My dear friend Rappard,
I still wanted to write again while you’re travelling. Thanks for the consignment of books. I would like to apply to Zola’s Mes haines Zola’s own words about Hugo, ‘I should like to demonstrate that, given such a man on such a subject, the result could not be another book than the one it is’, also Zola’s own words on the same occasion: ‘I shall not cease to repeat, the criticism of this book, as it has been made, seems to me a monstrous injustice’.1
I would truly like to begin by saying that I’m not one of those who blame Zola for this book.2 Through it I’m getting to know Zola, I’m getting to know Zola’s weak side — insufficient understanding of painting — prejudices instead of correct judgement in this special case. But, my dear friend, should I get irritated with a friend on account of a fault in him? — far from it. On the contrary, he is all the dearer to me because of his fault. So I read the articles about the Salon with a most curious feeling. I think it utterly wrong, entirely mistaken, except in part the appreciation of Manet — I too think Manet is clever — but very interesting, Zola on art, interesting in the same way as, for instance, a landscape by a figure painter: it isn’t his genre, it’s superficial, incorrect, but what an approach — not carried through — so be it — not quite clear — so be it — but at any rate it makes one think and is original and tingling with life. But it’s mistaken and most incorrect, and rests on shifting sands.
Most interesting to hear him on Erckmann-Chatrian.3 Here he doesn’t lash out so wildly as when he talks about paintings, and his criticism is sometimes deuced telling. I permit him with pleasure to accuse Erckm.-C. of mixing a measure of egotism into his morality.4 Furthermore, he’s right to say that Erckm. becomes a simpleton when he starts describing Parisian life and that he isn’t familiar with it. A question, however, inevitably raised by this criticism: is Zola familiar with the Alsace, and if he were, wouldn’t he take more interest in Erckmann’s characters, who are as fine as Knaus and Vautier?  1v:2
As for the grain of egotism in most of the characters whose side Erckm. appears to choose, in the old Rabbi David and in Wagner and in Thérèse, I believe the somewhat egotistical Erckmann-Chatrian becomes sublime5, and so for me he is extraordinary.
What Zola has in common with Balzac is that he knows little about painting. I think two artist types in Zola’s works, Claude Lantier in Le ventre de Paris and one in Thérèse Raquin, are just like pale ghosts of Manet, Impressionists of a sort.6 Anyway. Well, Balzac’s painters are awfully heavy going, very tiresome.7
Now I’d like to carry on talking about this but I’m no critic. But I’m glad, I just wanted to add, that he scores a hit on Taine,8 who deserves it because he’s sometimes irritating with his mathematical analysis. Still, through that he (Taine) arrives at curiously deep pronouncements. For example, I read a remark of his — about Dickens and Carlyle: ‘the essence of the English character is the absence of happiness.’9 Now I don’t want to insist on the greater or lesser accuracy, but just say that such words are evidence of very deep reflection, looking into the darkness with one’s eyes until one sees something more in it where others no longer see anything. I find that remark beautiful, extraordinarily beautiful, and it says more to me than a thousand other remarks on the subject, and in this case Taine deserves our respect.
Well, am glad to be able to look at the Boughtons – Abbeys at my leisure for once. I think In the potato field is the finest of all,10 and the Bellringers by Abbey.11
Text a little dry, a little too full of stories about hotels and antique dealers12 — read it with pleasure. Why? For the same reason as the book by Zola. Because of the personality of the man who wrote it.
Have you noticed that Zola doesn’t even mention Millet?13 Yet I read a description by Zola of a country graveyard and a deathbed and funeral of an old peasant, which was as beautiful as if they were Millets.14 So this omission is probably a question of not being familiar with M.’s work.  1v:3
I can tell you that I’ve found an uncommonly beautiful print by T. Green, the brother or something of C.G.15 It’s a party at the Foundling Hospital in London, a sort of orphan girls at the table.16 Oh, you’ll be in raptures over it.
