Vincent van Gogh - Edge of a Wheatfield with Poppies 1887

Edge of a Wheatfield with Poppies 1887
Edge of a Wheatfield with Poppies
Oil on canvas on cardboard 40.0 x 32.5 cm. Paris: Spring, 1887
Denver: Denver Art Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Friday, 3 August 1883.
My dear Theo,
Thank you for your letter of yesterday and for the enclosure. Fortunately the other note has also been changed for 23 guilders.
As a result I’ve been able to keep the most worrying things within bounds, although not everything, because a lot went off straightaway for paint that I’d had in the meantime.
I’m most eager to know if you’re planning to do the same as last year, first a few days at home and then straight to here.
Let’s agree that at home you won’t talk about problems in the future or the limited chances of placing the work. At least not right away, let’s have a talk together first and see what there still is.
Theo, I yearn desperately to paint the potato grubbers. I believe it would come out well. And even if it isn’t sold it will still help us to make progress, since people sometimes change once they see something they weren’t expecting. Well, I’ve already done a few studies for it, but I haven’t been able to take enough models, and now I see a chance to do them much better right away if only I could have enough cash.
This is just the right time, and for that reason there can be no question of taking a holiday, for I’ll keep at it as best I can. Still, your idea of doing the same as Weissenbruch would be mine too, but I literally can’t put it into practice, because going to the polders for a fortnight would cost me more than staying at home for a fortnight, and I don’t even know how I’ll scrape by at home for the next fortnight. But otherwise, as I’ve already written to you briefly, I’m outdoors a great deal, looking and doing landscape studies or seascape studies to have a distraction from the figure for once, and feel fine doing that.
But in fact the figure calls to me again, and so strongly that I try to do what circumstances to some extent permit.
If I could press ahead resolutely, the autumn wouldn’t pass without the potato grubbers being done.
I don’t know to what extent the studies I’m painting from the drawings will be satisfactory in the circumstances, but all the same I’ll see to it that I make something of them.
It isn’t very easy to get models at present, because there’s plenty of work in the fields, and I wish I could spend a little more, because that would overcome the problem. Anyway I shall — it’s absolutely impossible for me at present — but as soon as I can spare it I’ll see to it that I have a couple of chaps out in the dunes for a whole day for the potato grubbers.
That would be the most direct route, and I’ll do my best.
I hope to paint one or two things in the days to come between now and your arrival.
I don’t yet feel in good health, but fortunately the work is so stimulating that while I’m busy I don’t feel the weakness so much, but it continues to overcome me in the intervals, when I’m not sitting before nature. A sort of dizziness sometimes, and headache too now and again, in short it’s a degree of weakening. I have postponed and postponed getting my strength back because there were more important things, and that has gone on for rather too long. But you’ll understand that the work is rather important, and precisely because I’ve already done a lot to it I couldn’t let it go. You’ll see when you come that the thing is for us to carry on resolutely.
You rightly say that what I wrote to you about financial matters is worrying, but on the other hand we can’t be far from making a thing or two that can be sold, even if for relatively little. The work is becoming much clearer to me.
And when I think about it, it’s only a question of accelerating or delaying, and later we’ll even catch up, even with the past, but it’s a devilishly thorny, difficult, anxious age we’re in, all the same.

If it was possible for me to get enough to have sufficient paint and models this season, I believe there would be a brightening up, and a big one at that.
Well, in any case, it’s very good that you’re coming soon.
A very heavy burden has largely fallen from my shoulders of late. Last year I repeatedly tried to paint figure studies. Well, I was driven to desperation by the way they turned out. Now I’ve started again and I no longer have anything directly hindering me in the execution, because I draw much more easily than last year. Then I got confused every time I lost my drawn sketch while painting. And had to work a long time to do that sketch, so that if I could only have the model for a short time absolutely nothing turned out well.
But now I don’t give a rap if the drawing is erased, and I always do them directly with the brush, and enough form comes into it to make the study useful. This is why I say that I see my way more clearly now; I know that I’ll need many studies, but they won’t be more difficult for me than drawing them. And so plenty of painting this year and we’ll have light. That’s certainly my hope.
