1 Nov.

My dear friend Rappard,
The article by Herkomer is extremely interesting, for which many thanks. I’ve been completely absorbed by it since its arrival, and hope that I’ll make good use of what he says.
Will his lecture be understood? — now that’s something I doubt — I fear that in general he’ll be misinterpreted, and that many will draw conclusions from his words that he didn’t intend.
I believe what he says is absolutely true, right and serious, but, I repeat, one must be to some extent familiar with the matter — more than most people are — to avoid drawing a conclusion from his lecture that would be wrong.
Many would mistakenly interpret it as meaning that Herkomer rejects and condemns the Americans and the school of Small, and in my view that isn’t the case at all. He speaks of decadence, and not without reason.
He points out that the credit for many a wood engraving goes largely to the engraver and not to the draughtsman. Thus points out the enfeebling of the draughtsmen, finds this intolerable and fatal. I consider this absolutely true. Compare, for example, that print by Ridley, The miner,1 which you wrote to me about finding recently, with the large Types of beauty that The Graphic later published,2 or take another print by Ridley, the children’s ward of a hospital, which I have, soberly and austerely engraved by Swain,3 and then one feels the things which I’ve heard dismissed by people who pass for first-rate connoisseurs with a ‘yes, well, that’s the old-fashioned manner’ — and that brings us to what HH4 means. The old manner of engraving, that solid, honest, uncontrived drawing, is by far the best.
Herkomer says: be careful, don’t let that be lost, if art lacks that then art has meningitis or spinal consumption.5 Yet I don’t believe that he condemns Small himself and Chas Green, for instance, or others — I know of reproductions of drawings by Herkomer, Bavarian sketches for example,6 done in the same manner.  1v:2
But Herkomer wouldn’t reject, for example, the distribution of turf tickets in Ireland by Caton Woodville7 or Xmas in olden times by Howard Pyle,8 even though both Caton Woodv. and H. Pyle have occasionally worked for the newer manner of illustration and gone over ‘the margin line’.9
I think it a pity that C.W. did the huge military things,10 however clever in themselves, and I prefer his prints in the manner of the turf market. Moreover, the criticism of Harper, and the Americans, reminds me of Chas Dickens.
He spoke out against them, see Chuzzlewit &c., and later, seeing that people drew the wrong conclusions from his words, such as that nothing good could come out of America, he added a preface to the later editions of Chuzzlewit in which he described his other impressions of America and his experiences on his second journey to America. Look it up in Forster’s life of Chas D., if you have it, and you’ll see what I mean, more clearly than in my words.11
So when it comes to the Americans and the contemporary wood engravers, let’s not judge too hastily, and recall the old saying ‘lest ye root up also the wheat with the tares’.12 To be sure, his complaint against The Graphic, against publishers in general, isn’t out of place. Pleasing, Saleable13 are horrible words to me.  1v:3 And I’ve never met a dealer who wasn’t steeped in that, and it’s a plague. Art has no greater enemies, although the managers of the big art firms have a reputation for performing a useful service by taking artists under their wing.
They don’t do it right; although matters are such that, with the public coming to them, not to the artists themselves, the artists are persuaded to resort to them — yet there’s not a single artist who doesn’t have a spoken or silent complaint against them in his heart. They flatter the public in its worst and most barbaric tendencies and bad taste. Enough. What concerns you and me in H.H.’s lecture is: Draw austerely, be serious, be honest.
Now listen, this last letter of yours and the impression made on both you and me by HH’s forceful words make me wish all the more that we could see rather more of each other’s work. It struck me at the last splendid Pictura14 exhibition that although Israëls, Mauve, Maris, Neuhuys, Weissenbruch15 and many others of course remain themselves, in their followers one also sees decadence16 and can’t detect progress if one doesn’t consider them on their own but in connection with an exhibition at that time when today’s leading lights were rising men. The rising men of today are not what the rising men of the previous generation were. More effect, less substance these days.17 I’ve written this to you before more than once: I also see a difference in the very personalities of the rising men of today. You know it yourself and experience it yourself: you and I are regarded by them as awkward customers18 and nonentities, and above all we’re thought to be heavy going and tedious in our work and in our persons.  1r:4
And believe me, those who saw the leading lights of today both as people and as artists 10 years ago — when they were all much poorer — they’ve earned a huge amount in those 10 years — miss those days of 10 years ago.
