4. In this part of the letter Vincent pursues several questions that Theo touched upon in an earlier letter, one of which was how purity of spirit can go together with impurity of body, which is an allusion to Mary Magdalene (see the rest of the paragraph, as well as nn. 5 and 6 below). The use of French might mean that Theo was quoting these words.
5. Ary Scheffer, Margaret at the fountain, 1858 (London, The Wallace Collection). Ill. 1663 . A print made after this by William Hollidge appeared in The Illustrated London News of 21 December 1872, p. 581. Goupil published a photograph in the ‘Galerie Photographique’ series (no. 277) under the title Marguerite à la fontaine, the same title used by Van Gogh (see Ewals 1987, p. 339 and fig. 57; exhib. cat. London 1992, pp. 13 (ill. 4), 47, cat. no. 24; and exhib. cat. London 1998, pp. 16-19, figs. 14-19).
This depiction of an episode from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe shows Gretchen hearing the news that her unmarried girlfriend is pregnant. She realizes that at one time she would have condemned such behaviour but that she herself is no longer free of sin (Faust, 1, 5).
6. Cf. Christ’s words when he forgives the sinful woman: ‘she loved much’ (Luke 7:47).
7. Presumably Van Gogh knew this quotation about Henri Leys – to which Theo evidently referred – from the article ‘Artistes contemporains. M. Henri Leys’ by Paul Mantz, who wrote in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts: ‘Profitons du moment où Théophile Gautier a le dos tourné pour lui prendre un mot charmant. “M. Leys, a-t-il dit, n’est pas un imitateur, mais un semblable”’ (Let’s profit from Théophile Gautier’s turning his back for a moment by making use of one of his witty remarks. “Mr Leys”, he said, “is not an imitator, but a kindrid spirit”’). See Mantz 1866, p. 316. The statement was taken from Théophile Gautier, Les Beaux-Arts en Europe: 1855. Second series. Paris 1856, p. 214.
8. James Tissot, Walk in the snow, 1858 (Paul Touzet) was exhibited at the 1859 Paris Salon (Promenade dans la neige) and at the London International Exhibition of 1862 (Ill. in Wentworth 1984, pl. 1). Ill. 1382 .
Walk on the ramparts of 1864 (Stanford, University Museum of Art, Gift of Mr Robert Sumpf) was included in Goupil’s ‘Galerie photographique’, Promenade sur les remparts, no. 429 (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 1664 .
There are two versions of Margaret in church: one dating from 1860 (present whereabouts unknown) and one from 1861 (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland). At the time the work was photographed by Bingham for Goupil’s ‘Galerie photographique’, Marguerite à l‘église, no. 76 (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 1662 .
9. This person has not been identified; nor is it known to which of Henri Leys’s works this refers.
10. Alphonse Karr, Voyage autour de mon jardin (1845), a novel well known at the time, was based on natural history and written in the form of diary-like letters containing descriptions of plants and insects alternating with philosophical, religious and moral reflections.
11. Van Gogh and his sister Anna moved to the home of John and Mrs Parker, Ivy Cottage, 395 Kennington Road in Kennington (FR b2715). A while later, on 18 November 1874, Mr and Mrs van Gogh voiced their concerns to Theo. Mr van Gogh wrote that Anna had said ‘that one should just let Vincent quietly go his own way, and that he would come round of his own accord. It is, she says – a fit of pique. At any rate, it seems nothing can be done about it.’ And Mrs van Gogh said: ‘Our Vincent cannot but feel unhappy now. He has strayed from the true path, to which alone our blessed Lord attaches happiness and the joy of living. We hope it’s not for ever, but as long as it lasts, there’s every reason to be worried, and we cannot stop doing so. Have you written to him? If not, please do write again. He loves you so much’ (FR b2733 and b2734).