Vincent van Gogh - The Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing 1888

The Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing 1888
The Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing
Oil on canvas54.0 x 65.0 cm.Arles March, 1888
Otterlo Kröller-Müller Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Tuesday, 21 April 1885.
My dear Theo,
You’ll receive a number of impressions of the lithograph by the same post.
Do give Mr Portier as many of them as he might want. And I enclose herewith a letter to him, which will seem to you — I think — rather long and consequently impractical. But I thought about it that what had to be said can’t be compressed into fewer words, and precisely what matters here is to give him reasons for his own instinctive feelings. And anyway, what I write to him, I also say to you.
There’s a school — I believe — of — Impressionists. But I don’t know much about it. I do know, though, who the original and actual people are around whom — as around an axle — the peasant and landscape painters will revolve. Delacroix, Millet, Corot and the rest. This is — in my own feeling — not correctly expressed. I mean — (rather than people) there are rules or principles or basic values for both drawing and colour — which one — proves to arrive at — when one finds something true.
As regards drawing — for instance, that question of drawing figures from the circle — that is, based on the fundamental oval planes, which the ancient Greeks already felt and which will continue to be until the end of the world.
As regards colour — those eternal questions — what, for instance, was the first question that Corot addressed to Français when Français (who already had a reputation) asked Corot (who didn’t yet have a reputation, or only a negative or fairly bad one) when he (F.) came to Corot to ask things — What is a broken tone? What is a neutral tone? Which one can point out better on the palette than put into words. What I want to assure Portier of in this letter is my — faith — precisely in Eugène Delacroix and those old people.

And at the same time, since, for instance, the painting I’m working on is different from lamplights by Dou or Van Schendel — it’s perhaps not superfluous to point out how one of the most beautiful things by the painters of this century has been the painting of darkness that is still colour. Anyway — just read my letter and you’ll see that it isn’t incomprehensible. And — that it — is about SOMETHING. And that something is a question that just came into my mind when I was painting.
I hope that the painting of those potato eaters will progress a bit. Besides that, am also working on a red sunset. To paint peasant life one has to be master of such an enormous number of things.
But on the other hand — I know of nothing that one works on with such peace, in the sense of peace of mind, even when one has a great struggle in material things. Moving is causing me some considerable concern these days, because it’s never straightforward. All the same, it will have to happen, if not now then later, anyway, and in the long run it’s better to be in one’s own place, that’s for sure.
To change the subject. How rightly it was said of Millet’s figures — his peasant seems to be painted with the soil he sows! How accurate and true that is. And how much it comes down to knowing how to make on the palette those colours that one cannot name and of which everything — fundamentally — actually consists. Perhaps — I dare say certainly — the questions of colours, and specifically broken — and — neutral — colours, will preoccupy you once more.
To my mind, one hears people in the art trade speak of them so vaguely and arbitrarily.
And among the painters themselves, too, for that matter.
Last week I saw at an acquaintance’s a decidedly clever, realistic study of the head of an old woman by someone who’s directly or indirectly a pupil of the Hague School. But both in drawing and in colour a certain hesitancy, a certain narrow-mindedness, much more — it seemed to me — than one discerns when one sees an old Blommers or Mauve or Maris. And this phenomenon is threatening to become more and more general. When people conceive of realism in the sense of literal truth — namely precise drawing and local colour. There’s something other than that. Well, regards — with a handshake.
Yours truly,