My dear Theo,
I had already been looking out for your letter, more or less, and was again glad of it. Thank you. I find what you write about the exhibition most interesting.1 What was that old painting by Dupré that you thought especially beautiful? You must write again to tell me. Your description of Troyon and Rousseau, for instance, is lively enough to give me some idea of which of their manners they are done in.2
There were other paintings from the time of Troyon’s municipal pasture3 that had a certain mood that one would have to call dramatic, even though they aren’t figure paintings.
Israëls put it perfectly in the case of a Jules Dupré (Mesdag's large one):4 ‘It’s just like a figure painting’.5 It’s that dramatic quality that causes one to find a je ne sais quoi in it that makes one feel what you say, ‘It expresses that moment and that place in nature where one can go alone, without company.’
Ruisdael’s Bush6 has it strongly too.
Haven’t you ever seen old Jacques that were perhaps a little overdone, a little straining for effect — but not really — and for that reason were thought particularly beautiful, even though not everyone considered them to be among the finest Jacques?
Speaking of Rousseau, do you know Richard Wallace’s Rousseau? An edge of a wood in the autumn after rain, with a vista of meadows stretching away endlessly, marshy, with cows in them, the foreground rich in tone.7 To me that’s one of the finest — is very like the one with the red sun in the Luxembourg.8
The dramatic effect of these paintings is something that helps us to understand ‘a corner of nature seen through a temperament’9 and that helps us understand that the principle of ‘man added to nature’10 is needed more than anything else in art, and one finds the same thing in Rembrandt’s portraits, for example — it’s more than nature, more like a revelation. And it seems good to me to respect that, and to keep quiet when it’s often said that it’s overdone or a manner.  1v:2
Oh, I must tell you that De Bock came round — very pleasant. Breitner, whom I didn’t in the least expect because he had apparently broken off contact completely some time ago, turned up yesterday. That pleased me because in the past — when I was first here — he was very pleasant to go walking with. I mean to go out together not in the country but in the city itself, to look for figures and nice scenes.
Here in The Hague there isn’t a single person I've ever done that with in the city itself; most think the city ugly and pass by all of it. And yet it’s really beautiful in the city sometimes, don’t you agree?
Yesterday, for example, I saw workmen in Noordeinde pulling down that part opposite the palace,11 chaps covered in white from the clouds of plaster dust with carts and horses. It was cool, windy weather, the sky grey, and there was great character in the scene. I saw Van der Velden once last year — at De Bock’s one evening when we looked at etchings. I’ve already written to you that he made a very favourable impression on me at the time,12 although he said little and wasn’t much company that evening. But the impression he immediately made on me was that he was a solid, genuine painter.
It’s a square, Gothic head — something bold or daring, and yet gentle in his look. Very broad build, in fact the exact opposite of Breitner and De Bock. There’s something manly and strong in him, even if he says nothing and does nothing special. I do hope I’ll get in closer touch with him at some point, perhaps through Van der Weele.
Was at Van der Weele’s last Sunday; he was working on a painting of cows in the milking yard, for which he has several substantial studies.13 He’s moving to the country for some time.  1v:3
Of late I’ve done a few watercolours outdoors again for a change, a cornfield and a bit of a potato field.14 And also drawn a few small landscapes,15 to have something to go by for the settings of a few figure drawings that I’m looking for.

These are the designs of the figure drawings, very superficially. Above, weed burners, below, coming back from the potato field.16
I’m seriously considering painting a number of figure studies, mainly with a view to raising the standard of the drawings.  1r:4
It’s good news for me that you’re planning to come to Holland at the beginning of August, for I’ve said often enough that I dearly long to see you.17
I’m looking forward to hearing from you sometime as to how informed your woman is about art. In any event, much will have to be done and cultivated in that respect, I imagine. So much the better. In any case I hope she’ll get a sort of album, for which I hope you’ll find a few sheets among the smaller studies. Sometimes there are sheets in a sketchbook which still say something, even though they’re only scratches. I’ll gather one or two things together before you come.
