Vincent van Gogh - Portrait of Père Tanguy Winter 1886-87 or 1887-88

Portrait of Père Tanguy 1886-1887
Portrait of Père Tanguy
Oil on canvas 65.0 x 51.0 cm. Paris: Winter 1886-87 or 1887-88
Collection Niarchos

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Famille Tanguy

Julien François Tanguy (1825 Plédran - 1894 Paris) was a paint grinder, he sold art supplies and was also an art dealer, one of the first to offer Van Gogh's paintings for sale. His jovial demeanor and enthusiasm for artistry and artists made his shop one of the most favored art supply shops in Paris, and he was nicknamed Père ("Father") Tanguy. Maurer calls Tanguy a father figure who shared his food and money with artists and showed their paintings with pride.
Tanguy took paintings as payment for paints, which Émile Bernard said made entering his shop in Montmartre, full of Impressionist paintings, like "visiting a museum". In comparison to her husband, Tanguy's wife was less cooperative and more concerned with clientele paying outstanding charges. When Tanguy died, his friends staged an auction for his widow.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Friday, 25 May 1883.
My dear friend Rappard,
I need to tell you again that the visit to you raised my spirits enormously. I intend to make a start on some larger compositions too, and I’ve already started on one of them. That is peat diggers in the dunes. About 1 metre by 1/2 metre.
Do you recall my telling you that there was such a beautiful sight there in the dunes? It looks a little like the raising of a barricade. As soon as I left you I started work, for it was already fairly ripe in my head. Just as I’ve already thought a lot about some other compositions, and already have studies for them too.
If I hadn’t had the money from you, however, I wouldn’t have been able to do this, for example, at this time.
I’ve had a wooden passe-partout made like yours but no frame. I’m thinking of giving the passe-partout, unpainted as yet, the colour of walnut. Like your frame. The effect is pleasing when one encloses the drawing and as soon as I saw your drawings I decided to have a similar passe-partout. In Harper’s Weekly I found an illustration by Reinhart, by far the best I’ve seen by him up to now, ‘Washed ashore’.
A body has been washed up, a man is kneeling beside it to see who it is, a few fishermen and women give information about the shipwreck victim to a gendarme. So it looks somewhat like Victim of a shipwreck that you have, but the drawing by R. has something of Régamey, for example. It’s a very fine print.
What beautiful things there are to be found, don’t you think? I’ve now sketched the drawing Peat diggers in charcoal, natural chalk and autographic ink. I haven’t yet used the strongest strengths of printer’s ink on it.
So it doesn’t yet look as forceful as I imagine it could be. The only thing I have against charcoal is that it wipes off so easily; one loses things one has found because of this wiping off unless one works very carefully.
And I feel a need not to have to be all that careful.

I have a few plans for large drawings, my dear friend, for which you might perhaps have some sympathy.
I wish you had read Les misérables, then I would be better able to discuss it with you, for you might perhaps be struck by the same things that keep coming into my mind. That wouldn’t surprise me. I knew that book long ago, but many things from it keep coming to mind now that I’ve read it again.
Both you and I learned some history at school, but if you’re like me that’s not enough for you, as well as being too dry and too conventional.
Now for my part I’d wish to have a clear view of the period from 1770, say, to the present. The French Revolution is the greatest modern event on which everything turns, in the present age too.
When I read something like Dickens’s London and Paris (Tale of two cities) and reflect on it, I believe one could choose such splendid subjects for drawings from that period of the Revolution. Not directly related to actual history so much as to incidents of ordinary life and the look of things as they were in the past. Take the drawing by Howard Pyle and that other one by Abbey that I showed you recently, Xmas in old New York, Xmas in old Virginia.
Now, starting in those days and letting one’s thoughts wander up to today, one surveys a period in which everything has changed. And several moments are particularly interesting. And one finds them described so compellingly and so thoroughly in various French and English books that it becomes possible to picture the things of the past clearly. Dickens, who usually described his own times, couldn’t help writing the Tale of two cities, and one sees repeatedly in his work that he inserts descriptions from earlier days, for instance a description of the London streets before there were street-lamps.
Question: could one find Dutch subjects from, say, the time when the first street-lamps were put up or from before they existed?
Just imagine a pew or a funeral, say, from the year 1815. A removal, a promenade, a street on a winter’s day from that period or a little later.
In Les misérables, although it deals with a later period, I find what I am seeking, aspects of the past that stimulate me to imagine how things looked in the age of my great-grandfather, or no further back than my grandfather even. Quatre-vingt-treize by Hugo was the one that was illustrated by all The Graphic draughtsmen together. Caldecott also does it so truly.
I’d like to see what impression Quatre-vingt-treize and Les misérables made on you. I don’t doubt for a moment that you’d find them beautiful. When I visited you I saw a few parts of the city which I imagined to myself enlivened by figures from ancient times. Well, we’ll probably talk about drawings from an earlier era another time. I hope it turns out that, as you said, you come here again this summer. It isn’t impossible that my brother from Paris may also visit you this summer. I would like him to see your work again and I would like us to come to you together while he’s here.
With a handshake in thought.
Ever yours,