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.
On the basis of letter 536 we know that at any rate Basket of potatoes (F 100 / JH 931 [2530], F 116 / JH 934 [2532]) and Baskets of potatoes (F 107 / JH 933 [2531]) were part of the consignment, as was Basket of apples (F 99 / JH 930 [2529]). Since the only extant still life with a kettle is Still life with a brass cauldron and jug (F 51 / JH 925 [2527]), this must be the one he means (see also letter 532, n. 4).
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 [2533]; 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 [2528]) 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).
[2530] [2532] [2531] [2529] [2527] [2533] [607] [592] [2528] [990]
2. The panels View in Amsterdam (F 113 / JH 944 [2534]) and De Ruyterkade in Amsterdam (F 211 / JH 973 [2542]), which were therefore part of this consignment, show traces of dirt and (probably) soot. See cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 214-216.
[2534] [2542]
3. Discussing Rembrandt’s Syndics [1835] 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).
4. See for Rembrandt’s Syndics of the the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild [1835]: letter 121, n. 5. It is possible that the word ‘even’ (‘zelfs’) refers to the Jewish bride and not the Syndics.
5. See for Rembrandt’s Jewish bride [2119]: letter 430, n. 10.
6. William Unger and Félix Bracquemond were known as etchers and engravers, among other things for their prints after old masters. Van Gogh most probably knew Unger’s etchings after Hals from Etsen naar Frans Hals door Prof. William Unger. Met eene verhandeling over den schilder door Mr. C. Vosmaer. Leiden 1873. There were twenty well-known works in this de luxe edition.
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.
7. See for Meissonier’s The deathbed [251]: letter 534, n. 24.
8. There were two paintings by Adriaen Brouwer, seven by Adriaen van Ostade, two by Isaac van Ostade and three by Gerard ter Borch in the Rijksmuseum. See cat. Amsterdam 1885 and cat. Amsterdam 1976.
a. Means: ‘paletmes’ (palette knife).
9. The sketch by Peter Paul Rubens is Christ carrying the Cross, 1634-1637 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Ill. 1301 [1301]. It is a preliminary study for the painting The road to Calvary (Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts). See for A nymph with cupids [2156] by Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña in the Fodor Museum, with which Van Gogh compares it, letter 534, n. 25.
[1301] [2156]
10. A reference to the generation of painters of the Hague School who started to use a brighter, lighter palette to capture the atmospheric grey of the light.
11. See for Jacob van Ruisdael’s The windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede [1312]: letter 325, n. 29. The work was in the Van der Hoop Collection (cf. letter 111, n. 1), which was housed in a separate gallery when the Rijksmuseum opened.
12. Jan van Goyen, Landscape with two oaks, 1641 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Ill. 2157 [2157]. The ‘Dupper Collection’ was a bequest of L. Dupper Willemsz. (64 paintings) in 1870, when the collection was still housed in the Trippenhuis.
13. See for Ruisdael’s The bush [1707]: letter 34, n. 4.
14. Copy after Aelbert Cuyp, View of Dordrecht at sunset (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). Ill. 35 [35].
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 couleur Bracquemond 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).
17. Van Gogh had met Hendrik Johannes Haverman in Brussels in 1881. In 1879-1880 Haverman was in Antwerp, studying with Charles Verlat, he then studied at the Brussels Academy under Portaels. After this he went back to August Allebé in Amsterdam, with whom he had started in 1878.
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.
18. See for Jozef Israëls’s The Zandvoort fisherman [3063]: letter 534, n. 19.
19. Eugène Delacroix, The barque of Dante (Dante and Virgil in hell), 1822 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 2158 [2158]. There is an engraving after it in Charles Blanc’s Les artistes de mon temps, from which Vincent had copied out a passage about Delacroix for Theo some months earlier (see letter 449) (Blanc 1876, p. 29). In Histoire des artistes vivants français et étrangers Silvestre quoted Thiers, who spoke of ‘the horrible tint’ (l’horrible teinte) and ‘the colours of death’ (les couleurs de la mort) in this work. See Silvestre, Histoire, p. 62. Van Gogh referred to this book several times during this period (cf. for example letters 526, 538 and 557).
20. Van Gogh wrote about the weak technique of people who talked about it a lot in letter 534.
21. A reference to Mesdag’s earliest works. See Poort 1989-1995.
22. Van Gogh had read about the concepts of ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ in Bracquemond: see for this letter 530.
23. In the Netherlands Jan Salie is the proverbial personification of a lack of energy and initiative. The name derives from the character of this name in E.J. Potgieter’s novel Jan, Jannetje en hun jongste kind (1842).
24. French proverb, based on François Rabelais, Gargantua 1, 46.
25. See for this description of Delacroix, derived from Jean Gigoux, Causeries sur les artistes de mon temps: letter 526, n. 5.
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.