Vincent van Gogh - Vase with Red Poppies 1886

Vase with Red Poppies 1886
Vase with Red Poppies
Oil on canvas 56.0 x 46.5 cm. Paris: Summer, 1886
Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Thursday, 8 February 1883.
My dear friend Rappard,
Thanks for your letter of this morning. It pleases me, and indeed I expected no less of you, that you’ve taken the things I told you kind-heartedly. When I have an opportunity to give you further details that will make the circumstances clearer, you won’t, I hope, have to alter your opinion that I acted honestly and in good faith. I am dealing with a woman who had one foot in the grave when I met her, and was shocked and disorientated in her mind and nervous system. Her only chance of surviving, according to the professor in Leiden, was to lead a well-ordered, domestic life. And even then it will take years before she’s completely normal. As to her life, I believe that, like me, you don’t condemn fallen women. Frank Holl expressed that once in a drawing that hasn’t been reproduced as far as I know — he called the drawing: her poverty but not her will consents.
My dear friend, at present I recall no less than 4 women here in town (including my own) who have fallen or been deceived and have illegitimate children, and their fate is so sad that it’s difficult to imagine. Especially because for 3 of them, at least, the chance of pulling through is almost non-existent — i.e. it’s there in theory but not in practice, in my view.
Something I should add is that I don’t consider my relationship with the woman in question to be ephemeral in nature but for ever. My words about disappointment in the past are based on something that I don’t speak of — at any rate not now. However — it’s only fair I should tell you this much — — suppose someone experiences a disappointment through wounded love so deep that he’s calmly desperate and desolate — such a condition is possible and is something like white-hot steel or iron. To feel that one is irrevocably and absolutely disappointed, and to carry the awareness of that in one like a mortal, or at least irreparable, wound, and to still go about one’s business with an impassive face.
Would you find it inexplicable if someone in this state met someone else who was deeply unhappy, and perhaps also irreparably unhappy, and felt a special sympathy, quite unwittingly and without himself seeking it? And if this sympathy or love or tie, arising from chance as it were, were nonetheless strong and remained so? If ‘love’ is dead, couldn’t ‘charity’ then be alive and well?
Now forgive me for talking about the woodcuts. The daily work is a thing that doesn’t change, and becoming absorbed in that isn’t as dangerous as looking into the unfathomable.
I’ve found a fine Jacque, woodcutters (unfortunately coloured in with a child’s box of paints, but I washed most of it off). It’s a very beautiful sheet.
Two Daumiers. Meeting of those who have seen a tragedy and those who have seen a vaudeville — and art lovers.
Two women (one with a child) who are sitting talking, by Oberländer, and also by him two old men who appear to be dealing with abstruse official business. Both extraordinarily real. The figures are rather smaller than most heads by Oberländer.
Beautiful Edmond Morins, especially the chestnut trees in the Champs Elysées and a boat race and Vintage.
John Lewis Brown, Hunters in the woods.
The falling of the leaves by G. Doré, a very old Doré, done roughly but very good in sentiment.
Gypsies by Valério.
Renouard, Beggars on New Year’s Day.
These are some of the new prints.
I’m glad that you took the Harper’s Xmas papers, that publication may also be too good to last. Aren’t the Winter girl and Dutch Patrol by Abbey beautiful? Judging by them, you’ll understand that the large print, Xmas in Old Virginia by him, is extraordinary. Swain engraved it in such a way that it has remained just like a pen drawing — it doesn’t look cut at all, nor does the Brighton promenade by Caldecott — which I believe you have.
I know Harper’s Magazine from a few old issues I have. I too am thinking of taking this year’s, but towards the end of the year there may be a chance of finding it second-hand.
By the way, I’m in correspondence about the way in which the sheets like those in the Xmas papers are done. I have samples of the paper and some information regarding the strengths of black and white, and how they can be obtained. That paper is most curious: it sometimes has a kind of basic colour and grain that’s like a grey mist — it lends itself perfectly to snow effects, for example. There’s also paper with hatchings.
I still have a beautiful print by Dagnan, Jardin des Tuileries, and one by Montbard, Arab beggars, for you, and certainly smaller ones too, over and above the duplicates from The Graphic. Before your illness you wrote that you had two ladies in a boat by Heilbuth in duplicate. I lack that one (although I have other large Heilbuths) and am just reminding you.
I don’t remember whether I’ve already written to you about
Old Christmas from Washington Irvings Sketchbook ill. by Caldecott.
Bracebridge Hall

Two books at sixpence apiece, published by Macmillan & Co. London.
In each a hundred small drawings, which are by Caldecott but are sometimes so beautiful that one thinks of Menzel.
When there’s an opportunity, I’d like to know what the subject is of Degroux, Winter in Brussels.
Have I already written to you about Lhermitte? He seems to be the boss of Black and White drawings; they say of him ‘he is the Millet and Jules Breton in Black and White’. One review talked about women saying their prayers on the cliffs of Brittany, a paupers’ pew and an old market and so on.
Although as a result of taking in the woman and her two children I experienced some unpleasantness, rather nasty in fact, I still found a certain calm and serenity through this meeting. And worked hard this winter. Had some very real models.
At the moment I’m not working very hard, for after slogging away almost without pause or rest for several months, mainly on heads, I felt a kind of weakness or fatigue that I couldn’t overcome. In my eyes, too, so that even looking was an effort. In the past few days I’ve done a lot of walking out of doors and not much drawing, and my eyes are back to normal now.
I believe I have one hundred and fifty studies you haven’t yet seen.
The changes in the house have made me work not less but more, I’ve even worked in a kind of fury, but a calm fury, if you’ll permit me to put it like that. Also went back to literature again, which I had given up for a while.
I believe you’d be very taken with the little child — those who abandon a woman when she’s pregnant don’t know what they’re doing. A child brings a ‘ray from on high’, so to speak, into a house. And as for the woman herself, do you remember what Gavarni said? ‘There is an insupportable, silly and ill-natured creature — that is the young girl; there is a sublime and devoted creature — that is that girl when she has become a mother.’ This isn’t intended, I believe, to brand all young women or girls absolutely (that goes without saying), but to show forcefully how something vain in a woman before she’s a mother is replaced by something sublime later, when she toils for her children.
I saw a figure by Paterson in The Graphic, an illustration for 93 by Hugo, called Dolorosa.
And that struck me because of the resemblance to the woman as I found her. There was a scene in the same book where someone, despite being a hard, proud man, was suddenly touched by two children who were in danger. And though selfish by nature, he forgot the danger to himself and saved the children. One never finds oneself exactly in a book, only some things from nature in general that one finds vague and ill-defined in one’s own heart. I find much that is true in The haunted man by Dickens. Do you know it? Neither in 93 nor in The haunted man do I find myself exactly — everything is quite different, sometimes turned round, but much of what I felt is awakened when I read it. Adieu, with a handshake.
Ever yours,