To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Sunday, 28 June 1885.
My dear Theo,
Since it’s Sunday today, I wanted to write to you again. Because I’ve neglected to say anything about the painting by Uhde, Suffer the little children to come unto me. Yes — I think it’s good — but new — it isn’t. I like interiors in bright tones with peasant children — without a mystical figure of Christ, like Israëls, like Artz, better than this, where one gets a mystical Christ into the bargain. The children are very fine characterizations — but are they better than those by Lobrichon, Frère or even Knaus, Vautier, as they used to be in their heyday?
Don’t think that this isn’t saying much, because all those fellows that I mention were extraordinarily clever character artists, particularly in the past.
What I have against the Uhde painting is that there’s something cold in it, like in the new brick houses and schools and Methodist churches.
And — forgive me — despite the great merits of everything in the painting, it makes me nostalgic for Decamps’s or Isabey’s less orthodox manner of painting.
In short, there is in the end something consumptive about it, and I think a Corot, a Dupré, a Millet is so infinitely more healthily painted. I’m only speaking about it on the basis of the reproduction, though; I consider it quite possible that if I saw the painting I would become more reconciled to it as far as the technique is concerned. You know how much I like those bright fellows too — but — you see — it goes too far, and Mantz puts it very well — he says, those who are always dreaming of the maximum of bright colours everywhere will find Mr Harpignies’ greens of a rather blackish intensity.
So you see: that they start to regard every effect against a strong and coloured light, every shadow, as heresy — that they never seem to go for a walk very early in the morning, or in the evening at sunset, that they don’t want to see anything but midday light or gaslight, and that has to be electric!
No — the effect of all this on me is that I sometimes catch myself longing to see things — well, for example, like Nuijen’s moving day, such as an old Leys, such as a Cabat — a Diaz, Lepoittevin. Perhaps you see nothing in this but my constant contrariness.
But still I say first of all — that I think Uhde’s painting very good — only after I’ve thought it good, the aftertaste is far from entirely pleasant — at least not very encouraging in that these painters don’t usually get better in later paintings.
Anyway — it really is a painting for the house of G&Cie, of their best. They also had Knaus at G&Cie, and Lobrichon too. I assure you that I don’t discard all that as a matter of course — far from it. Does it express what I mean when I put it like this: it’s a good painting from Messrs Goupil & Cie? Does it express what I mean when I say: lots — but lots of talent, as much as possible — but genius? — no. This painting of Uhde’s — is much more German (see how cleverly Mantz pokes fun at Meyerheim, ‘still-life dauber’ in his article, did you notice that?), is, I say, much more German that it seems.
Oh those wise, those new, those know-it-all people of the new progress who criticize Harpignies! I wager that you can’t stand that either — and in content they’re a new edition of Monnier’s M. Prudhomme.
To speak of something more encouraging — I enclose a woodcut after Clausen, who started out fairly German but has got the better of his weaknesses, just as Neuhuys also often gets the better of his. Here you are — this is why I enclose the print for you — here at last is something from English art that reminds me of work by Pinwell and Fred Walker. It’s different again from Millet — but you’ll see that, although you may look at it for a long time, it doesn’t become boring.
Don’t get rid of the print, because one so seldom sees any of this rare art, which one shouldn’t confuse with Bridgman, say. And the other print, less manly as regards the conception, is mightily good as regards sentiment, and also really original.
I’m working hard on figure drawings every day. I must have at least a hundred, though — or even more, before I can stop again. I’m trying to find something different from my old drawings, and to find the character of the peasants — especially those from round here.
And we’re heading towards harvest — and then I must make the wheat harvest and the potato lifting a campaign time. It’s twice as difficult to get a model then and yet it’s essential, because the older I get, the more convinced I become that one can’t be too conscientious, that one must always and eternally exert oneself in what Daudet (in L’histoire de mon livre, an article by him that I read recently about Les rois en exil) calls the hunt for the model.
I would also like to show Serret the studies of the harvest. So I don’t know exactly when I’ll be able to send the portfolio of studies from the model. But before too long, anyway. And I’ll also send another 3 cottages or so — painted studies like the last ones — before the harvest, I hope. Am I mistaken in thinking that there’s something good in the old tower? Have you already varnished it? They’re both dry enough for a coat of varnish now, and really need it because there’s something else under both of them. Do you already have some sort of estimate of when you’re coming? And aren’t there any new Lhermittes? Regards, with a handshake.
I say again that there are examples, only too many, by the very bright fellows, where they later become chalky or oily. It’s because I’ve observed this so often that I have certain reservations, can’t think the Uhde painting entirely good. The two blacksmiths by Raffaëlli are very fine.