Vincent van Gogh - New-Born Calf Lying on Straw 1884

New-Born Calf Lying on Straw 1884
New-Born Calf Lying on Straw
Oil on canvas. Nuenen: late October-late November, 1884

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Saturday, 3 June 1882.
My dear Theo,
Today, Saturday, I’m sending you the two drawings Fish-drying barn in the dunes, Scheveningen
Carpenter’s yard and laundry (from the window of my studio).

I’ve thought of you so often these past few days, and also occasionally about the time long ago when, as you will remember, you visited me in The Hague and we walked along Trekweg to Rijswijk and drank milk at the mill there. It may be that this influenced me somewhat when I did these drawings, in which I have tried as naїvely as possible to draw things exactly as I saw them. At the time of the mill, however dear those days still are to me, it would have been impossible for me to put what I saw and felt on paper. So what I’m saying is that the changes brought about by time have not fundamentally altered my feelings; it’s just that I believe they have taken a different form. My life, and yours too perhaps, after all, is no longer as sunny as it was then, but I still wouldn’t want to go back, because it’s precisely through some trouble and adversity that I see something good emerging, namely the expression of those feelings.
Rappard was pleased with a similar drawing which C.M. has, and moreover with all the others C.M. has. Especially with the largest of the almshouse. And he is someone who understands what I want and appreciates how difficult it is. I believe you would find Rappard much changed since his first time in Paris when you knew him.
I have in front of me a volume of the Household edition of Dickens, with illustrations. They are excellent and are drawn by Barnard and Fildes. They show parts of Old London, which take on a very different appearance from the carpenter’s yard, for example, also because of the peculiarities of the wood engraving. Yet I still believe that the way to get that boldness and daring later is to quietly carry on observing as faithfully as possible now. As you see, there are several planes in this drawing, and one can look around in it and peer into all sorts of nooks and crannies. It lacks that ruggedness as yet, at least doesn’t by any means have that quality to the same extent as the above illustrations, but that will come with practice. I have heard from C.M. in the form of a postal order for 20 guilders but without a single word to go with it. So for the time being I haven’t the slightest idea whether he wants to order something new from me or whether the drawings are to his taste. But comparing it with the price paid for the previous ones, 30 guilders, and bearing in mind that this last batch (the first contained 12 small ones; this had 1 small one, 4 like the enclosed and 2 large ones – i.e. 7 items in all) was more substantial than the first, it seems to me that His Hon. had got out of the wrong side of the bed the day he received them, or that they failed to please for some reason or another. I readily admit that, to an eye used only to watercolours, drawings which have been scratched by pen or had lights scraped off or put back on in body-colour may seem a little harsh. But there are also people who, just as it is sometimes pleasant and invigorating for a healthy constitution to go for a walk when a strong wind is blowing, so there are also art lovers, I say, who aren’t afraid of the harsh.
Weissenbruch, for example, wouldn’t find these two drawings disagreeable or dull.
In the circumstances, should I learn that C.M. would rather not have any more, of course I cannot and will not force them on His Hon., but I hope that, for example when you come, you will be able to find out how things really stand.
Naturally, although I hadn’t expected him to give me 10 guilders less for this batch than for the previous one, I agree with the 20 guilders, all the more so because I left it to His Hon. to fix the price. And if he wants me to start on another 6 or 12, I’m ready to do that because I don’t want to miss any opportunity to sell something. I really want to do my best to accommodate His Hon., because I think that it’s worth the effort as long as I get my rent out of it and can make ends meet more easily. It’s just that His Hon. himself talked about giving more, not less, for more detailed drawings. I only raise the matter, after all, mainly to know what to do as regards a new order that is or is not to follow. It may also be that His Hon. will write to me himself later.
In a few days, or today if I have time, I’ll send you a brief list of what is in my collection of wood engravings. I’m so sure you will take pleasure in them. While I spent less on paint this winter than others did, I had more expenses in connection with the study of perspective and proportion for an instrument described in a work by Albrecht Dürer and used by the Dutchmen of old. It makes it possible to compare the proportions of objects close at hand with those on a plane further away, in cases where construction according to the rules of perspective isn’t feasible. Which, if you do it by eye, will always come out wrong, unless you’re very experienced and skilled.
I didn’t manage to make the thing the first time around, but I succeeded in the end after trying for a long time with the aid of the carpenter and the smith. And I think that with more work I can get much better results still.
It would please me greatly if perhaps in your wardrobe there was a jacket and trousers suitable for me which you no longer wear.
Because if I buy something I like it to be as practical as possible for working in the dunes or indoors, but my clothes for going out are getting rather threadbare. And while I am not ashamed to be seen in the streets in a cheap suit when I go out to work, I am decidedly ashamed by gentleman’s clothes that give the impression of a gentleman down on his luck. My everyday clothes, however, aren’t at all shoddy, because now I have Sien to keep check of them and make minor repairs.
I end this letter by saying to you again that I so dearly wish that the family should not view my relationship with Sien as something of which there isn’t the slightest question, namely an intrigue. Which I would find unspeakably offensive and would only widen the gulf. What I hope is that they don’t interfere, with some ill-timed wisdom, to prevent me from being with her. I mean of the same sort as when Pa wanted to pack me off to Geel. The speculating about inheritances that you mention is quite out of the question, if only because there are no inheritances for me as far as I know, and indeed there cannot be for there is nothing. I believe there is literally no money at home. The only person from whom, in very different circumstances, I might perhaps have inherited something because I share his name, Uncle Cent, is someone with whom I have been on bad terms for many years on account of numerous things, and in such a manner that by the nature of the matter it cannot be resolved as if I were his protégé, because I myself certainly wouldn’t want that, and of course he hasn’t the slightest thought of any such thing any more, although I hope that, just like last year, if I meet His Hon. we shall not make a public scene. And now with a handshake
Ever yours,