This winter I plan to paint studies of heads like the few drawn ones I sent you. I would do that right away were it not that the figures have to be followed in the fields while the season lasts.
Van der Weele is now travelling during the holidays — I heard that he has got the silver medal at Amsterdam for his painting of the sand loaders. When he’s back in town I hope that he’ll be a great help to me because I believe the potato grubbers will be to his liking and that he’ll be able to give me useful tips when I carry out my plan for it. And Rappard too, when he returns.
I did the first two figures that I painted this year just the same way as I tried last year — drawing first and then filling in the outline. That’s what I would call the dry manner. In the other manner one in fact does the drawing last and begins work by first seeking the tones without worrying much about it, about the drawing, just trying to put the tones roughly in their place in one go and to gradually define the form and the subdivision of the colours. Then one gets more of that effect of the figure coming out as if it’s surrounded by air, and it takes on a softer quality. While the colours become more delicate, because one goes over them often and sweeps one colour through another. You will surely see the difference if the first two I’ve done now stay in their present state. There’s an exhibition of drawings, which was in the Gothic Room last year, but I find it particularly thin this time, and there’s little that one hasn’t already seen by the same artists, and generally better. There are a few drawings by J. van Berg which I think are among the best of what there is. Usually Schipperus and suchlike are among the best.
As to doing the potato grubbers, I’ve just now seen the making of Van der Weele’s large painting in part, and at Rappard’s all the studies for the paintings he did last year. So that I can just about imagine what would be involved for the definitive painting.
If it’s at all possible, I’ll do a few studies for it in the dunes before you come, namely going with a model to those fields behind Loosduinen, in the early morning or in the evening towards dusk. I believe that could be something. The composition of the drawing would have to be altered a little, and the effect in particular given more study, but I would keep it roughly as it is.
I believe the figures should be forceful and all the rest in a lilac-like grey haze. I find the division into darker and lighter areas in the drawing not simple enough, the figures being partly light and partly dark, and the ground too. Either the ground and the figures must be brought closer to each other and form a dark silhouette against a light sky — or sky and ground must form more of a grey, misty whole against which the more toned areas of the figures stand out.
Both these effects exist, but that of the drawing isn’t right as it is now, for it’s too dry and too meagre. And because the figures have too many tones in common with the ground, they don’t stand out and the sky doesn’t belong to it.
In short, the tone must be completely different but the composition can stay, more or less.
It gives me a certain calm to think that we’ll see each other soon, and together look at how to continue with the work.
For the time being I’ll try to do a few more, and with that in mind I’d very much like to have the money of the tenth a few days earlier if possible. Then I could try to do those studies in the dunes before you come. There isn’t the money for them now, because I’ve had to pay out so much.
You remember what you wrote about the possibility of a disappointment with the percentage from the business. Well, I hope that that catastrophe doesn’t happen, but we must regard it as a pleasant surprise if it does turn out all right, and not lose a fraction of the time we have left. I believe there’ll be a chance by that time to get the work to the point where something can be done with it, but it will come down to steadily hacking a way through.
It would greatly surprise me if some didn’t finally begin to give up the idea that I intend or am doing something absurd. You will see what I mean in the studies and, I think, remember some of our earlier discussions about art. We must try to keep our spirits up and press ahead. What has given me a degree of encouragement of late is that, although I haven’t painted for several months, I believe there’s progress nonetheless in the painted studies done last year and now. This is because things like drawing and measuring proportions, with which I had a lot of trouble then, now fall into place more or less, and so as I sit before nature I need only think about painting, instead of thinking about two things at once, as it were, drawing and painting. When working it up, one again has to deal with both at once, but that’s different again.
Well, in the coming days I’ll live on the hope of your coming. If I manage to have some success with painting, times may become a little easier.
The fortnight between now and when you come won’t, however, be very easy to get through. If possible, remember what I asked you about receiving a little more a few days before the tenth, because then I could try to do those figure studies in the dunes before you come. Adieu, and thank you again for your letter, and wishing you good fortune in every respect. And believe me
Ever yours,