I take this opportunity to repeat my congratulations to you on your refusal at Arti.19 If you were to be a rising star in the current state of affairs, I would have less respect and sympathy for you than I do now. It’s crystal clear to me that you and I will certainly produce much finer work than we do now, and that our present work isn’t bad. For ourselves, we must remain strict and put our shoulders to the wheel, but there’s absolutely no reason to let oneself be discouraged or upset by what’s said about our work by those who think they know a better direction than we who make or try to make what strikes us in domestic life or on the streets or in the hospital &c.
If you knew what Degroux, for example, has endured by way of criticism and malice, you would be astonished.20 We must have no illusions, but prepare ourselves for being misunderstood, despised and vilified, and under all that, even when it gets much worse than it is now, we’ll have to hold on to courage and fervour. I believe we’ll do well to keep our attention fixed on the work and on the men of the past, namely 20, 30 years ago, if we don’t want it to be rightly said of us later: and Rappard and Vincent, too, can be counted among the decadent fellows. This is a harsh word, I absolutely mean it, and for my part I’ll go my way quietly without taking much notice of today’s school. Adieu, with a handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 280 | CL: R17
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Anthon van Rappard
Date: The Hague, Wednesday, 1 November 1882

1. Matthew White Ridley, The miner, engraved by Eugène Froment, in The Graphic 13 (15 April 1876), p. 376. The print belongs to the series Heads of the people. The estate has two copies. Ill. 1278 [1278]. (t*123; and t*469).
2. Van Gogh is referring to the series of engravings ‘Types of beauty’, which was published in 1880-1882 as a supplement to The Graphic; it included portrait no. 1 by Frank Dicksee (Ill. 1993 [1993]) and no. 6 by Frederick Leighton, engraved by Charles Roberts (Ill. 1994 [1994]). See The Graphic 22 (28 August 1880), between pp. 221 and 222, and The Graphic 24 (24 December 1881), between pp. 650 and 651, respectively. The sheet Types of beauty, No. 1 – Mrs. Braddyll, after a painting by Joshua Reynolds, had served as the frontispiece for the ninth volume of The Graphic (3 January 1874), Supplement; nos. 4 (Edwin Long) and 5 (J.J. Tissot, in colour) were in volume 24. The current volumes 25 and 26 (1882) contained no. 7 (Paul Baudry), no. 8 (Henri Lévy) and no. 9 (G.A. Storey).
[1993] [1994]
3. Matthew White Ridley, The East London Hospital for children, engraved by Joseph Swain, in The Illustrated London News 60 (27 April 1872), pp. 408-409. Ill. 1276 [1276].
5. These words are Van Gogh’s own; they are not found in Herkomer’s article – of which Van Gogh only had Van Rappard’s extract (see letter 278).
6. The series ‘Bavarian sketches’ consisted of nine prints that appeared in The Graphic in December 1871 to April 1878. Some of them are in the estate: A wood carving school in the Bavarian Alps, in The Graphic 4 (2 December 1871), p. 549. Ill. 161 [161] (t*164); A Wirtshaus, engraved by Eugène Froment, in The Graphic 11 (30 January 1875), p. 112. Ill. 183 [183] (t*92); Auf der Alm (In the Alps), in The Graphic 11 (27 March 1875), p. 297. Ill. 1995 [1995] (t*461); and Sketches in the Bavarian Alps – Arrest of a poacher, engraved by Charles Roberts, in The Graphic 7 (17 May 1873), p. 465. Ill. 159 [159] (t*460).