Also by him a smaller ‘A city congregation’,17 so delicately drawn, as exquisitely done as Braemar by our friend J. McL.R.18
I found two more prints, The ascent of Mount Vesuvius19 and A game of football20 by this sphinx J. McL.R., whose name we’ve so far been unable to decipher but whom I assume to be a brother or at least a relative of W. M. Ridley. Both good, but not as beautiful as the Braemar coach. I also know a salmon fishers,21 by him and I have a ‘volunteers in the camp’ — the latter print enlightened me about the name.22
Furthermore, a procession of monks in the snow by A. Hunt,23 as fine as a Legros. London Bridge and emigrants by W.M. Ridley,24 two markets by Buckman, drawn particularly broadly and boldly effective.25
By Barnard, Hampstead Heath26 — First to come — Last to go.27 How the poor live.28
By Hopkins, Children at the beach, very fine in tone;29 a beautiful sheet by Millais himself, Xmas stories.30
By Birket Foster, Winter landscapes, Christmas time,31 very cosy, two important Gavarnis of the highest quality, Porters of the market,32 Women of the market33 and The New Year’s presents.34
Then Régameys — beautiful Japanese subjects35 and a very large print by him, a masterpiece, The diamond field,36 and another large composition too, The fatted ox.37
And by M.F. a sheet of about medium size showing the treadmill in a prison,38 as beautiful as a Régamey.
By I don’t know whom, a splendid thing about the steel mills in Sheffield called ‘The Fork-grinders’.39 It’s in the manner of Edmond Morin, namely his most compact and concise manner.
As you see, this isn’t all that many, but they’re all beautiful things which I consider valuable additions.
By Howard Pyle, a very beautiful female figure.40 By S. Read, fine landscapes too.41
Yet more perhaps, but these are about the most important.  1r:4
How are you getting on with drawing on your travels, if you’ve already left?
I’m working on the potato grubbers,42 also have a single figure of an old man and several rough studies of figures from the time of the potato harvest.43 A weed burner and a chap with a sack and one with a wheelbarrow &c.44 When you return from your travels I hope you go ahead with your visit quickly.
Then I also have another sower, perhaps the seventh or eighth figure I’ve done for it.
This time I’ve placed him in the space for once, in a large field with clods of earth and a sky.45
I’d like to put to Zola the question that I’d like to put to some other people. Tell me, is it true that there’s no distinction between, say, a red ochre dish with a cod on it and, say, the figure of a digger or a sower? Is there or is there not a distinction between Rembrandt and Van Beijeren (just as gifted technically), between Vollon and Millet?
Have you already noticed that new magazine Pictorial News?46 Sometimes there are good things in it, but most aren’t very special.
My dear friend, I wish we could spend a little more time together. But what can one do?47 Write again when you have the time and the inclination. The summer issues of The Graphic and London News aren’t particularly special in my view. The Graphic does, though, have a fine Caldecott,48 that’s the best thing.49 And several Reinharts, not the best. London News, Caton Woodvilles again.50
You’ll find the sheets I’m writing to you about more interesting. Diamond field by Régamey isn’t at all gripping at first sight, but one finds it more and more beautiful with time. The T. Greens are masterpieces.
My brother writes to me about a particularly beautiful exhibition in Paris, called ‘The hundred masterpieces’.51 Adieu, my dear friend, have a good journey, remember to write if there’s time.
With a handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 361 | CL: R38
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Anthon van Rappard
Date: The Hague, on or about Tuesday, 3 July 1883

1. Borrowed from Zola’s article ‘Les chansons des rues et des bois’ in Mes haines: ‘Given Victor Hugo and subjects pertaining to idylls and eclogues, Victor Hugo could not have produced any other work but Les Chansons des rues et des bois. That is the theorem that I propose to prove ... I shall not cease to repeat, criticism of it, in the way it is conducted, seems to me a monstrous injustice ... When he wrote Les Chansons des rues et des bois, Victor Hugo was true to his whole past, his whole genius. He could not write them in any other way, because then he would have lied to himself, and he would have given us a work whose origins nothing would have explained. That is what had to be demonstrated.’ (Étant donné Victor Hugo et des sujets d’idylles et d’églogues, Victor Hugo ne pouvait produire une oeuvre autre que Les Chansons des rues et des bois. Tel est le théorème que je me propose de démontrer ... Je ne cesserai de le répéter, la critique, telle qu’elle est exercée, me parait être une monstrueuse injustice ... Victor Hugo, en écrivant Les Chansons des rues et des bois, a obéi à tout son passé, à tout son génie. Il ne pouvait les écrire autrement, parce qu’il se serait alors menti à lui-même et qu’il nous aurait donné une oeuvre dont rien n’aurait expliqué la naissance. C’est ce qu’il fallait démontrer.) See Zola 1966-1970, vol. 10, pp. 80-86 (quotations on pp. 80, 86). On Mes haines, see letter 358, n. 19.
