Vincent van Gogh - Basket of Potatoes 1885

Basket of Potatoes 1885
Basket of Potatoes
Oil on canvas 45.0 x 60.5 cm. Nuenen: September, 1885
Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Saturday, 14 January 1882.
Dear brother,
As I’ve often done, I sent you an answer in my last letter that was brief and to the point about one thing and another, yet in harsh words that nevertheless truly express what I think about things, but you mustn’t think that I’m always in a gruff, cold-hearted mood which Mauve would perhaps call a yellow soapa mood or saltwater mood. But even if I had written a yellow soap letter or a saltwater letter, surely that’s no worse than taking things too sentimentally.
You say, ‘you’ll truly regret it some day’. Old chap, I believe that I’ve had many such regrets &c. before now. I saw it coming and tried to nip it in the bud, well that didn’t work, and anyway, what happened, happened. Will I now regret it? No, actually I don’t have time for regrets. Drawing is becoming more and more of a passion, and it’s just like a sailor’s passion for the sea. Mauve has now shown me a new way to make something, namely watercolours. Well, now I’m immersed in that, and I’m daubing and washing out, in short, seeking and striving.
For one must make desperate attempts.
Because there’s something diabolical about the execution of a watercolour.
Because there’s something good in all energetic movement.
So although I was planning to write to you in even more detail about what happened at home, to try and explain how things stand from my point of view, even though I also wanted to tell you this and that about other subjects, I haven’t time for that now, and think it better to write to you again about drawing.
In addition to a couple of small watercolours, I’ve just started a large one, at least as large as one of those figure studies I made at Etten.
Naturally it doesn’t automatically go well and easily straightaway.
Mauve himself says that I’ll ruin at least 10 drawings or so before I know how to handle the brush a little. But it will lead to a brighter future, so I work on with as much cold-bloodedness as I can muster, and don’t let myself be deterred by my mistakes.
This is a little sketch of one of the small watercolours, it’s a corner of my studio with a girl grinding coffee.
You see I’m looking for tone, a head or a hand that glows, with life in it, and that stands out against a drowsy background, twilit, and standing out boldly against that, that fragment of fireplace and stove, iron and brick, and a wooden floor. If I could get that drawing the way I’d like it, I’d make at least 3/4 of it in yellow soap style and treat only that corner where the child is sitting delicately and tenderly and with sentiment. But you understand that I still can’t express all of that as I feel it, but it seems to me the point is simply to attack the difficulties, and the yellow soap passage still isn’t yellow soapy enough and the contrasting tenderness still not tender enough. But anyway, the sketch is still chucked on and its conception is clear, and to me it seems fairly good. Of course one can’t master the technique the first day.
This is the subject of the large drawing, but I’m doing it in a hurry and the sketch is terrible. Even so, perhaps it gives you an idea, and in any case it’s already on paper.
I hear that someone called on me today, Mr Tersteeg, I think. I hope so, because he promised me he’d stop by, and I wanted to discuss some things with him.
He’s supposed to be coming back tomorrow morning.
Theo, I’m having a lot of trouble with the models, I search for them and when I find them it’s a struggle to get them to come to my studio, and sometimes they let me down. Like a smith’s boy this morning, who couldn’t come because his father said that I had to pay a guilder an hour, and of course I wasn’t inclined to do that.
Tomorrow I have the little old woman as a model again, but she couldn’t come for 3 days running. Well then, when I go out, I quite often go to sketch in the soup kitchen or the 3rd-class waiting room or such places. But it’s so damned cold outdoors, especially for me, since I don’t yet draw as fast as more practised draughtsmen, and actually have to work my drawings out in more detail for them to be of any use to me. So you see I’m not standing still and am no longer dwelling on Etten, but am trying to put down roots here. Naturally the models cost me money, and I must tell you that I buy what’s necessary for myself, though the cheapest possible. (I go to the soup kitchen to eat.) And yet I trust you won’t have any objections to my continuing. But I repeat what I said in my last letter: let me know as precisely as possible where I stand, and I think it would be fine if you could come to an agreement with Mr Tersteeg, so that in case of difficulty I can go to him without too many misgivings. For my part I promise you that I’ll work as much as I can, though things like models often depend on the money I do or don’t have in my pocket, whether I can set to work at full speed, half speed or sometimes not at all. Now, for instance, I’m negotiating with a mother with a little child, though I’m afraid it will turn out to be too expensive for me. Be assured that I’d prefer to go full speed but... anyway, you understand it all, I have to restrain myself until I have more resources and freedom. Write to me again soon, and listen, send the money as soon as possible in February, because I’m sure I won’t have a penny by then.
I’m planning to go on making small pen drawings whenever possible, but different from the large ones I made this summer. A bit sharper and a bit angrier. This is a sketch of Schenkweg, the view from my window.
Well, adieu, with a handshake.
Ever yours,