Well, I’ve spoken to De Bock again and I can leave my stuff with him when I go to do studies in Scheveningen.
I also hope to go and see Blommers again soon. I talked to De Bock about his painting at the Salon, November, which I thought so beautiful, and the reproduction in the catalogue.18 He should still have a sketch of it, and I’d like to see it.
As for going to London sooner or later for a while, long or short, I too believe that there would be more chance of doing something with my work over there; I also think that I could learn a great deal if I could make the acquaintance of some people there. And there I wouldn’t be short of subjects to do, I assure you. There would be beautiful things to do on the wharves beside the Thames. Anyway, we must talk about various things again when you come. I hope you won’t be in too much of a hurry; we’ll have rather a lot to deal with. I’d like to be able to get some studies in Brabant again in the autumn.
Above all I’d like to have studies of a Brabant plough, of a weaver and of that village cemetery at Nuenen.19 Again, everything costs money.
Well, regards, and thanks again for your letter and the enclosure. I wish you well. Do you think about bringing the woman to Holland, or is that not advisable as yet? I hope it happens. Adieu, old chap, with a handshake.

Ever yours,

I’m adding a word here to tell you something more about Breitner as well — since I’ve just come back from his temporary studio here (you know that he really lives in Rotterdam these days).20 You know Vierge or Urrabieta, the draughtsman for L’Illustration.21 Well, at times B. reminds me of Vierge, but very rarely.
When he’s good it looks like something done in haste by Vierge; but when he, that is B., is too hasty or doesn’t work things through, which is usually the case, it’s difficult to say what it resembles, for it looks like nothing — except like strips of an old, faded wallpaper from I don’t know which era, but in any event a very singular one, probably from long ago. Imagine, I go to the garret that he has at Siebenhaar’s. It was furnished mainly with various matchboxes (empty), and then with a razor or something, and a cupboard with a bed in it. I see something leaning against the chimney, 3 endlessly long strips that I at first think are sun blinds. But on closer inspection they turn out to be canvases in this format.

As you see from the above illustration, painted with a not unmystical scene, probably taken from Revelation, one would imagine at first sight.
Yet I’m informed that they are artillery manoeuvres in the dunes. Off the cuff I would put it at over 4 metres long by 3/4 of a metre.22
The second was a story of a man who was leaning against the wall on the extreme left of the painting, while on the far right various types of ghostly women stood gawking at him, while care had been taken to leave a substantial space between these two groups. I was then informed that what was depicted in the left-hand corner was a drunkard, and I wouldn’t venture to doubt that this may just as well have been the maker’s intention as something else.23  2v:6
The third is almost better, and is a sketch of the market that he did last year, but since then it seems it’s meant to depict a Spanish instead of a Dutch market, in so far as one can make anything of it.24
Whatever merchandise is sold at the market (wherever it’s located, I for one doubt whether it’s meant to be on this earth; it’s much more likely to strike the naive beholder as portraying a scene on one of those planets visited by Jules Verne’s miraculous travellers (by projectile))25 – whatever merchandise really is being traded is impossible to make out, but it’s faintly reminiscent of a huge mass of preserves or sweets. You see, try to picture such a thing, but it couldn’t be more absurd, and heavy-handed as well, and you have the work of Friend Breitner.
From a distance they’re areas of faded colour as on bleached and rotting and mouldering wallpaper, and in that sense there are qualities in it that are absolutely unpalatable to me.
I utterly fail to understand how anyone could possibly come up with something like that. It’s the sort of thing one sees when one has a fever — or impossible and meaningless as in a dream that makes no sense at all. I take the view, quite simply, that Breitner isn’t yet cured, and actually did it while he had a fever. Which, given his illness last year, may be considered entirely possible.26 Last year when I was cured but still couldn’t sleep and was feverish, I too had moments when I wanted to force myself to work all the same and did some things, though thank God not so absurdly big, and later on I couldn’t understand why I’d done them.
