1. Some of the works that were sent can be identified. In letter 532 Van Gogh had said that he had ‘some still lifes — of a basket of potatoes — fruit — a copper kettle &c.’ ready for Theo. He had painted several versions of these subjects in this period, although it is often not possible to establish precisely when a work was finished.
In letter 536 Vincent also mentioned birds’ nests on a ‘black background’ (ll. 62-63), which Theo must have been able to picture in his mind’s eye. It is unclear whether he is referring to one or more still lifes here. Still life with birds’ nests (F 111 / JH 939; F 112 / JH 938; and F 109r / JH 942) fit the bill.
Going by what is – or was once – in the family estate, the following works may also have been in this batch: Beer tankards (F 49 / JH 534); Basket of apples (F 101 / JH 927); Still life with earthenware and bottles (F 53 / JH 538) and Still life with a basket of apples and two pumpkins (F 106 / JH 936). They are now in the Van Gogh Museum. Still life with an earthenware bowl and pears (F 105 / JH 926) was sold by Jo van Gogh-Bonger in 1905. It is not impossible that The parsonage at Nuenen (F 182 / JH 948) was also sent in this crate.
We do not know whether the crate also contained other works besides the two small Amsterdam panels discussed below – such as the drawings promised in letter 532. See for all this: cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 11-13 (nn. 25 and 30), 164-167, 239. The consignment probably also contained a still life with potatoes, which Van Gogh overpainted with a flower still life in Paris, Still life with gladioli (F 248 / JH 1146).
2. The panels View in Amsterdam (F 113 / JH 944) and De Ruyterkade in Amsterdam (F 211 / JH 973), which were therefore part of this consignment, show traces of dirt and (probably) soot. See cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 214-216.
3. Discussing Rembrandt’s Syndics in Les maîtres d’autrefois, Fromentin referred to the rapid execution, the broad brushstroke, the heavier, more substantial paint and the tougher surface than in his earlier paintings (Fromentin 1902, chapter 15, p. 385).
Béraldi lists three etchings that Bracquemond made after works by Rembrandt: two portraits of women in the Catalogue de vingt-trois tableaux des écoles flamande et hollandaise provenant de la galerie San Donato... dont la vente aura lieu Hôtel Drouot... le 17 avril 1868 and a Christ aux roseaux for the Catalogue de la collection du comte Koucheleff, 5 juin 1869 (Lugt 1938-1987, no. 31353). See Béraldi 1885-1892, vol. 3, pp. 104-105.
12.Jan van Goyen, Landscape with two oaks, 1641 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Ill. 2157. The ‘Dupper Collection’ was a bequest of L. Dupper Willemsz. (64 paintings) in 1870, when the collection was still housed in the Trippenhuis.
15. Cf. letter 534, where Van Gogh also talked about Hals’s use of yellow. He borrowed the term ‘jaune chamois’ from Thoré, who used it in connection with Hals’s Merry drinker (see Thoré 1858-1860, vol. 1, p. 60).
16. In the chapter ‘Dessinateur. Coloriste’ in Du dessin et de la couleurBracquemond observes: ‘Drawing and colouring are not two different professions, those of draughtsman and colourist, but they confront two principles, two conventions, two methods specific to painting, which also apply to sculpture’ (Le dessin, la couleur, ne constituent pas deux professions différentes, dessinateur et coloriste; mais ils mettent en présence deux principes, deux conventions, deux méthodes particulière à la peinture, tout en n’étant pas étrangères à la sculpture) (see Bracquemond 1885, p. 98).
Haverman wrote to Albert Plasschaert on 9 May 1912: ‘I indeed knew Vincent van Gogh in Brussels (1881 or thereabouts). But didn’t meet him often, because very soon we were having quite fierce arguments. I made a few etchings, but no impressions of them have been published; they were more in the way of trials in a rudimentary state’ (FR b3028).
Van Gogh had already spoken slightingly of the importance that Van Rappard and Haverman attached to ‘technique’ in letters 439 and 514.
26. Like Thomas Vireloque, a tramp with a misanthropic view of the world. He features in twenty satirical prints in Gavarni’s La mascarade humaine (Gavarni 1881, pp. 77-115). Van Gogh, who owned this book (see letter 302), is referring here to Vireloque’s outspoken remarks in the captions: time after time he punctures ‘human pretensions’.
27. Van Gogh is referring to L’art du dix-huitième siècle (1859-1875)in which Jules and Edmond de Goncourt give an overview of a number of important eighteenth-century French artists through extracts from letters and anecdotes. These biographical sketches are accompanied by discussions of their work and exhibitions. The essay on Chardin is on pp. 91-192; on Boucher on pp. 195-314; on Watteau on pp. 1-90 (all in Goncourt 1881-1914, vol. 1); on Fragonard on pp. 241-342 (vol. 3). In Goncourt 1948, pp. 107-155; 55-105; 1-54 and 259-312 respectively.
As well as the artists Van Gogh mentions here, the De Goncourts also discuss La Tour, Greuze, Saint-Aubin, Gravelot, Cochin, Eisen, Moreau, Debucourt and Prudhon. Several editions of this book, in a number of volumes, were available in 1885.