Cuesmes, 20 August 1880

Dear Theo,
If I’m not mistaken, you should still have Millet’s ‘The labours of the fields’.1 Would you be so kind as to lend them to me for a short while, and to send them to me by post?
You should know that I’m sketching large drawings after Millet, and that I’ve done The four times of the day,2 as well as The sower.3
Well, if you saw them perhaps you wouldn’t be too unhappy with them. Now, if you’d like to send me The labours of the fields, perhaps you could also add some other sheets by or after Millet, J. Breton, Feyen-Perrin, &c. Don’t buy any specially, but lend me what you may have.
Send me what you can, and don’t have any fears on my account. If only I can go on working, I’ll recover somehow. But you’d be a great help to me by doing this. If you pay a visit to Holland sooner or later, I hope you won’t pass by without coming to see the scratches.
I’m writing to you while drawing and I’m in a hurry to get back to it, so good-night, and send the sheets as soon as possible, and believe me

Ever yours,

rue du Pavillon 3

The Millets that I’ve done are The four times of the day, the format more or less that of a sheet from the Bargue drawing course.4
You’ll understand well enough yourself what I need to make it unnecessary for me to tell you, but I’ll tell you nevertheless, so that you can know my thinking.
They’re mainly figure studies, such as Millet’s The diggers,5 or the lithograph after his Winnower.6 And figures by Brion or Frère or Feyen-Perrin or Jules Breton.
I believe you could find just what I need at the Alliance des Arts, where they have the lithographs by Contemporary Artists &c., which are sold there extremely cheaply.7 A sheet that I’d be immensely glad to have is Daubigny’s large etching after Ruisdael, The bush, which is on sale at the print-shop in the Louvre.8
I’ve done a scratch of miners, male and female thrutchersb, going to the pit in the morning, in the snow, on a path beside a thorn-hedge: passing shadows, dimly visible in the dusk.9 In the background, the large mine buildings and the slag heap are becoming indistinct against the sky. I’m sending you the croquis so that you can picture it for yourself. But I feel the need to study figure drawing from masters like Millet, Breton and10 Brion or Boughton, or someone else. What do you think of the croquis? Does the idea seem good to you?
In the photographs after J. Breton by Bingham there is, if I remember rightly, one of women gleaners. Dark silhouettes against a sky in which the sun is setting, red.11 There you are, it’s things like that I need to have before my eyes. It’s because I think you’d prefer to see me doing something good than doing nothing at all that I’m writing to you on this subject, and perhaps it would be a reason why good understanding and friendship might be re-established between the two of us, and we might perhaps be useful to one another.
I’d very much like to execute the drawing in question better than I have done. In the one that I’ve done, as it stands, the figures might be about 10 centimetres high. The pendant is of the miners’ return, but it’s less successful as it stands. It’s very difficult, as it involves an effect of brown silhouettes encircled by light against a streaky sunset sky.
Send The labours of the fields by return of post if you can and if you will.

I’ve dropped a line to Mr Tersteeg to ask him if perhaps there would be some way for me to have Bargue’s Exercices au fusain for a while,12 i.e. the studies of the nude model you’re familiar with. I don’t know if he’ll do it or not, that’s to say send me them, but supposing he didn’t, couldn’t you influence him a little in my favour? Because these Exercices au fusain would be eminently useful to me. But perhaps he’ll do me the favour of sending me at least some sheets, if not the whole course.


Br. 1990: 155 | CL: 134
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Cuesmes, Friday, 20 August 1880