This is why I think that B. will be all right in the end, but I find this absurd.  2v:7
In a corner lay a crumpled watercolour study of some birches in the dunes27 that was much better and had nothing abnormal about it. But those big things are nothing.
I saw another one at Van der Weele’s, very ugly,28 and a head, very good,29 but a portrait of Van der W. — that he’d started — again bad.30
So he’s making a terrible mess on a very big scale. I like the work of Hoffmann and Edgar Poe on occasion. (Contes fantastiques, Raven &c.)31 But I find this unpalatable because the fantasy is heavy-handed and without meaning, and there are almost no correspondences to what exists. I find it very ugly.
But I regard it as a period of illness. Van der Weele has two rather curious drawings by him, elegantly done in watercolour, which have a certain je ne sais quoi of what the English call ‘weird’.
I learned a lesson today from that visit, namely that one can count oneself lucky if one is in relatively normal surroundings in today’s society, and doesn’t have to seek refuge in a coffee-house life which will make one begin to see things ever more cloudily and confusedly. For the latter is his situation, about that I have no doubt. Imperceptibly he has strayed terribly far from a calm, rational contemplation of things, and now he can’t put down a single calm, reasonable line or brushstroke as long as this stress continues.
I wish I could offer him some company and diversion, I wish I could often take a turn with him and perhaps make him a little calmer. You remember the painting The madness of Hugo van der Goes by Wauters?32 In some things B. faintly reminds me of a state of mind like Van der Goes’s. I’d not like to be the first to say this, but I believe his work has already been discussed in these terms for some considerable time.  2r:8
The remedy would be to look at length at the potato leaves that are so deep and elegant in colour and tone at present, instead of driving himself mad looking at lengths of yellow satin and pieces of gilt leather.
Anyway, we’ll see how it goes. He’s intelligent enough, but it’s a kind of bias towards eccentricity that he persists in regardless. If he deviated from the normal for a reasonable motive, well and good, but here it’s a question of not taking any trouble with his work either. I find it truly wretched and I hope he recovers, but he has lost his way badly.
This week I’m going to start in Scheveningen. I would have liked there to be room for a little extra, then I would have bought some painting materials.
I’m going to have photographs taken of a few drawings in cabinet format33 or slightly larger (to see how they’d look on a small scale) by a photographer who has photographed those drawings by Ter Meulen, Du Chattel, Zilcken.34 He does it for 75 cents, that’s not expensive, is it? I’ll have the sower and the Peat diggers35 done for now, the one with many smaller figures, the other with 1 large figure. And if they work, later on when I have drawings I’ll be able to send you photos to show to Buhot, say, to see if he thinks he can place them. They could have the drawings themselves of the ones they want for reproduction or I can redraw them on their paper.
Regards again, Theo. Best wishes.
Do write again soon. I’ll have the photos taken, for we must stick to our guns with Buhot & Cie. I must try to earn a little so that I can make a start on something new and do some painting too, for I’m just in the mood for that.

Mauve not only had some unpleasantness with me36 but also, to give an example, had unpleasantness with Zilcken. It’s only now that I’ve seen Z.’s etchings,37 and just now photos of drawings by Zilcken at the photographer’s. Leaving myself out of it, I hereby declare that I don’t understand what M. has against Z. His drawings were good and not in the least bad; it’s capriciousness on Mauve’s part.

After all, I don’t think it very nice of C.M. that I haven’t received one syllable in reply to my letter, in which I took the trouble to do two croquis of the drawings in question.38
Nor do I think it nice of H.G.T. that he didn’t pay a call after I’d made an attempt to break the ice.39 It’s rubbish to say that he’s busy, because that’s not the reason in this case, he could find the time to come once a year.

