To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Tuesday, 28 April 1885.
My dear Theo,
Just wanted to tell you that I’m hard at work on the potato eaters.
I’ve started it again on a new canvas and painted new studies of the heads; changed the hands, in particular, a great deal. Above all, I’m doing my best to put life into it. I’m very curious as to what Portier will say about it when it’s finished.
The Lhermittes are superb. I adore them.
It is felt, in the sense of being studied on a large and on a small scale at the same time, but above all largely imagined and broadly conceived too.
I sincerely hope that you’ll keep watching out for new months in the series.
Tell me, if you will, in what way I should send a painting of a larger format, and to which address. I won’t send the potato eaters unless I know for sure that it’s something.
Still, it’s coming along, and I think there’ll be something very different in it from what you can ever have seen by me. At least that clearly. I mean the life especially. I’m painting this from memory on the painting itself.
But you know yourself how many times I’ve painted the heads!
And furthermore I keep going and looking every evening, to redraw sections on the spot. But in the painting I let my own head, in the sense of idea or imagination, work, which isn’t so much the case with studies, where no creative process may take place, but where one obtains food for one’s imagination from reality so that it becomes right.
But you know I wrote to Mr Portier — up till now I’ve made nothing but studies — but — the paintings will come. And I’ll stick to that.
I think I’ll also send a few more studies from nature soon. It’s the second time that I’ve derived a great deal from something Delacroix said.
The first was his theory of colour, but I also read a conversation that he had with other painters about the making, that is the creation, of a painting.
He asserted that one made the best paintings — from memory. By heart! he said.
And I read of the conversation in question that when all those good people were going home late in the evening — Delacroix, with his usual vivacity and passion — shouted out after them in the middle of the boulevard, By heart! by heart!, probably to the great surprise of respectable passers-by.
Just like Jacque who, when he had been talking somewhere, kept sending someone messages by his boy after midnight and all through the night: ‘I herewith again have the honour to assure you that your Mr Ingres is nothing but an image maker and that Daumier infinitely surpasses him’, or something of the kind. I shan’t send it unless I hear further from you, and anyway it’s not even finished yet.
But the most difficult things, the heads, hands and ensemble, are. Perhaps you’ll now find in it what you wrote about a while ago — that, although personal, it will nonetheless remind you of other painters with a certain family likeness. Which you didn’t find in the studies then, but I suggest that if one compared my studies with other studies, there would also be a resemblance.
Thanks again for the Lhermittes and other illustrated magazines. I was disappointed in Le Chat Noir, although the title is good. I was glad to find some biographical particulars of Jules Dupré in the No. of La Vie Moderne — I’ve sometimes thought that Mistigris (the shrewdest of landscape painters), who appears in Balzac’s Comédie humaine, could perhaps have been Dupré in his youth. But I don’t know who Balzac had in mind, and anyway the character doesn’t play a major part in the book. Do you know who also often works in that manner of drawing with ovals that Gigoux spoke of? — Henri Pille. Do not start from the line but from the middle — is a famous truth. Meunier, Mellery and Rappard also often draw like that, and Allebé.
Regards, with a handshake.