To Cornelis Marinus van Gogh. Nuenen, Thursday, 6 or Friday, 7 August 1885.
My dear Uncle,
Since Theo is coming to see you and I have a request to make of you, I’m taking this opportunity to ask you the following. If you would permit me to come and see your paintings I haven’t seen any paintings for a long time, and long so much to see some that I’m overlooking everything to ask this of you.
Theo has two small studies of mine with him – the colour of both is colder than I should like. I have two others of the same size that are warmer.
If you perhaps have any old grooved frames that you don’t have an immediate use for, I should like very much to trade one of these 4 studies for a frame.
To Anthon van Rappard. Nuenen, between about Saturday, 8 and about Saturday, 15 August 1885.
My dear friend Rappard,
Today I sent a basket of birds’ nests to your address. I’ve also got them in the studio — quite a lot of them — and I’m sending you some that I have two of.
They’re from the thrush, blackbird, golden oriole, wren, chaffinch. I just hope they arrive safely.
Have you heard much about Eugène Delacroix? I’ve read a splendid article about him by Silvestre. To write for you a few words from it that occur to me right now — the end of the article went like this: thus died, almost smiling, Eugène Delacroix — a painter of high breeding — who had a sun in his head and a thunderstorm in his heart — who — from warriors went to saints — from saints to lovers — from lovers to tigers — and from tigers to flowers.
These words struck me, for the whole article pointed out how in his paintings the mood of colours and tone was at one with the meaning. The contrast of colours, breaking, reciprocal effect from black to white, from yellow to violet, from orange to blue, from red to green. Here’s some more: Delacroix writes to a friend: ‘the chapel where I painted my Pietà was so dark that at first I didn’t know how to paint so as to make my painting speak. So I was forced to paint the shadows in Christ’s dead body with Prussian blue, the lights with pure chrome yellow’. Here the writer adds, ‘one has to be Delacroix to dare do that’. Then I read somewhere else, ‘When Delacroix paints – it’s like the lion devouring his piece of flesh’. And Silvestre’s article is particularly full of this latter.
What surprising fellows those French painters are. A Millet, Delacroix, Corot, Troyon, Daubigny, Rousseau, and a Daumier or a Jacque, and above all not forgetting Jules Dupré. Lhermitte is a new one of that calibre.
Something else about Delacroix — he had a discussion with a friend about the question of working absolutely from nature, and said on that occasion that one should take one’s studies from nature — but that the actual painting had to be made by heart. This friend was walking along the boulevard when they had this discussion — which was already fairly heated. When they parted the other man was still not entirely persuaded. After they parted, Delacroix let him stroll on for a bit — then (making a trumpet of his two hands) bellowed after him in the middle of the street — to the consternation of the worthy passers-by:
By heart! By heart!
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this article and some other things about Delacroix, too, by Gigoux. I’ve also read a beautiful book by Bracquemond, the etcher — Du dessin et de la couleur.
Something else on Delacroix. Silvestre writes: they say that Delacroix doesn’t draw — say rather that Delacroix doesn’t draw like the rest. How much — my dear friend — could one say THE SAME in response to the assertion that Mauve, Israëls, Maris don’t draw! Something else — the painter Gigoux comes to Delacroix with an ancient bronze and asks his opinion as to whether it’s genuine: It’s not from antiquity, it’s Renaissance, says D. Gigoux asks him for his reason.
Look — my friend — it’s very fine, but it starts from the line, and the ancients started from the centres (from the masses, from cores). Then he adds, ‘Look here a moment’, and draws a few ovals on a scrap of paper — he connects these ovals to one another with delicate little lines, with almost nothing, and creates a rearing horse from them, full of life and movement. That, he says, is what Géricault and Gros learnt from the Greeks, to express the masses (almost always egg-shaped) first, then derive the outline and the action from the position and proportion of these egg shapes. And I, says Delacroix, was first shown this by Géricault.
I ask you, isn’t that a splendid truth!
But — — — does one learn it from the plaster statue copiers and at the art academy? I believe: not. If they taught like that, I’d be happy to enthuse about the academy, but I know only too well that this isn’t the case.
I sent Wenckebach an article about the Salon by Paul Mantz, and asked him to let you read it too. Did you get it? I found it excellent.
I thought you might like the birds’ nests as I do, because the birds — like the wren or golden oriole — can also truly be counted among the artists. At the same time they’re good for still lifes. Regards, with a handshake.