I’m adding half a page to talk about Brabant. Among the figures of types from the people that I did there are several with a certain, what many would call old-fashioned, character, also in the approach. For example, a digger who’s more like those one sometimes finds in the bas-reliefs carved in wood on Gothic pews than a contemporary drawing. I very often think of the Brabant figures, which I find especially sympathetic.
Something I’d like to have terribly much, and which I feel I can do, given certain conditions of patient posing, is the figure of Pa on a path on the heath, the figure severely drawn with character and, as I say, a stretch of brown heath with a narrow, white, sandy path running across it, and a sky applied with some passion and evenly expressed.
Then, for instance, Pa and Ma arm in arm — in an autumn setting — or with a beech hedge with dry leaves.
I’d also like to have the figure of Pa when I do a country funeral, which I’m definitely planning, although it would be a great deal of trouble.
Leaving aside irrelevant differences in religious views, to me the figure of a poor village pastor is one of the most sympathetic in type and character that there is, and I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t attack it sometime.
When you come I’d truly like to consult you on what to do about travelling over there. When you see my drawings of orphan men, for instance, you’ll understand what I want and how I mean it.  3v:10
My aim is to do a drawing that not exactly everyone will understand, the figure expressed in its essence in simplified form, with deliberate disregard of those details that aren’t part of the true character and are merely accidental. Thus it shouldn’t, for example, be the portrait of Pa but rather the type of a poor village pastor going to visit a sick person. The same with the couple arm in arm by the beech hedge — the type of a man and woman who have grown old together and in whom love and loyalty have remained, rather than portraits of Pa and Ma, although I hope they’ll pose for it. But they must know that it’s serious, which they might not see for themselves if the likeness isn’t exact.
And should be a bit prepared, in the event that this happens, for having to pose as I say and not change anything. Well, that will be all right, and I don’t work so slowly as to make it a great effort for them. And for my part I would greatly value doing it. Simplifying the figures is something that very much preoccupies me. Anyway, you’ll see some for yourself among the figures I’ll show you. If I went to Brabant, it should certainly not be an excursion or pleasure trip, it seems to me, but a short period of very hard work at lightning speed. Speaking of expression in a figure, I’m becoming more and more persuaded that it lies not so much in the features as in the whole manner. I find few things as horrible as most academic facial expressions. I would rather look at ‘Night’ by Michelangelo,40 or a drunk by Daumier,41 or The diggers by Millet,42 and that large woodcut by him, The shepherdess.43 Or at an old horse by Mauve &c.


Br. 1990: 363 | CL: 299
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: The Hague, on or about Wednesday, 11 July 1883

1. The exhibition Les cent chefs d’oeuvre at Galerie Georges Petit. At the beginning of the month Vincent had asked Theo to give him a description. See letter 358, n. 1.
2. There were four works by Jules Dupré, thirteen by Rousseau and nine by Troyon. See Cent chefs-d’oeuvre des collections parisiennes. Paris 1883.
3. Which particular painting of a municipal pasture by Constant Troyon Van Gogh has in mind here is impossible to say.
4. Jules Dupré, Autumn, c. 1865 (The Hague, The Mesdag Collection). Ill. 1588 [1588]. The canvas measures 106.5 x 93.5 cm. Van Gogh had seen the painting in the summer of 1882 at the Academy of Fine Art in The Hague (November): see letter 246, n. 15.
5. This remark by Israëls is quoted again in letter 483.
7. Théodore Rousseau, The forest of Fontainebleau: Morning (Landscape, with cattle drinking), c. 1850 (London, The Wallace Collection). Ill. 404 [404]. The work was shown at the Paris Salon under the title Lisière de forêt; effet de matin. The 1855 lithograph (in reverse) by Jules Joseph Augustin Laurens after this work is in a Scrapbook in the estate (t*1487, 17). Ill. 2113 [2113].
[404] [2113]
8. Théodore Rousseau, Sortie de fôret à Fontainebleau, soleil couchant (The edge of the forest of Fontainebleau, at sunset), c. 1849 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 405 [405].
