Vincent van Gogh - Vase with Carnations 1886

Vase with Carnations 1886
Vase with Carnations
Oil on canvas 43.2 x 35.6 cm. Paris: Summer, 1886
Detroit: The Detroit Institute of Arts

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Wednesday, 3 January 1883.
My dear Theo,
I wrote to you yesterday, but I’m doing so again today to report the safe arrival of your letter and to thank you for it, and to tell you that what you wrote raised my spirits.
I was a bit concerned that, because you’ve seen so little of my work recently, this might make you think that I’d begun to slacken off.
I have in fact been slogging away lately, and am still wrapped up in various things in which I begin to see light as to how to do them, but which I haven’t yet got the hang of as I would like.
In my last letter I told you I was experimenting in Black and White with lithographic crayon.
You speak too highly of me in your letter, but the fact that you think highly of me is an added reason for me to try not to be entirely unworthy of it. And as for my saying I believed I had made some progress through those experiments, it may be that I can’t see my own work properly. Perhaps it’s a step forward, perhaps not. Tell me your opinion about that based on the accompanying two studies, which I made in the past few days, together with some others.While I search for a more powerful process than the one I’ve worked with up to now, I try to be guided to some extent by the English reproductions made using the process you described — together with the black scratches Buhot made on the sample paper — as to the strength of black.
And if you get a chance, speak to an expert about whether it would be possible to reproduce drawings like these (as distinct from the second question of whether these or similar ones were to their particular taste).

As for their sentiment, I would like to know what YOU think about that, because, as I said, I myself can’t judge whether there’s more in them or not.
Or rather, my position is that for my part I’d rather see studies like these, even though they’re unfinished and even if much is completely neglected, than drawings that have a subject, because through them I get a vivid memory of nature itself. You’ll understand what I mean. True studies have something of life itself, and the person who makes them will respect not himself but nature in them, and hence prefer the study to what he may make of it later. Unless something entirely different arises from it as the final outcome of many studies, namely the type distilled from many individuals. That is the highest art, and in that art is sometimes above nature — — — as, for instance, in Millet’s sower, in which there is more soul than in an ordinary sower in the field.
But what I’d like to know from you is whether you think that this way of working would perhaps remove some of the objections you had to pencil. They’re a few ‘heads of the people’, and my intention would be to find a large number like these to try to form a sort of entity that wouldn’t be entirely unworthy of the title ‘heads of the people’.
Through working hard, old chap, I hope to make something good one day. I haven’t got it yet, but I’m hunting it and fighting for it, I want something serious, something fresh — something with soul in it! Onward, onward.
You’ll see clearly enough from what I’ve said above that I’m more eager to put together a serious work for reproduction than to have the satisfaction of seeing one drawing printed some day.
But any information and tips as to processes are very welcome.
In the window at G&Cie I saw a large etching by Fortuny, An anchorite, as well as his two beautiful The dead Kabyle and Watching over the dead man — then I deeply regretted saying to you not long ago that I didn’t find Fortuny beautiful – this I found extremely beautiful. Well, you’ll understand that yourself.
It’s the same with Boldini too.
But that seriousness that Fortuny had, for instance, in those three etchings is just what’s missing with many of his followers, who completely follow in his wake with a manner for which F. set the example in, say, ‘The choice of a model’ &c.
And that is the direct opposite of the sombre, noble quality of Brion, of Degroux, Israëls &c.
When you can, do send me an issue of the current Vie Moderne, look for one with reproductions like the ones you wrote about. The magazine is nowhere to be found here (and what I have ((a few issues)) is years old).
I’ll show you more when you come, sooner or later — and then we can talk about the future. You know well enough how little suited I am to approaching either dealers or art lovers, and moreover how it goes against the grain for me. I so dearly wish that we could always carry on as in the past, but I’m often so sad about having to trouble you again and again. But who knows whether in time it mightn’t be possible for you to interest someone or other who could take the load off your shoulders that you’ve borne in the most difficult time. That could be done when it’s clearly evident that my work is serious, at which time it will have more appeal than this. I’m too fond of my very simple life to want to change it, but later on we’ll have to incur greater expenses to do greater things. I believe I’ll always work with a model a lot — always and always. And I must get things to the point where not everything rests on your shoulders.
This is only a beginning — later you’ll get fine things from me, old chap! For the time being, let me know whether you think some of the objections to using pencil alone could be removed somewhat by using crayon as well. Don’t you also agree that by making these drawings I may also indirectly learn things about lithography proper?
Adieu, thanks again for your letter, with a handshake.
Ever yours,