Vincent van Gogh - Undergrowth 1887

Undergrowth 1887
Oil on canvas 32.0 x 46.0 cm. Paris: Summer, 1887
Utrecht: Centraal Museum

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Anthon van Rappard. Nuenen, on or about Thursday, 13 March 1884.
My dear friend Rappard,
I was pleased with your letter about the drawings. As far as the loom is concerned, that really is a study of the machine made from start to finish in the place itself and was difficult — because one had to sit so close that it was very tricky to take measurements. I drew the figure in after all — but I don’t want to say anything with it except: ‘when that black monster of begrimed oak with all its slats somehow shows up like this against the greyness in which it stands, then there, in the centre of it, sits a black ape or goblin or apparition, and clatters with those slats from early till late’. And indicated the spot by setting down a sort of a shape of a weaver with a few scratches and blotches at the place where I saw him. Consequently, I didn’t give the slightest thought to the proportions of arms or legs at the time.

When my machine drawing had been finished fairly carefully, I found it so unbearable that I couldn’t hear it clatter that I let the apparition appear in it after all. Very well — and — say it’s only a machine drawing — just put it next to a design for a loom and — — — — — I tell you, mine will really be more HAUNTING. Otherwise it’s nothing but a machine drawing — otherwise, apart from a je ne sais quoi. And — putting my study next to a drawing by a mechanical engineer — who had drawn a design for a loom — mine would more clearly express that the thing’s made of oak begrimed by sweaty hands, and would every now and then, when you looked at it (even if I absolutely did not draw him in, or even if I drew him out of proportion), every now and then you couldn’t help thinking of the workman, whereas absolutely no ideas of this kind would occur to you looking at the design for a loom by a mechanical engineer. A sort of sigh or lament must sometimes come out of all that clutter of the slats.
I like to see your drawings of machines very much — why? — because when you draw only the flywheel, I for one also can’t help thinking about the boy who turns it and feel his presence, I don’t know how. And those who regard your machine drawings as designs for machines understand nothing about your art.
Yet — for oneself — if one draws a machine like this — I agree with you that one should make it as mechanical as possible if one wants the study to be of any use.
Meanwhile, I completely understand your idea that, were it to be a drawing — which I still hope to make if I can get hold of my model — then the black apparition in the background must become the centre, the starting-point, the heart, and the most felt, worked up — the rest kept subordinate to it.
Well, it pleases me that you like my little winter garden. This garden set me so to dreaming, and I’ve since made another of the same subject, also with a little black apparition, which yet again isn’t in it as an example of the structure of the human body worthy of imitating, but as a blotch. I’m sending you that one too, and a few others,
sepia sketch, in the marsh —
pen drawing, Pollard birches — Avenue
of poplars — Behind the
hedgerows8 — The kingfisher
and Winter garden.
I’m sending them to you on a little roll; be so good as to put them in the portfolio with the others, particularly when you send them back, so that they stay flat if possible. I’m enclosing a piece of grey paper with them — they’ll show up better if you put them on that.
As to these drawings and art presentations. I don’t care about art presentations. But what I do care about is this — I work every day, of course — and not a week goes by without me having several studies like this one, say. I always count it among the possibilities that some day or another I’ll find an art lover who would like to take them off me — not one or two, but 50, say.
I know of more than one painter who had to let his studies (which he would probably have kept himself if he could), his studies go like this, but on the other hand received some money to get by on for a while.
And if I ask you to show them to people you may meet it’s because, once again, it isn’t entirely impossible sometime that you might be able to provide me with such an art lover. If this doesn’t happen, well and good — but for me, on account of my life getting more difficult rather than easier, it’s a duty to seek opportunities, track down chances to place my work. And that’s why I ask you, show them, when it seems appropriate. If they take no notice, very well — I’m prepared for that, too, of course. For the time being I would very definitely not want to give a talk about my work alone. As far as the people who occupy themselves with drawings are concerned — one always has a CHANCE of finding feeling among the ordinary art-loving public — a bit of trust and faith still — only among the superficially initiated like dealers (without exception) one finds absolutely no feeling, faith or trust, but always the same old files of superficial judgements — generalities — conventional criticism. Old files on which in my view it would be a waste of time — and teeth — to blunt one’s teeth.
So — will you just show them if ever you get the opportunity, but please don’t go to any trouble — don’t force it — but, once again, for my part I have to do it. If I didn’t have to, I’d most certainly much rather keep studies, at least, for myself, and I would not want to sell them. But — — —
Well. Now — regards — I’m painting again these days.
Yours truly,

I sometimes think about not doing anything else except pen drawings and — painting You shouldn’t be surprised that some of my figures are so very different from those that I do from a model at certain times.
I very seldom work from the imagination — I almost never practise that.
But am starting to become so accustomed to sitting directly in front of reality that I’m keeping my personal sensibility free then, far more so than right at the very beginning — getting less dizzy — am sometimes more myself precisely when I’m sitting in front of reality. If I hit it off with a model so that it’s calm and quiet and I’m already familiar with it, if I draw that model repeatedly, then among the studies one will eventually come through that’s something different from an ordinary study, more true to type, that’s to say: more felt.
Yet, that one’s made under the same conditions as more wooden, less felt studies that preceded it. This is a way of working like any other — just as understandable, to my mind. For instance, these little winter gardens — you say it yourself, they’re felt — very well, but that’s not a fluke, I drew them repeatedly before these and the feeling wasn’t in them. After that — after those iron-like ones — came these; so too the clumsy and awkward ones. How it comes about that I express something with them is: because the thing has already formed itself in my mind when I begin. The first ones are utterly unpalatable to other people. I say this so that you should know that if there’s something in it, this isn’t a fluke but in fact properly reasoned and sought.
It really delighted me that you’ve noticed that recently I’ve been working on and attaching importance to expressing the relationship of the values of the masses against one another quite a bit, and the way things stand out from one another in the dizzying confusion of every nook and cranny in life.
Previously the light and shade in my studies was usually more haphazard, at any rate not carried through logically, so they were colder and flatter.
Once I feel — know — a subject, then I usually make it in 3 or more variations, whether it’s a figure or a landscape, but — every time I always involve reality for each one. And I even do my best not to give any details THEN — because then the reverie goes out of it. If Tersteeg and my brother &c. then say: so what’s that, grass or cabbages? — I say: glad YOU can’t make it out.
And yet they’re still true enough to nature so that, for instance, the honest natives of these parts recognize details that I’ve scarcely noticed — say, for instance: yes, that’s Miss Renesse’s hedge, and there are De Louw’s beanpoles.