2. Zola received numerous indignant letters provoked by Mes haines; subscriptions to the magazine L’Evénement – in which part of the book was pre-published – were cancelled and there were even people who tore it up at the kiosks. This was too much for the publisher and he replaced Zola by a traditional art critic. See D. Baguley, Bibliographie de la critique sur Emile Zola, 1864-1970. Toronto 1976.
3. The first part of Mes haines included the essay ‘Erckmann-Chatrian’. The comments by Van Gogh that follow refer to these passages: ‘But, for want of courage, the author has given them a moral way of thinking. They march, driven by a powerful breath of justice and liberty ... He is only at ease with the giants of the past, or the simple inhabitants of a lost province; he could not handle our Parisian world ... I do not know this world of Alsace that permeates the work.’ (Mais, à défaut de coeur, l’auteur leur a donné une penseé morale. Ils marchent poussés par un souffle puissant de justice et de liberté ... Il est seulement à l’aise avec les géants d’autrefois ou les habitants naïfs d’une province perdue; il ne saurait toucher à notre monde parisien ... Je ne connais pas ce monde alsacien qui emplit l’oeuvre.) See Zola 1966-1970, vol. 10, pp. 126-138 (quotations on pp. 129, 133, 137).
4. Although Van Gogh here refers to Erckmann-Chatrian in the singular, he knew that they were a duo, as letter 276 shows.
5. For the rabbi David Sichel in L’ami Fritz, see letter 292, n. 5; for the physician Jacob Wagner in Madame Thérèse, see letter 265, n. 7; for Madame Thérèse in the novel named after her, see letter 55, n. 24.
6. For Claude Lantier in Le ventre de Paris by Zola, see letter 288, n. 4. In Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin (1867) the adulterous Thérèse becomes an accomplice in the murder of her husband Camille by her lover, who is also a painter. This bone idle Laurent makes portraits but they earn him nothing. When painting gives him no satisfaction, he turns his back on it and looks for an office job (chapter 5). Later attempts to paint portraits marked by age are a failure because in every head he sees the man he killed (chapter 25). He becomes apathetic and lapses into attacks of panic and fury.
7. In the novels in the series La comédie humaine in which Balzac presents characters who are artists there is often a lack of understanding between them and the middle class. These artists have many imperfections and shortcomings, but – to different degrees – they have a measure of genius, which can sometimes express itself in maladjusted behaviour. Cf. letter 288, n. 3.
8. A reference to the article ‘M. H. Taine’ in Mes haines; see Zola 1966-1970, vol. 10, pp. 139-156.
9. For this quotatoin from Taine, see letter 356, n. 6.
10. George Henry Boughton, In the potato field, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 66 (January 1883), no. 392, p. 174. Ill. 616 [616]. The illustration accompanied the first article by George H. Boughton, ‘Artist strolls in Holland’, pp. 165-180. See letter 348, n. 11.
11. Edwin Abbey, Bell-ringers, engraved by Henry Wolf, in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 66 (April 1883), p. 693. Ill. 472 [472]. See also letter 348, n. 11.
12. This refers to the series ‘Artist strolls in Holland’. There are frequent references to hotels and ‘antique dealers’ in the account of the trip.
13. On the omission of Millet, see letter 358, n. 19.
14. A reference to Zola’s story La mort du paysan, included in Comment on meurt, which Van Gogh had mentioned earlier, also with regard to Millet (see letter 244, n. 5). The deathbed of the peasant Lacour, the peaceful cemetery and the funeral are described in detail. When Lacour is buried, the text reads: ‘He knows the earth and the earth knows him’ (Il connaît la terre et la terre le connaît). See Zola 1976, chapter 2, pp. 621-627 (quotation on p. 627).
16. Henry Towneley Green, Sunday at the foundling hospital, in The Illustrated London News 61 (7 December 1872), between pp. 552 and 553. Ill. 905 [905].
