My dear friend Rappard,
Coming home just now I found your postcard, which was delivered this morning soon after I left — I see that, apart from your model this afternoon, you also had an appointment for this morning. And I’m sorry you didn’t tell me this — we could have gone there together if need be. For the rest, the pleasure of having seen your work is no small thing for me and I’m pleased to have visited you, if I haven’t upset your plans too much. It wasn’t my fault, though, for I hadn’t yet received your postcard, and have only just found it.
Your work, again, I think it very good — above all the sketch of the woman spinning,1 also very good — it’s the real thing. I wish you had a charcoal drawing of Tile painters2 as well, I suggest you consider doing one. Why? — because compositions like that most certainly also work well when painted, and are truer and raised to a higher level in some respects in that state.  1v:2
Yet the Black and White or Light and Shade of it acquires a peculiar charm in itself and stands by itself — lending itself at the same time to possible reproduction, photos of Tile painters are bound to fail compared with the painting because of the blue coming out as white.
The heads (studies) of the blind men seem outstanding to me.3 Do you agree that we hereby more or less resolve to visit each other again, turn and turn about, before the end of the current year?
Here’s a passage from Dickens which I think says very expressively what a figure painter feels while working on a composition.

‘I was occupied with this Story during many workinghours of two years. I must have been very ill employed, if I could not leave its merits and demerits as a whole to express themselves — on its being read as a whole. But, as it isn’t unreasonable to suppose that I may have held its various threads with a more continuous attention than any one else can have given to them during its desultory publication, it isn’t unreasonable to ask that the weaving may be looked at in its complete state, and with the pattern finished.’
Preface Little Dorrit.4

Here you see, my dear friend, beautifully expressed, how a figure painter deserves to be regarded — as a whole.
Today I saw you in that way, and it has confirmed my sympathy for you.
For your part, continue to regard me as a whole too, which many others do not.
What I also think very good is that one sees books in your studio, Hugo, Zola, Dickens – figure painter books. Will send you Erckmann-Chatrian, Histoire d’un paysan to read.5
The French Revolution — that is the centre — the constitution of 1789 the modern gospel, no less sublime than that of Year 1.6
And how one can be a figure painter and not feel anything of that I cannot understand — and find something empty in the studios of those kinds of figure painters if the modern writings are absent. And I believe that’s your impression too.  1r:4
Do you know what I didn’t take? The miners’ strike by Roll,7 which I believe you have in duplicate. I have it myself but it was meant for Van der Weele, who, between you and me, badly needs to see some foreign compositions in my view, and is I think somewhat weighed down by Dutch prejudices — although in his large painting8 he wrests free of them.
As for printer’s ink, I wanted to say, try splashing and smearing with it — at random and from the imagination as it were — on a piece of paper or an old study, just for the effect. But gently — with turpentine — then I believe you’ll see things in it that will prove useful. Your study for which I posed9 looked very good when it was properly dry, but I believe it would have been even better if it had been prepared with charcoal. And try washing with a brush and water in a scratch done with lithographic crayon. If you take the trouble, you’ll certainly find things that are very useful and practical with the printer’s ink — probably more and better than I’ve found so far.
How beautiful those illustrations are by Lhermitte, Perret,10 Bastien-Lepage that you have! If I were you I’d do even more of those fine heads like the blind men. I’ll also try it out with a finer pencil — — adieu — with a handshake.

Ever yours,

As to writers, don’t you agree that one doesn’t know writers like Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, Zola until one has more or less full knowledge of their work? I think that the same applies to Michelet and Erckmann-Chatrian too.

I refuse to accept that a painter may or must do nothing but paint. I mean that while many regard, for instance, reading books or something else as what they’d call a waste of time, it seems to me on the contrary that — far from working less or less well if one attempts to learn about another area that’s nonetheless directly related — one works more and better as a result — and at any rate the point of view from which one sees things and one’s approach to life is a matter of importance and a great influence on the work.
The more one loves, the more one will act, I believe, for love that is only a feeling I wouldn’t even consider to be love.
Well, I hope this consignment of wood engravings will be to your taste. Return the ones you already have together with the others when it’s convenient, then I’ll give them to Van der Weele. I’ve sorted them out as carefully as possible — and as far as I can make out these are all the duplicates. There are a few French ones among them too.
We can check the rest when you come, sooner or later.
Then you’ll certainly have a lot more prints to look at which, sadly, I don’t have in duplicate.
Enjoy them — and write again soon.


Br. 1990: 347 | CL: R35
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Anthon van Rappard
Date: The Hague, on or about Monday, 21 May 1883

3. In the autumn of 1882 Van Rappard had done some studies at the Institute for the Blind in Utrecht. See e.g. Van Rappard’s drawing Head of a blind old man (Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet). Ill. 2100 [2100]. Cf. exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1974, pp. 79-80, cat. nos. 83-89.
4. The excerpt comes from the ‘Preface’ to Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Van Gogh knew the version in the Library Edition (1859) or the Cheap Edition (1861 and 1865). There the opening sentence reads ‘I was’, whereas other editions have ‘I have been’. See Dickens 1979, p. lxi. The emphasis on continuous attention is Van Gogh’s own. The word ‘complete’ (l. 51) is ‘completed’ in the original.
5. Erckmann-Chatrian, Histoire d’un paysan (1868) is a four-volume work about the French Revolution and the period afterwards (1789-1815) seen through the eyes of the Alsace peasant Michel Bastien. In 1789 the Declaration of the Rights of Man was drawn up and four years later the Constitution was adopted. The significance of this is explored in Histoire d’un paysan. Van Gogh had a copy of Histoire d’un paysan – 1789 – Les états géneraux – par Erckmann-Chatrian. Illustrée par Théophile Schuler – Gravures par Pannemaker. L’histoire de la Révolution, racontée par un paysan. Paris, Bibliothèque populaire d’éducation et de récréation. J. Hetzel et Cie, 18 Rue Jacob, 1869. He did indeed give it to Van Rappard, one of whose descendants owns this copy with the name ‘Vincent’ inscribed at the front.
6. By the gospel ‘of Year 1’ Van Gogh means the biblical gospel. The fact that he gives the number so explicitly has to do with the renumbering of the years in France after the Revolution. The subtitle of one of the editions of Histoire d’un paysan is L’an I de la République (Paris 1869). Van Gogh may have borrowed the comparison of the gospel to the French Constitution from Carlyle or Michelet. See Sund 1992, pp. 260-261 (nn. 89-92).
9. A study by Van Rappard for which Van Gogh posed is not known. Heenk has suggested that the portrait of Van Rappard that Van Gogh drew was done at this time (Van Rappard F 1297r / JH 491). See cat. Amsterdam 1997, p. 107.
10. This is probably Aimé Perret, since subjects recur in his work that are related to those in the work of Léon Augustin Lhermitte and Jules Bastien-Lepage (such as farm labourers, peasants, etc.); for example, Le semeur (The sower) (1881), which was shown at the Salon of 1881 and illustrated in La Vie Moderne 3 (1 October 1881), p. 633.