9. This idea accords with the naturalistic approach to art as formulated by Zola. In Mes haines he defined a good work of art as: ‘A work of art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament’ (Une oeuvre d’art est un coin de la création vu à travers un tempérament). See Zola 1966-1970, vol. 10, p. 38. Cited again in letters 492 and 643.
10. For this dictum by Bacon, see letter 152, n. 10.
a. Up to this point the sentence should be read as: ‘’t Dramatisch effect van die schilderijen is iets dat de uitspraak ‘un coin [etc.]’ doet begrijpen, en dat tevens doet begrijpen dat het principe van ‘un homme ajouté à la nature’ inmiddels al meer dan iets anders wordt vereist [= behoort] in de moderne kunst.’ (The dramatic effect of these paintings is something that makes the statement ‘un coin [etc.]’ understandable, and that also makes it understandable that the principle of ‘un homme ajouté à la nature’ is now demanded [= belongs] in modern art more than anything else).
11. The neo-Gothic Gallery built by King William ii to his own design in 1840 was pulled down in July 1883. See exhib. cat. The Hague 1990, p. 45.
12. Vincent had written to Theo about Van der Velden in letter 337.
13. This painting by Van der Weele has not been traced.
14. The watercolour of a corn field is not known; the watercolour with part of a potato field may be the same as the one mentioned in letter 360, Potato field in the dunes [2445] (F 1037 / JH 390).
15. These (evidently small) landscape drawings are not known.
16. The composition of the first letter sketch, Weed burners (F - / JH 376), matches that of the watercolour with the same title, F 1035a / JH 375, and of the lithograph F 1660 / JH 377 [3029]. There is no known work with the composition of the second sketch, Three people returning from the potato field (F - / JH 378).
17. Theo’s visit was to take place on 17 August (see letter 373); as in the previous summer he travelled back and forth to The Hague from Nuenen.
18. Van Gogh knew the illustration of BlommersNovember from the Catalogue illustré du Salon: see letter 357, n. 6.
19. Van Gogh had earlier intended to depict the Nuenen graveyard, which he did not know from personal observation: see letter 259, n. 6.
20. Breitner had his studio in Juffrouw Idastraat: see letter 204, n. 7. From September 1882 he taught at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Art and Technical Science – from that date he probably lived at Aert van Nesstraat 34 in Rotterdam. See Breitner brieven 1970, p. 39 and cf. letter 277.
21. Daniel Urrabieta Vierge provided numerous contributions to L’Illustration and Le Monde Illustré.
22. Van Gogh probably means Breitner’s Huzarencharge (Charge of the hussars, also known as De charge or Cavalerie), c. 1882-1884 (The Hague, Kunstmuseum). Ill. 635 [635]. It measures 100 x 300 cm.
23. This depiction of a drunkard remained unfinished, as is apparent from a letter from Breitner to Jan Pieter Veth of 1901. See Hefting 1970, pp. 56, 136, and Brieven Breitner 1970, pp. 28, 72.
24. This flower market remained unfinished; see letter 207, n. 5.
25. Among Jules Gabriel Verne’s travel novels there is one in which members of a society of ex-cannoneers have themselves transported to the moon by cannonball. The novel is in two volumes: De la terre à la lune (1865) and Autour de la lune (1869). The fact that Van Gogh uses the word ‘wonderreizigers’ (miraculous travellers) may be an indication that he had read Verne in Dutch; in the series Wonderreizen van Jules Verne the two volumes were published as one book entitled De reis om de maan in 28 dagen en 12 uren (1876).
26. Breitner was in the Municipal Hospital in The Hague from March to June 1882; Van Gogh was admitted in June 1882. Both were treated for gonorrhoea. See letters 214, n. 6 and 237, nn. 1 and 4.
