To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Monday, 2 March 1885.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for the prompt dispatch of the money for this month, arriving promptly like that actually helps me more. Thanks, too, for the splendid woodcut after Lhermitte — one of the few things by him that I know, for I saw only these — a troop of girls in the wheat — an old woman in church — and a miner or some such in a little bar, and Harvest by him, and otherwise never anything, and nothing ever as much reflecting his actual manner as these woodcutters.
If Le Monde Illustré prints a composition by him every month — this is part of a series of ‘Rural months’ — it would give me mighty great pleasure to collect this whole series, and I’d really like you to send them every time.
Because obviously I never see anything here, and after all I do need to see something really beautiful now and then, and so another time feel free to keep back 20 francs, say, but send me things like this when they appear in the illustrated magazines. Now as to when you write that if I had something ready that I thought was good, you would try to enter it for the Salon — I appreciate your wanting to do this.
This in the first place — and then further that if I’d known it 6 weeks earlier, I would have tried to send you something for this purpose.
Now, though, I don’t have anything that I would care to send in. Recently, as you know, I’ve painted heads almost exclusively. And they are studies in the true meaning of the word — that is, they’re meant for the studio.
Nonetheless, this very day I’ve started to make some that I’ll send you.
Because I think it possible that it might be of use, when you meet a good many people on the occasion of the Salon, if you had something you could show — albeit only studies. So you’ll receive heads of an old and a young woman, and probably more than one of these two models. Given what you write of your feelings about various conceptions of heads, I think that these, which come straight out of a cottage with a moss-grown thatched roof, won’t appear to you to be absolutely inappropriate, although they’re studies and nothing else. If I’d known 6 weeks earlier, I would have made a woman spinning or spooling yarn — full length — of them.
To return for a moment to that question of the female heads in the Jacquet genre, not the earlier ones but of the present day. The reaction against them — certainly with a motive — by people who paint heads of girls like our sisters, for instance — I can well understand that there are painters who do such things — Whistler did it well several times — Millais, Boughton — to mention only people by whom I saw something of the sort in the past. I know little by Fantin-Latour, but what I saw I thought very good. Chardinesque. And that’s a lot. For my part, though, I’m not the sort of character who has much chance of getting on a sufficiently intimate footing with girls of that sort that they’re willing to pose. Particularly not with my own sisters. And am possibly also prejudiced against women who wear dresses. And my province is more those who wear jackets and skirts.
Though I think what you say about it is true — namely that it’s perfectly possible to paint them — and it has a raison d’être as a reaction against the present-day Jacquets and Van Beers &c.
Just this, though — Chardin (let’s sum up the aim of the reaction in his name, Fantin-Latour, at least, would approve), Chardin was a Frenchman and painted French women. And in my view, respectable Dutch women like our sisters really do extraordinarily often lack the charm that the French frequently have.
Consequently, the so-called respectable element among Dutch women isn’t really so very attractive — to paint or to think about. But certain common servant girls, on the other hand, are very Chardinesque.
At present I’m painting not just as long as there’s light, but even in the evening by lamplight in the cottages, if I can somehow make things out on my palette, in order to capture if possible something of the singular effects of lighting at night, for instance with a large shadow cast on the wall.
I’ve certainly not seen anything in the last few years as fine as those woodcutters by Lhermitte.
How his little figures in that composition are felt and wanted.
Thanks again for it.
The Chardinesque is, it seems to me, a singular expression of simplicity and of goodness — both through and through, and I find it a little hard to believe that one would find it in our sisters, say, either one of them. But if Wil were a Frenchwoman rather than a minister’s daughter, she could have it. But as good as always sails to the opposite point of the compass.