My dear Theo,
Even though I wrote to you only a short while ago, this time I have something more to say to you.
Namely that a change has come about in my drawing, both in my manner of doing it and in the result.
Prompted as well by a thing or two that Mauve said to me, I’ve started working again from a live model. I’ve been able to get various people here to do it, fortunately, one being Piet Kaufmann the labourer.1
The careful study, the constant and repeated drawing of Bargue’s Exercices au fusain has given me more insight into figure drawing. I’ve learned to measure and to see and to attempt the broad outlines &c. So that what used to seem to me to be desperately impossible is now gradually becoming possible, thank God. I’ve drawn a peasant with a spade no fewer than 5 times, ‘a digger’ in fact, in all kinds of poses,2 twice a sower,3 twice a girl with a broom.4 Also a woman with a white cap who’s peeling potatoes,5 and a shepherd leaning on his crook,6 and finally an old, sick peasant sitting on a chair by the fireplace with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees.7 8
And it won’t stop there, of course, once a couple of sheep have crossed the bridge the whole flock follows.
Diggers, sowers, ploughers, men and women I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that’s part of a peasant’s life. Just as many others have done and are doing. I’m no longer so powerless in the face of nature as I used to be.9  1v:2
I brought Conté in wood10 (and pencils as well) from The Hague, and am now working a lot with it.
I’m also starting to work with the brush and the stump.11 With a little sepia or indian ink, and now and then with a bit of colour.
It’s quite certain that the drawings I’ve been making lately don’t much resemble anything I’ve made up till now.
The size of the figures is more or less that of one of the Exercices au fusain.
As regards landscape, I maintain that that should by no means have to suffer on account of it. On the contrary, it will gain by it. Herewith a couple of little sketches to give you an idea of them.
Of course I have to pay the people who pose. Not very much, but because it’s an everyday occurrence it will be one more expense as long as I fail to sell any drawings.
But because it’s only rarely that a figure is a total failure, it seems to me that the cost of models will be completely recouped fairly soon already.
For there’s also something to be earned in this day and age for someone who has learned to seize a figure and hold on to it until it stands firmly on the paper. I needn’t tell you that I’m only sending you these sketches to give you an idea of the pose. I scribbled them today quickly and see that the proportions leave much to be desired, certainly more so than in the actual drawings at any rate. I’ve had a good letter from Rappard who seems to be hard at work, he sent me some very nice sketches of landscapes. I’d really like him to come here again for a few days.  1v:3

This is a field or stubble field which is being ploughed and sown, I have a rather large sketch of it with a storm brewing.12

The other two sketches are poses of diggers. I hope to make several more of these.

The other sower has a basket.13
It would give me tremendous pleasure to have a woman pose with a seed basket in order to find that figure that I showed you last spring and which you see in the foreground of the first sketch.

In short, ‘the factory is in full swing’, as Mauve says.
Remember that Ingres paper, if you will, of the colour of unbleached linen, the stronger kind if possible. In any case, write to me soon if you can, and accept a handshake in thought.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 171 | CL: 150
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Etten, mid-September 1881

