My dear friend Rappard,
Today I sent a basket of birds’ nests to your address. I’ve also got them in the studio — quite a lot of them — and I’m sending you some that I have two of.1
They’re from the thrush, blackbird, golden oriole, wren, chaffinch. I just hope they arrive safely.
Have you heard much about Eugène Delacroix? I’ve read a splendid article about him by Silvestre. To write for you a few words from it that occur to me right now — the end of the article went like this: thus died, almost smiling, Eugène Delacroix — a painter of high breeding — who had a sun in his head and a thunderstorm in his heart — who — from warriors went to saints — from saints to lovers — from lovers to tigers — and from tigers to flowers.2
These words struck me, for the whole article pointed out how in his paintings the mood of colours and tone was at one with the meaning. The contrast of colours, breaking, reciprocal effect from black to white, from yellow to violet, from orange to blue, from red to green.3  1v:2
Here’s some more: Delacroix writes to a friend: ‘the chapel where I painted my Pietà was so dark that at first I didn’t know how to paint so as to make my painting speak. So I was forced to paint the shadows in Christ’s dead body with Prussian blue, the lights with pure chrome yellow’. Here the writer adds, ‘one has to be Delacroix to dare do that’.4 Then I read somewhere else,
When Delacroix paints – it’s like the lion devouring his piece of flesh’.5 And Silvestre’s article is particularly full of this latter.
What surprising fellows those French painters are. A Millet, Delacroix, Corot, Troyon, Daubigny, Rousseau, and a Daumier or a Jacque, and above all not forgetting Jules Dupré. Lhermitte is a new one of that calibre.
Something else about Delacroix — he had a discussion with a friend about the question of working absolutely from nature, and said on that occasion that one should take one’s studies from nature — but that the actual painting had to be made  1v:3 by heart. This friend was walking along the boulevard when they had this discussion — which was already fairly heated. When they parted the other man was still not entirely persuaded. After they parted, Delacroix let him stroll on for a bit — then (making a trumpet of his two hands) bellowed after him in the middle of the street — to the consternation of the worthy passers-by:

By heart! By heart!6

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this article and some other things about Delacroix, too, by Gigoux. I’ve also read a beautiful book by Bracquemond, the etcher — Du dessin et de la couleur.7
Something else on Delacroix. Silvestre writes: they say that Delacroix doesn’t draw — say rather that Delacroix doesn’t draw like the rest.8 How much — my dear friend — could one say THE SAME in response to the assertion that Mauve, Israëls, Maris don’t draw!  1r:4
Something else — the painter Gigoux comes to Delacroix with an ancient bronze and asks his opinion as to whether it’s genuine: It’s not from antiquity, it’s Renaissance, says D. Gigoux asks him for his reason.
Look — my friend — it’s very fine, but it starts from the line, and the ancients started from the centres (from the masses, from cores).9 Then he adds, ‘Look here a moment’, and draws a few ovals on a scrap of paper — he connects these ovals to one another with delicate little lines, with almost nothing, and creates a rearing horse from them, full of life and movement. That, he says, is what Géricault and Gros learnt from the Greeks, to express the masses (almost always egg-shaped) first, then derive the outline and the action from the position and proportion of these egg shapes. And I, says Delacroix, was first shown this by Géricault.10
I ask you, isn’t that a splendid truth!
But — — — does one learn it from the plaster statue copiers and at the art academy? I believe: not. If they taught like that, I’d be happy to enthuse about the academy, but I know only too well that this isn’t the case.11
I sent Wenckebach an article about the Salon by Paul Mantz, and asked him to let you read it too. Did you get it? I found it excellent.12
I thought you might like the birds’ nests as I do, because the birds — like the wren or golden oriole — can also truly be counted among the artists.13 At the same time they’re good for still lifes. Regards, with a handshake.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 533 | CL: R58
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Anthon van Rappard
Date: Nuenen, between about Saturday, 8 and about Saturday, 15 August 1885

