Vincent van Gogh - Head of a Man 1885

Head of a Man 1885
Head of a Man
Oil on canvas 42.5 x 32.0 cm. Nuenen: March-May, 1885
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Etten, Friday, 26 August 1881
My dear Theo,
I’ve only just got back from a short journey to The Hague, I’m at home alone this evening, because Pa and Ma are still in Princenhage. So now is a good opportunity to tell you about this and that.
I left here last Tuesday, now it’s Friday evening. Have been in The Hague at Mr Tersteeg’s, Mauve’s and De Bock’s. Mr Tersteeg was very friendly and said he thought I’d progressed. Since I’d done the whole series of Exercices au fusain 1-60 again, I took it along. And it was certainly in response to this that he said it, because he attaches a certain value to my doing them, at any rate, as well as to my copying a figure by Millet, Boughton or others now and then, and most people think that less worthwhile. So I got some satisfaction there, also from that work.
I spent an afternoon and part of an evening at Mauve’s and saw many beautiful things in his studio. My own drawings interested Mauve more. He gave me a great many suggestions, which I’m glad of, and I’ve sort of arranged to pay him another visit fairly soon when I have some more studies.
He showed me a whole batch of his studies and explained them to me — not sketches for drawings or designs for paintings but true study sheets, apparently insignificant.
He wants me to start painting.
It was a pleasure to make De Bock’s acquaintance, I was in his studio. He’s making a large painting of the dunes which has much that is good. But that chap should start drawing figures, in my opinion, in order to produce a whole lot of other things. I believe that he has a true painter’s temperament and that we haven’t heard the last of him yet. He idolizes Millet and Corot, but, did those two take pains over the figures, yes or no? Corot’s figures may not be so well known as his landscapes, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t make them. For that matter, in Corot every tree-trunk is drawn and modelled with attention and love as though it were a figure. And a tree-trunk by Corot is something altogether different from one by De Bock.
One of the most beautiful things by De Bock, I thought, was a copy of a Corot. It could hardly pass for a real one, but was nevertheless very serious, more serious than many a forged Corot in which the difference from a genuine one is less noticeable.
Then I saw Mesdag’s panorama with him, that’s a work for which one must have the utmost respect. It put me in mind of what Bürger or Thoré, I think, said about Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson. That painting’s only fault is not to have any faults.
The 3 drawings by Mesdag in the exhibition possibly had more faults but immediately aroused sympathy, at least that’s how it was with me.
Speaking of that exhibition, there was a superb drawing by Israëls, Sewing school at Katwijk. Mauve, a plough (superb), Sheep in the dunes, and also a single figure, a labourer sitting on the ground resting, in the evening.
Artz had 3 drawings, if I remember correctly, a scene in an institution, old men and women eating porridge, very important, very good and serious. Also two studies of heads, full of character, man and woman from Scheveningen. Weissenbruch had, among other things, a drawing of water lilies, so simple, so full of style, so full of knowledge and love that many drawings by others couldn’t compare with it. Still, one could clearly see at this exhibition that there are a great many clever landscape painters among the younger generation, Du Chattel, among others, and Neuhuys.
A. Neuhuys had a large figure drawing that was superb. A girl and two children. A new appearance was the work of Clara Montalba. That’s a very special talent, reminds me of Rochussen in some respects. At Mr Tersteeg’s I also saw many beautiful things by Valkenburg, Neuhuys &c. &c. J. Maris had splendid things in the exhibition, including two girls in white by a piano, and a mill in the snow. I also saw Willem Maris at De Bock’s, who has a beautiful sketch by him, a road in the winter with a little figure beneath an umbrella. By chance Bosboom saw my studies, said this and that about them, but I only wish I had more opportunity for him to help me. B. is one of those people who have a talent for teaching something to others and getting them to understand it. He had 3 or 4 good drawings in the exhibition.
I was in The Hague until Thursday morning. Then I went to Dordrecht, because I’d seen a spot from the train that I wanted to draw. Namely the row of windmills. I got it done even though it was raining, and so at least I’ve brought home a souvenir from my outing.
At Stam’s I found Ingres paper, twice as thick as the regular kind, one can do a bit more on it. But unfortunately it’s white. Could you, when it’s convenient, perhaps manage to get me some of the kind that is something like the colour of unbleached cotton or linen? Like a few of the sheets that were in the previous batch that I got from you, and like those on which the Exercices au fusain are printed. If one draws on white, one must apply a flat tone to the whole sheet before beginning.
So I’ve been to The Hague, perhaps it can be the beginning of a more serious acquaintance with Mauve and others. I’d like that. I shake your hand in thought. Accept my thanks for helping me so faithfully in this. I might not have done it, because of the expense, or at least put it off.
Ever yours,
De Bock was still very pleased with the drawings by Millet that he bought from you.