[161] [183] [1995] [159]
8. Van Gogh most probably means the print after Howard Pyle’s Christmas morning in Old New York, in Harper’s Weekly 24 (25 December 1880), pp. 828-829; it is mentioned in letter 346. Ill. 1224 [1224].
9. In his article Herkomer disparages the virtuosity of the engravers for American magazines like Harper’s Weekly because they steal the limelight from the original draughtsman: ‘You marvel at the handling of the engraver, and forget the artist. Correct or honest drawing is no longer wanted; complete designs are no longer in request; a “bit,” just covering an awkward corner of the page, is all that is required. And if the dress of a lady hangs into the letter-press, or a tree grows out of the margin of the drawing, breaking the margin line, people are made to believe that it is the newest and most enlightened style of illustration’ (Herkomer 1882, p. 167, col. 2).
10. Woodville travelled as an illustrator to the Russo-Turkish War in 1878 and to the Egyptian War for The Illustrated London News in 1882. He also painted military scenes.
11. Dickens first visited America in 1842. His calls for an Anglo-American copyright law put an end to the enthusiasm with which he was initially greeted. The American press turned against him and he was accused of being the mouthpiece of British publishers. Dickens incorporated his experiences, and his objections to such things as slavery, in the satirical ‘American chapters’ of Martin Chuzzlewit (which appeared in book form in 1850). In the preface Dickens wrote about the earlier clashes with the Americans. When he also published American notes, which included an attack on the American press, irritation escalated into a wrangle that would continue for 25 years.
When Dickens was preparing for a new visit for a series of readings in 1867, he toned down his pronouncements in a foreword he wrote to Martin Chuzzlewit, which was being published in American newspapers. Through this conciliatory gesture he won over public opinion and the tour was a success. See Martin Chuzzlewit. Ed. Margaret Cardwell. Oxford 1982, pp. 855-856; Dickens on America & the Americans. Ed. Michael Slater. Austin and London 1978; and Sidney P. Moss, Charles Dickens’ quarrel with America. New York 1984.
In The life of Charles Dickens (1871-1873) John Forster deals with this matter at length, especially in vol. 1, chapter 19: ‘First Impressions of America’ and 20: ‘Second Impressions of America’; vol. 2, chapter 3: ‘Chuzzlewit disappointments & Christmas Carol’; and vol. 3, chapter 15: ‘America Revisited. November and December, 1867’ and 16: ‘America Revisited. January to April, 1868’. Van Gogh knew this biography, which was included as the last volume in the Household Edition of Ch. Dickens, Works. With illustrations. 22 vols. London 1877-1880: see letter 280.
13. The word ‘saleable’ would have been suggested by what Herkomer expects from the artist: ‘an independent spirit that is free from the anxiety of sale’ (Herkomer 1882, p. 168, col. 2).
14. The ‘Zevende tentoonstelling van teekeningen door de gewone- en eereleden van de Hollandsche Teeken-Maatschappij’ (Seventh exhibition of drawings by the ordinary and honorary members of the Dutch Drawing Society), held at the Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague; see letters 256 and 257. The term ‘Pictura’ comes from the earlier name of the academy, ‘De schildersconfrerie Pictura’. See Johan Gram, De schildersconfrerie Pictura en hare Academie van Beeldende Kunsten te ’s Gravenhage, 1682-1882. Rotterdam 1882. For the Hollandsche Teeken-Maatschappij, see letter 256, n. 8.
16. A literal reference to Herkomer; see letter 278, n. 3.
17. Herkomer writes ‘Effect is the one aim’: see Herkomer 1882, p. 167, col. 2.
18. For this expression, see letter 234, n. 4.
19. For Arti’s refusal of Van Rappard’s work, see letter 268, n. 11.
20. Particularly at the beginning of his career, Charles Degroux was fiercely criticized for his realistic paintings of scenes of misery. See exhib. cat. Ypres 1995, pp. 21-32.
a. Means: ‘belasterd’ (despised).