From Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zurich:
Van Goghs two years in Paris bring about the decisive transformation of his style. Up to then he had been under the influence of the Barbizon school, but in Paris in the spring of 1886 he is at the focus of a great break-through. A restless younger generation, dissatisfied with the achievements of Impressionism, is seeking a new approach. The avant-garde is excited by the Neo-lmpressionism of a Seurat and a Signac.
Van Gogh finds himself in a strange situation: he is thirty-three years old, hitherto an expressive realist, against Impressionism, which he is scarcely acquainted with, and finds himself confronted by artists who are ten to fifteen years younger, whom he must even so take as his models and mentors, as they represent the latest trend. At the Atelier Cormon, where van Gogh meets Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard, the problem becomes quite palpable. Therefore it is only too understandable that van Gogh seeks in secret, as it were to appropriate the new style in his own studies.
The more than fifty flower pictures that he paints in Paris show his attempt to get away from his dark shades and to work with bright colours. He expressly testifies to this in a letter to his sister. The same thing applies to the twenty-three self-portraits he does during his Paris period; these paintings make it possible to come to terms with his artistic problems and gradually to replace the grey-brown gallery shades with bright colours. Also these portraits are ruthlessly honest in that they are devoid of all poses; they show the rather uncouth Dutchman who is perforce an alien in sophisticated Paris.
To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Wednesday, 22 October 1884.
My dear Theo,
Here are a couple more cartes de visite to give you an idea of that decoration for Hermans — of which these are two canvases.
Rappard is here at the moment and sends you his regards. He’s made a very fine study of a girl’s head and one of a farmyard, and two small ones of ox-carts. And various others that he’s planning should follow.
I’m working on a figure of a shepherd wearing a greatcoat — which is the same size as the woman spinning.
And apart from that a study of two Pollard willows with the yellow leaves of poplars behind them and a view across the fields. It’s extraordinarily beautiful here at the moment with the autumnal effects. In a fortnight we’ll have the real fall of the leaves — when everything that’s on the trees falls in a few days.
If I have some luck with the shepherd, it will be a figure that will have something of the very old Brabant in it. Anyway, it isn’t finished yet, and we’ll see how it turns out. You could have dropped me a line in reply to what I wrote to you recently — it seems to me — even if it was only because it might shake up your own ideas, perhaps. For my part — despite much old and new sorrow — I have less and less doubt about my future, both as to my work and even as to myself. All the same, I know that I’ll have many a struggle in both respects — that both my work and I myself will meet with resistance, will make a bad impression in many cases, but not in all.
And as to my work, I become keener on it by the day, and I’m regaining my high spirits as if I were 20.
So I must see to it that I go to Antwerp sometime — often enough in the past I’ve sold things that authorities declared unsaleable. If I wanted to sell something in the past then it didn’t always fall through if I really wanted someone to take this thing or that.
And perhaps you’re right that I should just find a way for my work myself, and become my own dealer. Anyway.