1. See for Van Gogh’s collection of birds’ nests: letter 507, n. 10.
a. The word ‘meerl’ is a variant spelling of ‘merel’ (blackbird).
2. Théophile Silvestre wrote in Eugène Delacroix. Documents nouveaux: ‘Thus died, almost smiling, on 13 August eighteen hundred and sixty-three, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, a painter of high breeding, who had a sun in his head and thunderstorms in his heart, who played the whole keyboard of human passions for forty years, and whose grandiose brush, fearsome or mellow, went from saints to warriors, from warriors to lovers, from lovers to tigers and from tigers to flowers’ (Ainsi mourut, presque en souriant, le 13 août mil huit cent soixante-trois, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, peintre de grande race, qui avait un soleil dans la tête et des orages dans le coeur; qui toucha quarante ans tout le clavier des passions humains, et dont le pinceau grandiose, terrible ou suave passait des saints aux guerriers, des guerriers aux amants, des amants aux tigres, et des tigres aux fleurs) (see Silvestre 1864, pp. 63-64). Also quoted in letters 560 and 651. The little monograph contains letters, anecdotes and sayings of Delacroix, as well as excerpts about his life and work.
3. Silvestre discusses this subject on pp. 16-17.
4. This refers back to: ‘Towards the end of 1843, Eugène Delacroix said of the Chapelle Saint-Denis du Saint-Sacrement in the Marais, where he had been working assiduously for four hours a day on his Pietà [3062]: “I had the greatest difficulty there because of the dark. In order for the body of the dead Christ to be clearly visible, I was forced to paint the lights with pure chrome yellow and the shadows and half-tints with Prussian blue.” One had to be Delacroix to dare do that’ (Vers la fin de 1843, Eugène Delacroix disait de la Chapelle Saint-Denis du Saint-Sacrement, au Marais, où il venait de travailler de verve, quatre heures par jour, à sa Pietà: “J’ai eu là les plus grandes difficultés, à cause de l’obscurité. Pour qu’il fût possible de distinguer le corps du Christ mort, j’ai été forcé de peindre les lumières avec du jaune de chrôme pur, les ombres et les demi-teintes avec du bleu de Prusse.” Il fallait être Delacroix pour oser cela) (see Silvestre 1864, p. 96).
5. Taken from Jean Gigoux, Causeries sur les artistes de mon temps: ‘When Delacroix paints, he said [that is, the sculptor Auguste Préault], it’s like a lion carrying off his piece of flesh!’ (Quand Delacroix peint, disait-il, c’est comme un lion qui emporte le morceau!) (see Gigoux 1885, p. 174; ‘emporter’ and ‘dévorer’ both mean ‘take something forcibly’). Van Gogh quotes the saying again in letters 535 and 655.
6. See for this anecdote, taken from Charles Blanc, Les artistes de mon temps: letter 496, n. 7.
8. Silvestre writes: ‘The first one to come along exclaims on seeing a Delacroix picture: He doesn’t know how to draw! Say rather that he doesn’t draw like the rest...!’ (Le premier venu s’écrie en présence d’un tableau de Delacroix: Il ne sait pas dessiner! Dites plutôt qu’il ne dessine pas comme les autres!...) (see Silvestre 1864, p. 42). He had already quoted this in 1853 in Histoire des artistes vivants français et étrangers (see Silvestre, Histoire, pp. 54-55).
9. Van Gogh did not get the phrase ‘(par les masses, par noyaux)’ from Gigoux’s book, but he could find it on the same page as the previous quotation in Eugène Delacroix. Documents nouveaux (Silvestre 1864, p. 42). Gigoux may have based his anecdote about Gros and Géricault on Silvestre, where the wording occurs again (p. 39). Silvestre had already published part of this passage in Histoire des artistes vivants français et étrangers (see Silvestre, Histoire, pp. 49-50).
10. In Causeries sur les artistes de mon temps Gigoux recounted the following anecdote which, since Van Gogh refers to it several times, we quote here in its entirety: ‘One morning when we had just been on guard together and came back to my place, I showed him a marble head of one of the twelve Caesars which I had just brought back from Italy a few days beforehand.
“I think it is very fine, I said to him, but I don’t think that it is an antique.”
‘He looked at it carefully and then replied:
“No, my dear friend, it’s a Renaissance piece. You see, the ancients started from the centres whilst in the Renaissance, they started from the line. Look...!”
He then took a pen and on a sheet of paper drew a series of ovals, large, medium and small ones; then, with a light but very intelligent line, it’s clear, he linked the tops of these ovals – these eggs, if you like – then finally, just adding a little stroke here and there, he showed you, as if by magic, a superb horse rearing up and pawing the ground, leaving nothing to be desired as regards movement and life...
“But, tell me, how did you discover that?” I asked him.
“Oh! Like this: Mr Gros got it from the Greeks; Géricault got it from Mr Gros; but not satisfied with that, he also adopted it from the Greeks and the Etruscans.”’ (Un matin que nous venions de monter la garde emsemble et que nous rentrions chez moi, je lui fis voir une tête en marbre d’un des douze Césars que je venais de rapporter d’Italie quelques jours auparavant.
– “Je trouve ceci très beau, lui dis-je; mais je doute que ce soit un antique.”
Il l’examina attentivement et me répondit alors:
– “Non, cher ami, c’est de la Renaissance. Voyez-vous, les antiques prenaient par les milieux, au lieu que la Renaissance prenait par la ligne. Tenez!...”
Là-dessus, il prit une plume, et traça sur une feuille de papier une série d’ovales, grands, moyens et petits; puis, d’un trait léger, mais bien intelligent, c’est clair, il rejoignait le dessus de ces ovales, – de ces oeufs, si vous voulez; – puis enfin, ajoutant encore un petit coup par-ci par-là, il vous montrait, comme par enchantement, un cheval superbe, se cabrant, piaffant, ne laissant rien à désirer pour le mouvement et la vie...
– “Mais, dites-moi, comment avez-vous trouvé cela? lui demandai-je.
– Oh! voici: M. Gros l’avait pris des Grecs; Géricault le tenait de M. Gros; puis, ne s’en contenant pas, il l’a repris aussi des Grecs et des Étrusques”’ (see Gigoux 1885, pp. 80-82). See for the other references to this passage (specifically the idea that the ancients started from the centre and not with the outline): letter 494, n. 2.
11. Van Gogh added ‘Als ... is.–’ (If ... case) later.
12. Theo had sent Vincent four articles about the Salon ( ‘Le Salon i, ii, iii, iv’) that Paul Mantz had written for Le Temps in May: see letters 502 ff.
13. Van Gogh had probably got this idea from reading the chapter on nests in Jules Michelet’s popular L’oiseau, published in 1856. See Michelet 1861, p. 209, and cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 200.