17. Henry Towneley Green, A city church congregation, engraved by Joseph Swain, in The Illustrated London News 61 (5 October 1872), p. 333. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 904 [904] (t*160).
19. John McL. Ralston, The ascent of Vesuvius – Tourists at the foot of the cone, in The Illustrated London News 60 (1 June 1872), p. 521. Ill. 1236 [1236].
20. John McL. Ralston, A game at bowls, engraved by Joseph Swain, in The Illustrated London News 60 (22 June 1872), between pp. 590 and 591. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 1237 [1237] (t*831). Van Gogh was mistaken about the title.
22. John McL. Ralston, The Easter Monday volunteer review at Brighton: Deploying into line, in The Illustrated London News 60 (1 June 1872), p. 340. Ill. 1239 [1239]. Van Gogh would have been ‘enlightened about the name’ by stylistic similarities with Ridley’s work, since the monogram is the same on all the wood engravings mentioned.
23. Alfred Hunt, Procession of the Holy Thorn, in The Illustrated London News 61 (21 December 1872), pp. 600-601. Ill. 979 [979].
24. It is not clear whether ‘London bridge and emigrants’ refers to one or two prints. In the first case it could be Matthew White Ridley’s Landing of French refugees at London Bridge, engraved by Horace Harral, in The Graphic 2 (8 October 1870), p. 340. Ill. 1277 [1277]. In the second case it could be London Bridge, in The Illustrated London News 61 (16 November 1872), pp. 464-465 (Ill. 2104 [2104]) and On board an emigrant ship – Land ho!, engraved by Horace Harral, in The Graphic 3 (6 May 1871), p. 413, or On Board an emigrant ship, in The Graphic 4 (2 December 1871), p. 536. The last two are in the estate. Ill. 1274 [1274] and Ill. 2105 [2105] (t*121 en t*441).
[1277] [2104] [1274] [2105]
25. At least two prints by Edwin Buckman that appeared in The Illustrated London News 61 may be meant: The Birmingham onion fair (5 October 1872), pp. 320-321, and A hiring fair in Warwickshire (2 November 1872), pp. 416-417. Ill. 659 [659] and Ill. 2106 [2106].
[659] [2106]
26. Frederick Barnard, Hampstead Heath on a holiday, engraved by Joseph Swain, in The Illustrated London News 60 (25 May 1872), pp. 54-55. Ill. 533 [533].
27. Frederick Barnard’s The first to come and The last to go, engraved by Joseph Swain and William James Palmer respectively, appeared as pendants in The Illustrated London News 61 (21 December 1872), pp. 584-585. Ill. 531 [531] and Ill. 532 [532].
[531] [532]
28. George R. Sims, How the poor live. With sixty illustrations by Frederick Barnard. London 1883 (Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly). In the estate there are four sheets from the pre-publication in The Pictorial World of 9 and 30 June 1883, with among others ‘The Truant’s mamma’ and ‘Waiting for the verdicts’ Ill. 534 [534] and Ill. 3068 [3068] (t*512), also “Ain’t my word good enuff”, ‘A youthful incendiary’, ‘She promised “She’d see to it”’ and ‘’Appy dossers’ (30 June 1883), respectively pp. 725-726. Ills. 2107 [2107], 3069 [3069], 3070 [3070] and 3071 [3071] (t*513).
[534] [3068] [2107] [3069] [3070] [3071]
29. Arthur Hopkins, The paddling season, engraved by Joseph Swain, in The Illustrated London News 61 (3 August 1872), ‘Extra supplement’, between pp. 114 and 115. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 957 [957] (t*616).
30. John Everett Millais, Christmas story-telling, engraved by Thomas Bolton Dalziel, in The Illustrated London News 41 (20 December 1862), p. 672. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 260 [260] (t*114).
31. Two Christmas scenes are depicted in Myles Birket Foster, The Christmas holly cart (An urban snow scene) in The Illustrated London News, Christmas number 1848 and Christmas eve – The cottager’s return from market in The Illustrated London News 27 (22 December 1855), p. 720. Ill. 851 [851] and Ill. 850 [850].
[851] [850]
32. Paul Gavarni, Forts de la Halle (Porters of the market), in The Illustrated London News 26 (9 June 1855), p. 589. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 125 [125] (t*57).
