My dear Theo,
I had a visit today from Wenckebach, a painter from Utrecht who sees Rappard every day. He makes landscapes and I’ve often heard his name mentioned, and he got a medal in London at the same time as Rappard.1 He has seen my work — those cottages I have for you, and the figure drawings too.2
I talked to him about the fact that to my regret I’d had trouble with Rappard, which I could hardly explain otherwise than that he’d been prattling about my work with other people from The Hague, and that since, moreover, he hadn’t seen anything in a long time, he couldn’t help got his head stuffed full there.
I showed Wenckebach figures that Rappard thought good in the past, and at the same time those that I’m doing now, and pointed out to him how I’d changed in a few things and would change even more, but that what I was looking for now was certainly not inferior.
Then he said that he didn’t doubt that Rappard would take back what he had written to me.  1v:2
I also showed him how, as regards the colour, I’m not predisposed to always paint darkly. A couple of the cottages are actually very light.
But that I’m concerned with taking the primary colours red, blue, yellow, as starting-points, as points of departure, and not grey.
Then we talked quite a bit about colour, and he said among other things that he’d noticed that in old watercolours Jaap Maris had also used ruddy, brown-grey, red tones, and rather a lot in fact — so that if one were to hold it next to one of his present drawings it would look completely red. And the same about Israëls, too.
I may be doing more harm than good by telling you this, because it’s part of a conversation, and I actually ought to tell all of it. But we’ve spoken of it before, and so you may well understand it anyway, in its context. To get an honest, sound coloration, to sustain it, it’s advisable — and particularly in this day and age, now imitators of the great, grey fellows (not the masters themselves) want more and more, always and everywhere, to paint everything light — to practise in the more powerful spectrums and to persevere in using them, since the actual colourists always on the colours3  1v:3
Thus Wenckebach said, for instance, that he liked the thing of the old tower,4 which I painted last year with a lot of bitumen in it, and thought it was beyond the paint.5 He said he found the whole thing original. Other old things, too, that water mill,6 ox-plough,7 avenue of autumn trees.8
But what pleased me most was that he thought the figures good — he called them Millet-like. I know for sure, though, that I’ll get them even better if I just have some luck with the expenses and can carry on working hard on them. I’m rather worried about that, though, and as for this month — I’m absolutely broke — I haven’t a guilder left.
We’ll have a hard time — but don’t blame me too much, for with perseverance there’s still a good chance later of reaping what we sow.
I’m worried enough about your money troubles, though, I wish I could lighten them a little for you.
When you come to Holland — shouldn’t you try to approach Tersteeg again? Tersteeg is someone who dares, provided he’s convinced — he’s all right. And Mauve likewise.
If the fellows who persevered in studying the figure were very numerous, I’d say there would be little chance of finding some help.  1r:4
But they’re not so very numerous — and they’re no less necessary than in the past.
It’s hard for you to keep going on your own, and I can’t do anything to reduce the expenses — on the contrary, I wish I could take more models. What’s to be done? One mustn’t say it’s fighting a losing battle, because others have won it, and we’ll win it too.
As for Rappard, I’ve just written to tell him that I want him to retract his letter once and for all.9 You see, though, Theo, how it comes down to sticking to one’s guns in one’s work.
I wrote to Rappard that we really do have something else to fight besides each other, and that at this moment the fellows who paint peasants and the common people must join hands, because unity is strength. One can’t do it alone, at any rate; a whole troop who agree can do more. Keep your spirits up, too, for perhaps we’ll get more friends, and then it will liven up, and the squabbling among us might perhaps become a peasant battle against the sort of painters one can still point out in all juries nowadays, who even now would try to stifle the ideas for which Millet was the pioneer if they could. Regards — but send me something if you can, even if it’s only ten francs, to see me through.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 528 | CL: 415
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Thursday, 16 July 1885

1. Willem Wenckebach was awarded a bronze medal at the London International and Universal Exhibition (Crystal Palace), which opened on 23 April 1884. We do not know for certain which painting this was (the catalogue has not been traced), but in the light of a report in the Algemeen Handelsblad its must have been a landscape – this work once belonged to J.L. Beijers of Utrecht. See for Van Rappard’s medal: letter 448. On the exhibition: The Times of 21 April 1884, p. 4 and of 24 April 1884, p. 7; on Wenckebach’s prize and the work: Algemeen Handelsblad of 25 April 1884, p. 1 (morning edition), of 27 May 1884, p. 1 (Supplement to the evening edition), and Eigen Haard 31 (1905), p. 422.
2. See for the paintings of cottages, The cottage (F 83 / JH 777 [2513]), Cottage and woman with a goat (F 90 / JH 823 [3025]), Cottage with peasant coming home (F 170 / JH 824 [2520]), Village at sunset (F 190 / JH 492), Cottage with woman digging (F 89 / JH 803 [2517]), and Cottage (F - / JH add 23), that Vincent in any event had ready for Theo at that time: letter 513, n. 1. It is not possible to establish exactly which figure drawings he is referring to here.
[2513] [3025] [2520] [2517] [951]
3. This is an unfinished later addition to the letter. We reckon Van Gogh meant ‘colourists always concentrate on the colours’.
4. Van Gogh probably means the painting The old tower (F 88 / JH 490 [2471]), which he had made in the summer of 1884.
5. See for the expression ‘beyond the paint’: letter 439, n. 3.
6. Water mill at Gennep (F 125 / JH 525 [2490]).
7. Plowman and a woman planting potatoes (F 172 / JH 514 [2483]).
8. Avenue of poplars in autumn (F 122 / JH 522 [2488]).
9. This was letter 517.