I want to tell you that I am in Antwerp, and that I already
have seen a few things. I have taken a room for 25 fr. a month,
No. 194 Rue des Images, over a colour dealer's. So when you
write, kindly send your letter to that address, instead of c/o
I shall begin by telling you that I saw Ley's dining hall,
you know, “The Walk on the Ramparts,” “The
Skaters,” “The Reception” and “The
Table,” and on a panel between the windows “St.
Luc.” To my astonishment the composition was somewhat
different from the ultimate compositions, at least I imagine so
- although I have not yet been able to compare photos of the
pictures with them.
Then, it was painted in fresco - i.e. on the plaster of the
wall. Now fresco really must and can last for centuries, but
these have already faded considerably, and the one over the
mantlepiece especially (part of “The Reception”)
already shows some cracks. The highly ingenious son of Baron
Leys has also improved the hall by having a door enlarged so
that in “The Skaters,” the legs of the fellows
standing on the bridge looking over the railings have been cut
away, which makes a deplorable effect. Besides, the light is
terribly bad there; now that hall was originally painted - I
imagine - to be used by lamplight. Therefore, because I
honestly could not see anything, I gave the servant a tip and
asked her to light the chandelier for me, and then I could see
After so much that had rather disappointed me - in the first
place that the colour of the fresco, and, alas, I am afraid
bad fresco, is not what we are used to from Leys - after
so much that disappointed me - after all it is superb.
The maidservant, the woman near the baker's shop, the lovers
and other figures in “The Walk on the Ramparts” -
the bird's-eye view of the city, the silhouette of the towers
and roofs against the sky, the bustle of skaters on the frozen
moat - are superbly executed.
I have also seen the museum of old pictures and the
Musée Moderne. I agree with you that the figures on the
first plane, those heads in “Le Christ au
Purgatoire,” are very beautiful, finer than the
rest, and than the principal figure; those two blonde women's
heads especially are Rubens at his best.
I was very much struck by Frans Hal's
“Fisherboy”; Mr. De Vos - portrait of master of the
guild - Rembrandt, very beautiful, two small Rembrandts,
which perhaps are not by Rembrandt, but by N. Maes? or somebody
else; Jordaens - “a chip off the old block”; Van
Goyen, S. Ruysdael. And the Quentin Matsys; the drawing
“St. Barbara” by Van Eyck, etc.
In the Musée Moderne: the great Mols is Mesdag-like,
with smears of Vollon plainly visible. (Vollon knew him well.)
Braekleer, not the bad one - a Brabant inn, curiously
fine, beautiful landscapes by C. de Cock, Lamorinière,
Coosemans, Asselbergs, Rosseels, Baron, Munthe, Achenbach, a
good Clays, two old Leyses - one Braekleer-like, the other
romantic, the latter good; a beautiful portrait by Ingres, a
fine portrait by David, other good things, also horrible things
like life-sized cows by the God-fearing Verboeckhoven, etc. But
I have seen very little at the art dealers', next to nothing,
one little painting the size of a hand, not even as good as
Raffaelli, otherwise nothing special, and I am afraid that
metaphorically business is at death's door. But - there is a
good old Dutch proverb, “Never despair.” I like
Antwerp, have explored the city in every direction; the quays
are most characteristic.
Well, it will never hurt knowing Antwerp a bit; it will
probably prove to be like everything everywhere, namely
disillusioning but with its own atmosphere.
Besides, it is good to have a change now and then.
Goodbye, write soon if you can.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 32 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 24-27 November 1885 in Antwerp. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 436.
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