1. Van Gogh rented a room on the second floor at 194 rue des Images ((Lange) Beeldeke(n)sstraat), now no. 224, where the Dutch citizens Willem Henricus Brandel and Anna Wilhelmina Huberta Steegmans were registered. Brandel is listed in the archives as a ‘(house) painter’ and from 1890 onwards also as a ‘shopkeeper’. Van Gogh may be referring to him as the ‘paint merchant’. It is not certain whether he was also the landlord (SAA, Register MA-BZA-B 348; B 401 and B 549; cf. also Tralbaut 1948, pp. 31-32).
2. See for these works by Leys letter 354, n. 3. Henri de Braekeleer had made a painting of this dining room in 1869: The dining room at the home of Henri Leys (Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten). Ill. 2165 .
The walk on the ramparts is part of Merry company. Van Gogh says that St Luke is a panel but, like the other works, it is actually canvas on a thin board; it measures 152 x 78 cm. Ill. 1058 . In 1863 Leys did make a preliminary study on a panel and there is also an undated panel of St Luke. See Vanzype 1934, p. 101, no. 142 and p. 103, no. 201. Van Gogh had read about Leys’s dining room in September 1885 in Du dessin et de la couleur by Félix Bracquemond, which dwelt at length on decorations. See also Van Uitert 1983, pp. 28-30.
4. As emerged from letter 354 Van Gogh was familiar with the decorations through reproductions. Because some of the photographs show only parts of the paintings or figures taken from them, the decoration in its entirety was not what Van Gogh had expected.
5. Strictly speaking they are not frescoes; the surviving works are on canvas and attached to a thin board on the wall. However, at the time Philippe Burty (‘obviously documented by the artist himself’ (évidemment documenté par l’artiste lui-même)) described the decoration as ‘Etude de fresque’. See Vanzype 1934, p. 102, no. 159 and p. 84 (quotation).
6. Van Gogh may have gathered this information about Leys’s son Julien during his visit; Julien’s part in enlarging the door is not recorded in the surviving documents. See Todts 1988, p. 105.
7. At that time the Musée Ancien, with around 700 paintings, was in the city centre, at the end of Minderbroedersstraat; the Musée Moderne was on the other side of the complex, in Venusstraat. The works discussed hereafter are now in Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten.
8. Peter Paul Rubens, St Theresa of Avila through Christ’s intervention rescuing Bernardinus of Mendoza from Purgatory, c 1630. Ill. 1303 .
9. Frans Hals, Fisher boy, c. 1630-1632. Ill. 2166 . Van Gogh had also been transfixed by this work not long before, during an earlier trip to Antwerp. Kerssemakers recalled: ‘Suddenly he’s gone from my side, and I see him walking up to the painting, and me after him. When I came up to him he was standing with hands folded as if in prayer in front of the painting and whispered: “God d ...; do you see that,” he said after a while, “now that’s painting, look” and following the direction of the broad strokes with his thumb: “he leaves it just as he puts it down,” and with an expansive gesture taking in the gallery: “the rest is almost all from the old periwig era”.’ See Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 3, p. 95 and letter 527, n. 5.
10. Maerten de Vos, St Luke painting the Virgin Mary, 1602. Ill. 1411 .
11. Van Gogh is referring to the panel An old man (71 x 58 cm), probably a late seventeenth-century copy after Rembrandt (Ill. 1848 ), and the small panel A fisher boy (24 x 19 cm), with false signature ‘Rem. 1659’, but since – as Van Gogh already suspected – attributed to Nicolaes Maes. Ill. 1098 . At the time both works were still regarded as Rembrandts. See letter 131, n. 25, and cf. cat. Antwerp 1988, p. 237.
12. Jacob Jordaens, As the elders sing, so pipe the young, 1638. Ill. 1002 .
13. Jan van Goyen, Landscape, 1631. Ill. 890 .
14. Salomon van Ruysdael, By still water and The ferry, 1657. Ill. 1313 and Ill. 1314 .
15. There were at least five works by Quinten Massys in the museum: Portrait of Peter Gilis, Christus Salvator Mundi, Magdalene, Triptych of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild (The entombment) and The Virgin embracing the dead Jesus (the last now as a follower). See cat. Antwerp 1988, pp. 245-250 and Baedeker 1885, pp. 95-102. Van Gogh must have meant the Triptych of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild. At the time it was considered to be the most important work (cf. Baedeker 1985, pp. 97-98). Ill. 3041 .
16. Jan van Eyck, St Barbara, 1437. Ill. 825 .
17. The ‘large Mols’ is probably The roads of Antwerp in 1870 (1878) by Robert Mols, which measures 294 x 947 cm. Ill. 1173 . It hung together with his The South Arsenal Quay in Antwerp in 1870 (1876) – which was 297 x 331 cm. See cat. Antwerp 1977, pp. 311-312. Antoine Vollon had been one of Mols’s teachers.
18. Henri de Braekeleer, The old inn ‘The Pilots’ House’ in Antwerp, 1877. Ill. 629 . The epithet ‘the bad one’ refers to Henri’s father, Ferdinand Braekeleer the Elder, as we learn from letter 547.
19. César de Cock, Woodland view: the banks of the Epte at Gasny (Eure), 1882. Ill. 33 .
20. Jean Pierre François Lamorinière, Prinsenvijver on the island of Walcheren, 1876. Ill. 1024 .
21. Joseph Théodore Coosemans, A winter’s day in the Kempen, 1879. Ill. 2168 .
22. Alphonse Asselbergs, Peat moor in the Kempen. Sunset, 1878. Ill. 517 .
23. Jacques Rosseels, The environs of Waasmunster, 1882. Ill. 1293 .
24. Théodore Baron, The forest of Fontainebleau, autumn evening. Ill. 540 .
25. Ludwig Munthe, Winter landscape. Ill. 1188 .
26. Andreas Achenbach, A tug leaving the port of Ostend at high tide, 1878. Ill. 480 .
27. Paul Jean Clays, Calm before the storm, near Dordrecht, 1876. Ill. 695 .
28. Henri Leys’s P.P. Rubens feted by the gunsmiths of Antwerp (1851) and Flemish nuptials in the 17th century (1839) hung in gallery 2 at the museum. Ill. 1052 and Ill. 3008 . See Baedeker 1885, p. 103.
29. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Self-portrait, 1864. Ill. 982 .
30. Jacques Louis David, Man with a hat. Ill. 2167 . The attribution is now in doubt.
31. Eugène Verboeckhoven, Cattle in a Flemish meadow, 1847 (no illustration available). In view of Van Gogh’s remark that Verboeckhoven painted ‘life-sized cows’ he must have had in mind this work by the romantic animal painter, which measures 249 x 341 cm. The museum in Antwerp has a panel by Eugène’s brother Louis titled Cows; however, it only measures 125 x 135 cm. See cat. Antwerp 1977, pp. 457-458.
Nothing in Verboeckhoven’s biography would seem to indicate that he was particularly pious. Van Gogh may have been thinking of the painting Flock frightened by the storm, 1839 (Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts) – in which a shepherd, with a clear Christian allusion, stands beside a prominent field cross with a lamb in his arms – or by ‘God-fearing’ he may have been commenting ironically on all the extremely ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’ motifs in Verboeckhoven’s oeuvre. See P. and V. Berko, Eugène Verboeckhoven. Brussels 1981.
32. In 1885 there were at least thirteen art dealers – ‘Marchands de tableaux’ – in the city. See Adresboek 1885.
33. From letter 546 it appears that this was a work by Franciscus Leonardus Johannes Moormans. It is not possible to identify the specific work Van Gogh is referring to here.