1. Van Gogh usually looked for models among the Protestant parishioners. In 1924 Piet Kaufmann stated that he had posed for Van Gogh ‘some thirty to fifty times’ (Stokvis 1926, pp. 19-21). In 1934 Kaufmann had his memoirs recorded in detail by Frans Schuerweghs. He said that he had posed dozens of times in numerous places: ‘beneath a row of trees’, probably also ‘with a wheelbarrow’, ‘at the willows, under the apple tree’, as a ‘sower’, ‘as a man with a spade ... under the apple tree at “De IJzeren Pot”, the farm where I lived’, and ‘in Roosendaalseweg with a hoe’ ... Whenever I posed and the work was finished, Vincent asked how much he owed me. I answered: “Nothing, Vincent”. “Well, Piet, then we’re done,” he would say, satisfied...’. Kaufmann, in any case, is assumed to have posed for the following drawings: Boy cutting grass with a sickle (F 851 / JH 61 [2348]), Digger (F 855 / JH 43) and Digger (F 859 / JH 29). It is also possible that he appears in Sower (F 866a / JH 27) and Kneeling man, planting (F 879 / JH 62).
Kaufmann also names another model: ‘On Minus van Oostenrijk’s land, where he was ploughing, he drew Minus as a ploughman’. Although Minus’s son later stated that Van Gogh had made a ‘large painting’ of his father ploughing, as well as a portrait of his mother, it is very doubtful whether Van Gogh was already making paintings during this period. See [Anonymous], ‘Tuinman van dominee Van Gogh vertelt zijn herinneringen over Vincent’, Gazet van Antwerpen, 8 December 1953; Stokvis 1926, included in Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, pp. 291-293; and Kerstens 1990. The Minus referred to is either Johannes Andries Oostrijck or Lambregt Oostrijck, who were both peasants living in Etten at Dorp, A 140 and A 141 (RAZ).
[2348] [312] [312] [314] [313]
2. For Bargue's Exercises au fusain, see letter 156, n. 12. In addition to the digger mentioned in letter 173, four more diggers from the Etten period are known, as well as a man leaning on his spade. Digger (F 859 / JH 29) is depicted in letter sketch D in the present letter, while the Man leaning on his spade (F 861 / JH 40) is related to letter sketch E. To be sure, Digger (F 860 / JH 38) displays similarities to letter sketch B, but the drawing’s relatively small size (29.5 x 22 cm) suggests that Van Gogh did not consider this version to be one of the figure studies, because they were much larger, i.e. the same size as the Bargue sheets (ll. 41-42). The other two drawings of diggers are F 855 / JH 43 and F 860a / JH 42. It cannot be ascertained whether the somewhat divergent leaning peasant and the last two diggers – of whom Van Gogh made no sketch – belong to the five drawings referred to here.
[312] [315] [312] [312] [952]
3. At this time Van Gogh made a number of figure drawings of sowers on large sheets. Letter sketch K is derived from the drawing Sower with a basket (F 865 / JH 25). The corresponding drawing F 1675 / JH 26 is much smaller and therefore cannot be the one referred to. Other surviving drawings are Sower (F 856 / JH 17), Sower (F 858 / JH 18), Sower (F 866a / JH 27) and Sower with a sack (F 862 / JH 31). The composition of the last drawing is the same as that of letter sketch L. Later on in the letter Van Gogh again mentions a sower holding a basket, so it is obvious that when he says ‘twice a sower’ he is referring to variations and not to two identical depictions.
[316] [937] [314] [317]
4. If Van Gogh means a figure like the woman in letter sketch J, then the drawings are not known.
5. The largest version of this subject is Woman peeling potatoes (F 1209 / JH 22 [2342]); the smaller one is F 1213 / JH 23 [2343], with the same title. The subject is depicted in letter sketch G (F - / JH 28).
[2342] [2343]
6. This drawing of a shepherd is not known.
7. This is the drawing Man sitting by the fireplace (‘Worn out’) (F 863 / JH 34 [2345]), of which letter sketch F gives an impression. The model was Cornelis Schuitemaker (see letter 286, n. 4).
8. This list of subjects does not include the man with a winnow depicted in letter sketch I; the relevant drawing is Man with a winnow (F 891 / JH 24).
9. ‘I’m no longer... as I used to be’ was added later.
10. Artificially produced chalk enclosed in a cylinder of wood, like a pencil. The mention of the brand name Conté does not necessarily mean that the chalk was actually made by Conté, since by then this had become the generic name.
11. A rolled-up piece of chamois or paper, pointed at both ends, used to rub the drawing medium in pencil or chalk drawings in order to obtain nuances, such as shadow effects.
12. The drawing Storm clouds over a field (F 1676 / JH 36 [2346]) measures 46 x 49 cm.
13. This sentence seems to refer to letter sketch L. Van Gogh therefore means that he made two drawings of sowers: the one reproduced in this letter sketch and the Sower with a basket (F 865 / JH 25). See n. 3 above.