My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and 150 francs enclosed. I also received the two new Lhermittes today.1 He’s a master of the figure. He’s able to do what he likes with it — conceiving the whole neither from the colour nor from the local tone, but rather proceeding from the light — as Rembrandt did — there’s something astonishingly masterly in everything he does — in modelling, above all things, he utterly satisfies the demands of honesty.
A great deal is said about — Poussin. Bracquemond talks about him, too.2 The French call Poussin their greatest ever painter among the old masters. Well it’s certain that what’s said about Poussin, whom I know so very little about, I find in Lhermitte and in Millet. But with this distinction, that it seems to me Poussin is the original grain, the others are the full ear. For my part, then, I rate today’s superior.  1v:2
This last fortnight I’ve had a great deal of trouble with the reverend gentlemen of the priesthood, who gave me to understand — of course with the best of intentions and, no less than others, believing that it was their duty to interfere — who gave me to understand that I shouldn’t be too familiar with people beneath my station — who, having spoken to me in those terms, spoke in a very different tone to the ‘people of lower station’, that’s to say with threats that they mustn’t allow themselves to be painted.3 This time I simply went straight to the burgomaster4 and told him exactly what had happened, and pointed out that this was none of the priests’ business and that they should stick to their own province of more abstract things. In any event, I’m not encountering any more opposition for the time being, and I think it quite possible that that’s how it will remain. A girl I’d often painted was having a child and they thought it was mine, although it wasn’t me.5 However, knowing the facts of the matter from the girl herself and it being a case in which a member of the priest’s congregation in Nuenen  1v:3 had behaved extremely badly, they can’t get their teeth into me, at least not this time. But you see that it isn’t easy to paint people at home and draw them as they go about their business. Anyway — they won’t easily win in this case, and this winter I do hope to keep the very same models, who are of the old Brabant stock through and through.
Even so, I have a few more new drawings.
But now, in the last few days, I could6 not get anyone in the fields. Fortunately for me, the priest isn’t yet, but is nonetheless beginning to become, quite unpopular. It’s a bad business, though, and if it were to continue I’d probably move. You’ll ask what’s the point of being a disagreeable person — sometimes you have to be. If I’d discussed it meekly they’d have ground me down without mercy. And when they hinder me in my work, sometimes the only way I know is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The priest went so far as to promise the people money if they didn’t allow themselves to be painted — however, the people replied very pertly that they’d rather earn it from me than go cap in hand to him. But you see, they only do it for the sake of earning money and I don’t get anything done for nothing around here.  1r:4
You ask me whether Rappard has ever sold anything. I know he’s flusher at present than before, that for a long time, for instance, he had a nude model day after day, that for the purposes of a painting of a brickworks he’s now rented a small house actually on the spot and altered it so that he had light from above7 — I know that he’s been on another trip through Drenthe8 and that he’s also going to Terschelling. That all of this is pretty expensive, and the money for it has to come from somewhere. That although he may have money of his own, he must be earning as well, because otherwise he couldn’t do what he’s doing. It may be that his family is buying or friends, that’s possible, but at any rate somebody must be.
But this evening I’m much too occupied with Lhermitte’s drawings to go on writing any more about other things.
When I think about Millet or about Lhermitte — then — I find modern art as great — as Michelangelo and Rembrandt — the old infinite, the new infinite too — the old genius, the new genius. Perhaps someone like Chenavard doesn’t see it like this9 — but for my part I’m convinced — that in this regard one can believe in the present.
The fact that I have a definite belief as regards art also means that I know what I want to get in my own work, and that I’ll try to get it even if I go under in the attempt. Regards.

Yours truly,


Br. 1990: 532 | CL: 423
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Nuenen, on or about Wednesday, 2 September 1885

1. In letter 496 Vincent expressed the hope that Theo would continue to watch out for the publication of ‘new months’ in this series. Since he had meanwhile received the months of February, March and April from ‘Les mois rustiques’, and was subsequently to get September, October and November, it is safe to assume that by the ‘new’ Lhermittes he meant the prints for the months of July and August (the month of June was not published).
The months of July and August are Léon Augustin Lhermitte, Les fraises des bois (Wild strawberries), engraved by Charles Baude (Ill. 2152 [2152]), and La soir dans la rivière (Evening on the river), engraved by Clément Edouard Bellenger (Ill. 2153 [2153]), in Le Monde Illustré. 29 (1 August 1885), Supplement to no. 1479 and Le Monde Illustré 29 (29 August 1885), Supplement to no. 1483.
[2152] [2153]
2. Félix Bracquemond discusses Nicolas Poussin in the chapter ‘Décoration, décorateur’ in Du dessin et de la couleur, and examines the conflict between colour and line. He attaches a great deal of value to the line (drawing) and believes that colour plays a subordinate role. He insists that artists should draw from nature and then work these studies out in colour in the studio from memory and imagination, rather than copying the colours of nature (see Bracquemond 1885, pp. 203-209).
3. They were Andreas Pauwels, who was priest in Nuenen from 1880 to 1889, and W. Beekmans, chaplain from 1882 to 1890. See De Brouwer 1984, p. 96.
On 8 September 1885 Theo wrote about this matter to his mother: ‘What bad luck for Vincent, he wrote to me about it too, is there anything those priests don’t interfere in? If only he could find something else suitable soon! All the painters I show his work to say that there’s a great deal in it and he must just keep going’ (FR b902).
4. The burgomaster of Nuenen was Johannes van Hombergh (RHC, Administratief Archief Nuenen). Van Gogh wrote a note to Van Hombergh in September 1887 (letter 573).
5. This ‘girl’ was the unmarried Gordina de Groot, who modelled for Van Gogh several times.
6. It is possible that Van Gogh wrote ‘kan’ (can) rather than ‘kon’ (could).
8. Van Rappard returned to Drenthe not only in 1885, but in 1886 too. See Egbert Brink, ‘Ridder in het armenhuis. Anthon van Rappard in Drenthe’, Waardeel. Drents Historisch Tijdschrift 25-1 (2005), pp. 23-28, esp. 27.
9. Van Gogh knew of the history painter Paul Marc Joseph Chenavard through Charles Blanc, who devoted a chapter to him in Les artistes de mon temps. Blanc believed that, unlike most contemporary French artists, Chenavard had not fallen prey to decadence and had made an extensive study of the old masters. According to Blanc they should show modern art the way (see Blanc 1876, pp. 191-198 and cf. the quotation from Blanc in letter 449).