27. It cannot be said for certain which watercolour study of birches in the dunes this is.
28. It is not clear which work Van Gogh means here. Van der Weele owned several paintings and watercolours by Breitner, dated before or in 1883.
29. It is not clear which work this is. Van der Weele had at least two portraits that are possible candidates, namely Jongensportret (Portrait of a boy) and Portret van een dame (Portrait of a lady). See Hefting 1970, cat. nos. 5, 55.
30. No information has been found about a portrait of Van der Weele by Breitner.
31. The stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann, in which artistic calling and the influence of demonic elements on everyday life play an important part, were translated by Xavier Marmier as Contes fantastiques (1843). This translation was reprinted many times (including in the Oeuvres complètes).
The raven’ (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe was especially popular. In this blackly romantic poem the central figure is visited one night by a raven. He sees the bird as a messenger from the hereafter, where his deceased beloved dwells. All the questions he puts to the raven are answered by: ‘Nevermore’, even when he orders the bird to disappear: he will nevermore escape from his shadow. See The poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott. London 1980.
By the phrase ‘Raven &c.’ Van Gogh may mean one of the collections that appeared under the title The raven and other poems. In letter 656 he again mentions the writers Hoffmann and Poe in the same breath.
32. For Emile Wauters, The painter Hugo van der Goes in the red cloister [447], which depicts the mentally disturbed fifteenth-century painter, see letter 11, n. 8.
33. ‘Cabinet format’ is 16 x 11 cm and is used mainly for portrait photographs.
34. At least two photographers in The Hague are known to have photographed works of art in their studio. Maurits Verveer, one of the best known portrait photographers, had his studio at Zeestraat 52 from 1863; he moved in artistic circles and was a member of Pulchri. The other, the landscape painter Willem Frederik Vinkenbos, had his premises at De Riemerstraat 111. See Hans Rooseboom and Steven Wachlin, ‘Maurits Verveer’, in I.Th. Leijerzapf (ed.), Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie. Alphen aan den Rijn 1999 and GAH, Adresboek 1883.
35. Sower (F 1035 / JH 374 [2443]) and Peat diggers in the dunes (F 1031 / JH 363 [2437]). Van Gogh was also to have Potato grubbers (F 1034 / JH 372 [2442]) photographed. See letter 362, n. 7.
[2443] [2437] [2442]
36. Since early March 1882 relations between Van Gogh and Mauve had deteriorated because he was living with Sien; see letters 209 ff.
37. In his day Charles Louis Philippe Zilcken was best known as an etcher. See for his etchings: A. Pit, Catalogue descriptif des eaux-fortes de Ph. Zilcken, mentionnant 633 pièces. Amsterdam 1918.
38. Vincent reported to Theo that he had written to Uncle Cor on 3 June 1883: see letter 349. The ‘croquis’ were done after Peat diggers in the dunes (F 1031 / JH 363 [2437]) and after the unknown drawing of ‘a team of workmen labouring’ (see also letters 348 and 350). The second croquis is probably The sandpit at Dekkersduin near The Hague (F 1029 / JH 366 [2439]).
[2437] [2439]
39. Vincent had written to Theo about his visit to H.G. Tersteeg in letter 356 of 22 June 1883.
40. Night is a marble sculpture by Michelangelo that forms part of the tomb of Guiliano de Medici in Florence, which was made between 1526 and 1531. The work was illustrated in 1876 in Gazette des Beaux-Arts in the engraving La nuit by Jules Ferdinand Jacquemart (no. 13, 2nd series ((1876)), p. 97) and described in an article by Eugène Guillaume (p. 90). Ill. 1155 [1155]. Van Gogh had looked at volumes of this periodical in March 1878 in Uncle Cor’s library (see letter 142).
41. Van Gogh had mentioned Daumier’s The physiology of the drinker – The four ages [51] earlier: see letter 267, n. 33. But cf. also Daumier’s lithograph L’ivrogne (The drunkard), 1834. Ill. 53 [53].
[51] [53]