33. Paul Gavarni, Dames de la Halle (Women of the market), in The Illustrated London News 26 (9 June 1855), p. 588. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 123 [123] (t*56).
34. Paul Gavarni, Janvier. Les étrennes (January. The New Year presents), 1839. Above the print it says ‘Zodiac of the people of the earth’ (Zodiaque des gens du monde); below it is the dialogue: ‘– Look, Virginie, here’s sugar for your New Year gift / – and I, my good Henri, I’ve bought you a nice hat for myself’ (– Tiens, Virginie, voilà du sucre pour tes etrènnes / – Et moi, mon bon Henri, je t’ai acheté un joli chapeau pour moi) (Paris, BNF, Cabinet des Estampes). Ill. 124 [124]. Various versions were published, but they show only slight differences. See J. Armelhault and E. Bocher, L’Oeuvre de Gavarni. Lithographies originales et essais d’eau-forte et de procédés nouveaux. Catalogue raisonné. Paris 1873, pp. 78 (no. 318), 430.
35. Van Gogh had several examples of wood engravings with Japanese subjects by Félix Elie Régamey; see letter 325, n. 19
36. Félix Régamey, The diamond diggers, South Africa, in The Illustrated London News 61 (31 August 1872), Supplement, between pp. 194 and 195. Ill. 1250 [1250].
37. Félix Régamey, Shrovetide in Paris as it used to be: Procession of the boeuf gras, engraved by William James Palmer, in The Illustrated London News 60 (17 February 1872), pp. 160-161. Ill. 1246 [1246].
38. Michael FitzGerald, Sketches in the Clerkenwell house of correction: The treadwheel, engraved by William Biscombe Gardner, in The Illustrated London News 65 (4 July 1874), p. 12. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 844 [844] (t*153).
39. John Palmer, The Sheffield steel manufactures: Hull of the fork-grinders, in The Illustrated London News 48 (10 March 1866), p. 225. There is a copy in the estate. Ill. 1213 [1213]. (t*118). The sheet belongs to a series of six called The trades of Sheffield.
40. It is uncertain which figure Van Gogh has in mind. There are several prints by Howard Pyle in the estate in which a woman features; the only one with just a woman is A valentine to Phyllis, engraved by W. Zimmerman, in Harper’s Weekly 27 (17 February 1883), p. 104. Ill. 1228 [1228] (t*363).
41. It is not known which landscapes by Samuel Read these are. The only work by him still in the estate is Emigration from the Isle of Skye, in The Illustrated London News 22 (15 January 1853), p. 41. Ill. 2108 [2108] (t*614).
42. Potato grubbers (F 1034 / JH 372 [2442]).
43. These drawings of an old man and potato grubbers are not known.
44. These drawings of a weed burner, of a man with a sack and of a man with a wheelbarrow are not known.
45. This is probably the drawing Sower (F 1035 / JH 374 [2443]).
46. For The Penny Pictorial News, see letter 358, n. 14.
47. Randolph Caldecott is represented by four sheets in the (otherwise undated) summer number of The Graphic of 1883 (vol. 27); which one Van Gogh means is impossible to say. The illustrations appeared under the title How Tankerville Smith took a country cottage (pp. 3, 6, 7 and 10). Cf. Ill. 672 [672] and Ill. 2109 [2109]. See also The complete collection of Randolph Caldecott’s contributions to the ‘Graphic’. Printed by Edmund Evans. With a preface by Arthur Locker. London etc. 1888, pp. 197-210.
[672] [2109]
48. The reading that’s the best thing (‘dat’s ’t beste’) is uncertain.
49. Charles Stanley Reinhart is represented by four sheets in the Graphic summer number of 1883. They serve as illustrations to the story The romantic adventures of a milkmaid by Thomas Hardy. They are The attitude bespoke anguish; “I can’t get out of this dreadful tree!”; “What be you here for?” and Jim stopped at the Kiln, while Mrs. Peach held the horse (pp. 19, 22, 23 and 31). Cf. Ill. 1254 [1254] and Ill. 2110 [2110].
[1254] [2110]
50. The ‘Holiday Number’ of The Illustrated London News in 1883 had twelve prints by Richard Caton Woodville (II), some accompanying the story ‘Eyre’s acquittal’ by Helen Mathers.
51. For this ‘Exposition de Peinture’, see letter 358, n. 1.