Vincent van Gogh - The Shepherdess after Jean-Francois Millet 1889

The Shepherdess after Jean-Francois Millet 1889
The Shepherdess after Jean-Francois Millet
Oil on canvas 52.7 x 40.7 cm. Saint-Rémy: November, 1889
Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Museum, loaned by Moshe Mayer, Geneva

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The Shepherdess Jean-Francois Millet
The Shepherdess
Jean-Francois Millet

Van Gogh made twenty-one paintings in Saint-Rémy that were "translations" of the work of Jean-François Millet. Van Gogh did not intend for his works to be literal copies of the originals. Speaking specifically of the works after Millet, he explained, "it's not copying pure and simple that one would be doing. It is rather translating into another language, the one of colors, the impressions of chiaroscuro and white and black."

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, between about Friday, 31 May and about Thursday, 6 June 1889.
My dear Theo,
I still have to ask you to send me a few ordinary brushes as soon as possible, of more or less these sizes
Half a dozen of each please.
I hope that you’re well and your wife too, and that you’ll enjoy a little of the good weather. At least here we have splendid sunshine.
As for me, my health is good, and as for the head it will, let’s hope, be a matter of time and patience.
The director had a few words with me to say that he’d received a letter from you, and that he’d written to you. To me he says nothing and I ask nothing of him, which is simplest. He’s a little gouty man — widowed a few years ago — who has very dark spectacles. As the establishment is a little moribund, the man appears to take only a rather half-hearted enjoyment in this profession, and besides there’s reason enough for it.
A new person has arrived who is so agitated that he breaks everything and shouts day and night, he also tears the straitjackets and up to now he scarcely calms down, although he’s in a bath all day long, he demolishes his bed and all the rest in his room, overturns his food &c. It’s very sad to see — but they have a lot of patience here and will eventually get there, however.
New things become old so quickly — I think that if I came to Paris in the state of mind I’m currently in, I wouldn’t make any distinction between a so-called dark painting or a bright Impressionist painting, between a varnished painting in oils and a matt picture done with thinned paint.
I mean by this that having reflected as time passed — I believe more than ever in the eternal youth of the school of Delacroix, Millet, Rousseau, Dupré, Daubigny, just as much as in the current one or even in artists to come. I scarcely believe that Impressionism will ever do more than the Romantics, for example.
It’s certainly a far cry between that and admiring people like Léon Glaize or Perrault.

This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big. Daubigny and Rousseau did that, though, with the expression of all the intimacy and all the great peace and majesty that it has, adding to it a feeling so heartbreaking, so personal. These emotions I do not detest.
I still have remorse, and enormously when I think of my work, so little in harmony with what I’d have wished to do. I hope that in the long run it will make me do better things, but we aren’t there yet.
I think that you would do well to wash the canvases that are quite quite dry with water and a little spirits of wine to remove the oil and the thinner from the impasto. The same for the night café and the green vineyard, and above all for the landscape that was in the walnut frame. The night also (but that one has recent retouchings which might run with the spirits of wine).
I’ve been here almost a whole month, not one single time have I had the slightest desire to be elsewhere; just the will to work again is becoming a tiny bit firmer.
I don’t notice any very clear desire to be elsewhere in the others either, and this may very well come from the fact that one feels too decidedly broken for life outside.
What I don’t really understand is their absolute idleness. But that’s the great defect of the south, and its ruin. But what a beautiful land and what beautiful blue and what a sun. And yet I’ve only seen the garden and what I can make out through the window.
Have you read the new book by Guy de Maupassant, Fort comme la mort, what is its subject? What I read last in this category was Zola’s Le rêve, I found the figure of the woman, the embroiderer, very, very beautiful, and the description of the embroidery all in gold. Precisely because it’s like a question of colour, different yellows, whole and broken. But the figure of the man struck me as rather lifeless, and the great cathedral also made me as melancholy as hell. Only that lilac and dark blue repoussoir makes, if you will, the blonde figure stand out. But anyway, there are already things by Lamartine like that.
I hope that you’ll destroy a heap of things that are too bad in the heap I sent, or at least will only show the most passable ones.
As regards the exhibition of the Independents, it’s all the same to me, act as if I wasn’t there at all. To not be indifferent and not exhibit something too mad, perhaps the starry night and the landscape with yellow greenery which was in the walnut frame. Since these are two of contrary colours, and that might give others the idea of doing night effects better than I do.
Anyway you must absolutely stop worrying with regard to me now. When I receive the new canvas and the colours I’ll go out a bit to see the countryside.
Since it’s just the season when there are lots of flowers and thus colour effects, it will perhaps be wise to send me another 5 metres of canvas in addition.
For the flowers will be short-lived and will be replaced by the yellow wheatfields. The latter, above all, I would like to capture better than in Arles. The mistral (since there are a few mountains here) appears far less annoying than in Arles, where you always get it at first hand.
When you receive the canvases I’ve done in the garden you’ll see that I’m not too melancholy here.
More soon, good handshake in thought to you and to Jo.
Ever yours,