1. Vincent had scribbled a letter sketch in letter 492 to give Theo an initial impression of the painting The potato eaters (F 78/ JH 734 [2506]); now he sends him a more detailed sketch (F 1226 / JH 736).
2. Van Gogh bought this lithographic stone from the Eindhoven printers Gestel in Langendijk (now Vestdijk). Cf. De Brouwer 1984, pp. 118-119.
3. Graining is the process whereby an even, textured grain is imparted to the surface of the lithographic stone prior to drawing on it. Cf. letter 321, l. 76: ‘the grained stone’.
4. This was Anton Kerssemakers, with whom Van Gogh had made this appointment (see letter 491).
5. This relates to the settlement of Mr van Gogh’s estate (see letter 490).
6. This saying by Millet derives from the following passage in Sensier: ‘I am not a philosopher, I have no wish to do away with pain, nor to find a formula that will make me stoical and indifferent. Pain is, perhaps, what makes artists express themselves most powerfully’ (Je ne suis pas un philosophe, je ne veux pas supprimer la douleur, ni trouver une formule qui me rende stoïque et indifférent. La douleur est, peut-être, ce qui fait le plus fortement exprimer les artistes). Sensier 1881, pp. 101-102.
Further on he reformulated this idea: ‘Millet was of his time. A peasant dedicated to hard work on the land, he constantly had in his heart compassion and pity for the rural poor. He was neither a socialist nor an ideologue, and yet, like all profound thinkers who love humanity, he suffered at the sufferings of others, and he needed to express them. To do that, he had only to paint the real peasant at work’ (Millet était de son temps. Paysan voué aux durs travaux de la terre, il avait sans cesse au coeur la compassion, la pitié pour les misérables des campagnes. Il n’était ni socialiste ni idéologue, et pourtant, comme tous les penseurs profonds et aimant l’humanité, il souffrait des souffrances des autres, et il avait besoin de les exprimer. Pour cela, il n’avait qu’à peindre le vrai paysan à son travail). Sensier 1881, pp. 180-181.
7. Theo had probably written about the exhibition ‘Les pastellistes français’ (French pastellists) which opened on 2 April in Georges Petit’s gallery; it included 30 pastels by Millet.
8. Van Gogh is referring here to something Millet said in a letter: ‘If I was wearing dress shoes I might find that it made the going a bit difficult, but with clogs, I think I would be all right’ (Si j’étais chaussé d’escarpins, je pourrais trouver que cela embarbouille un peu le chemin, mais avec des sabots, je crois que je m’en tirerai). Sensier 1881, p. 217. For ‘in clogs’ (en sabots) see also letter 663.
9. Jules Bastien-Lepage, Saison d’Octobre (Season of October), also known as La récolte des pommes de terre (The potato gatherers) (Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria). There were numerous reproductions of it in circulation through which Van Gogh could have known the work: after it appeared in the Catalogue Illustré du Salon 1879 (facing p. 12), it was distributed more widely by way of the etching by Lionel Aristide Lecouteux, published in L’Art 5-2 (1879), p. 146 (Ill. 543 [543]); by way of the large print in La Vie Moderne 1 (29 May 1879), no. 8, pp. 120-121; by way of the reproduction in L’Univers Illustré 22 (5 July 1879), no. 1267, p. 417; by way of the engraving by G. Mercier in Gazette des Beaux-Arts of 1 February 1885; and by way of a recent reproduction in L’Univers Illustré 28 (28 March 1885), p. 204.
10. For this quotation from Millet in Sensier, La vie et l’oeuvre de J.F. Millet, see letter 210, n. 5.
11. In 1863 Charles Degroux was commissioned by the Belgian State to decorate the monumental Lakenhal (Cloth Hall) of Ypres with historical murals; he spent a large proportion of his time on this huge project until his death in 1870. See exhib. cat. Ypres 1995, pp. 26-27, 71-75.
12. Xavier Mellery, Intérieur de bateau flamand naviguant sur la Lys (Interior of a Flemish boat sailing on the Lys) appeared in the magazine Le Tour du Monde. Nouveau Journal des Voyages. Paris 1883, p. 339. Ill. 1137 [1137]. The picture, engraved by ‘Hildi’, is an illustration accompanying the article ‘La Belgique’ (Belgium) on ‘La flandre orientale’ (East Flanders) by Camille Lemonnier (pp. 305-352).
13. Van Gogh had read both Vie de Jésus and Etudes d’histoire religieuse by Ernest Renan at the beginning of 1875. His memory of this may have suggested the subject he raised. See letters 30 and 33.
14. In letter 492 Vincent had asked Theo to find out from the magazine Le Chat Noir whether they would be interested in an illustration of The potato eaters; ‘the first’ is the sketch The potato eaters (F - / JH 735 sent with that letter.