have seen so much grey in my life that such a
bit of silver-grey cannot seduce me so easily as it used
Painting grey as a system is becoming intolerable,
and we shall certainly get to see the other side of the
Yet in order to convince you that I want to appreciate its
good qualities, and have nothing against it, I am just now
working on a grey picture. We can't help discussing these
things further someday. Don't forget, however, that though I
have some objections to Uhde, I admit that I certainly admire
the main part of this picture, which forms
three-quarters of it - the children.
I must go out and work - I didn't want to put off writing
any longer; I am dog-tired every day because I have to go far,
far across the heath!
I have also done some more figures.
I am very sorry to hear what you said about the money, that
you will be very hard up yourself.
Painting is sometimes so damned expensive, and especially
nowadays, it is so necessary to follow one's own idea,
coûte que coûte.
“Il nous faut un art de force vive” [What we
want is an art with live vigour], Raffaelli says, and in order
to reach that aim in figure drawing, it costs a lot of trouble
to find models.
The time has past - and I don't want it back - when it was
enough for a figure to be academically, conventionally correct,
or rather, though many still ask for this, a reaction is
setting in - and I hope it will make some stir. The artists
call for character, well - the public will do the same.
I assure you that Uhde's Christ is a sad failure
indeed, it is definitely below the mark - the children are
I like Lhermitte and Raffaelli so much because their work is
so thoroughly logical, sensible and honest!
I have here before me some figures: a woman with a spade,
seen from behind; another bending to glean the ears of corn;
another seen from the front, her head almost on the ground,
digging carrots. I have been watching those peasant figures
here for more than a year and a half, especially their action,
just to catch their character. Therefore I cannot stand such a
Santa Claus as Uhde painted in that little school - the little
school in itself is very beautiful though. Uhde himself - oh, I
am sure that he knows it quite well, and that he has only done
so because the honest people in his country want a
“sujet” and “something (conventional) to make
them think,” as otherwise he would have to starve. One of
these days, if I can find a moment when I am not too tired to
write, I shall try to tell you once again how splendid I find
some things in Raffaelli. Goodbye, with a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written early July 1885 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 416.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.