1. The series Les travaux des champs (The labours of the fields) consists of ten prints, engraved by Adrien Lavieille: Moissonneur à la faucille; Moissonneur à la faux; Paysanne liant des gerbes; La faneuse; Le botteleur; La broyeuse de lin; Le batteur de blé; Les tondeurs de mouton; Le bûcheron; La fileuse (Reaper wielding a sickle; Reaper wielding a scythe; Peasant woman binding sheaves; Woman making hay; Hay baler; Woman grinding flax-seed; The wheat thresher; The sheep shearers; The woodcutter; Woman spinning). The estate contains two copies: one with all ten prints on one sheet, Ill. 1887 [1887], and the other with the depictions cut out (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, t*913 and t*1002-1003). The woodcuts appeared in L’Illustration 21 (5 February 1853), no. 519, pp. 92-93 – Van Gogh’s estate also contains several of these (t*247-250) – and they were published in Dessins de J.-F. Millet, gravés par Adrien Lavieille. Paris 1855. See Sensier 1881, pp. 386-387, and exhib. cat. Paris 1998, pp. 128-141, cat. nos. 55-70.
2. For Millet’s The times of the day [1679] [1680] [1681] [1682] (the series The four times of the day), see letter 37, n. 16.
3. It is not clear which reproduction Van Gogh used in making his copy after The sower; the only early copy by his hand dates from April 1881, around eight months after this letter was written (F 830 / JH 1 [2334]). See cat. Amsterdam 1996, pp. 79-82, cat. no. 16. Of Millet’s The sower there exist paintings (including one in Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, and another in Kugawa, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum) and a pastel which Van Gogh could have seen at the Emile Gavet sale in 1875 (cf. letter 36, n. 5). In 1873, Paul Edmé Lerat made an etching after the work – which corresponds to a lithograph dating from 1851. Van Gogh owned this etching, to which he applied a grid, but it is not known whether he already had it in August 1880 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, t*229). Ill. 1888 [1888]. (Cf. also letter 73, n. 5 and letter 686, n. 6). See exhib. cat. Boston 1984, pp. 30-35, cat. nos. 18-19; exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1988, pp. 156-192, cat. nos. 64-80; exhib. cat. Paris 1998, pp. 90-105, cat. nos. 40-48.
[2334] [1888]
4. The sheets in Bargue’s Cours de dessin measure c. 44 x 58 cm; the sample drawings vary in size.
a. Read: ‘qu’il soit’.
6. Charles Vernier made a lithograph after Millet’s Le vanneur (The winnower). It appeared in Lièvre, Musée Universel 1868-1869 Ill. 296 [296]. There are several copies of the painting: London, National Gallery; United States, private collection; Paris, Musée du Louvre. See exhib. cat. Paris 1975, pp. 73-75, cat. no. 42; p. 208, cat. no. 166; exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1988, pp. 28-29, cat. no. 1; exhib. cat. Paris 1998, pp. 32, 160, cat. no. 2.
7. Theo had been living in Paris since c. 1 November 1879. The publisher Marchant at rue de Rivoli 140 put numerous reproductions on the market, as appears from Galerie de L’Alliance des Arts. Gravures, eaux-fortes et lithographies. Reproduction des tableaux et dessins des maîtres de l’école moderne. Ornements de tous les styles et de toutes les époques. Paris 1861 (Paris, Bibliothèque d’art et d’archéologie. Fondation Jacques Doucet).
b. Sclôneurs and sclôneuses were usually children who worked deep underground in the passages immediately behind a miner and dragged the coal away in baskets. Those baskets were known as sclônes in the local patois. With thanks to Freddy Godart. The term ‘sclôneuse’ (a woman who worked in the pits) is also found in Zola’s Germinal.
8. The print room of the Louvre sold reproductions. See letter 35, n. 5, for the etching The bush [1717] by Charles-François Daubigny after Jacob van Ruisdael; cf. Chalcographie 1954, p. 29, no. 848 (which gives the measurements as 36 x 40 cm) and Renié 1999.
9. This drawing and its pendant, which Van Gogh mentions later in the letter, are both unknown.
10. It is possible Van Gogh wrote ‘Breton,’ instead of ‘Breton &’.
11. The photographer Robert Jefferson Bingham, who lived and worked in Paris and later in Brussels, was known for his reproductions of art works. The work in question could be Jules Breton’s Women hoeing, 1860 (Omaha, (Nebraska), Joslyn Art Museum), or a replica of this work dating from 1868 (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), with a red sun going down. Exhib. cat. Arras 2002, p. 78 Ill. 1889 [1889].
12. Charles Bargue, Exercices au fusain pour préparer à l’étude de l’académie d’après nature. Paris (Goupil & Cie), 1871. The loose-leaf edition contained a series of sixty sample drawings on large sheets (c. 47 x 61 cm); the price printed on the cover of the portfolio was 75 francs. See Chetham 1976, pp. 60-61 and ‘Modèles et ouvrages spéciaux pour l’enseignement des arts du dessin’ in Cat. Goupil 1877.