Copies of Van Gogh

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LEFT: Van Gogh, “Prisoners Exercising”, 1890 – RIGHT: Gustave Dore, “exercise yard (le bagne)”, 1872

In the courtyard, people are walking in a circle and exercising. The guards on the right have their eyes on the prisoners. The prisoners seem preoccupied with their own thoughts, except for one. It is none other than the artist who raises his head and turns his gaze towards you. The artist's red hair adds a breath of fresh air to the painting adorned with cold tones. The blue and green tones of the painting convey the depressed mood of the detainees. And the high prison walls, completely obscuring the horizon, create a work of art that reflects claustrophobia. Contrary to popular belief, the painting Prisoners exercising is a painting by Vincent Van Gogh describing his days in the mental hospital. değil  It is a copy of an 1872 engraving by Gustave Dore. . The engraving depicts inmates pacing in a courtyard of New Gate Prison in London.

 The Prisoners' Circle was made in February 1890, the year the painter committed suicide by shooting himself in the Saint-Paul mental hospital, where he was voluntarily hospitalized. The hospital director and the painter's brother, Theo van Gogh, provided the necessary environment for the painter to draw. Van Gogh produced copies of many works by Gustave Doré, Honoré Daumier and Jean-François Millet during this period, when he had difficulty finding a painting subject besides his own paintings. He spent time making copies. He explains in his letters to his brother Theo that he did this not only for the problem of subject but for self-education and development:

“I can assure you that making copies interests me immensely; It will ensure that I don't miss the figure, as I don't have any models for now.”

“I would like to have all of these, at least the etchings and engravings. It's a study that I need because I want to learn. Copying may be the old system, but it certainly doesn't bother me at all.”

“I put Delacroix's or Millet's black-and-white or whatever is made of them as a subject. Then I improvise paint on it even if it is not completely as it is, but taking into account the memorable ones from their paintings – what I remember is the vague color harmony that carries the same sensitivity even if it is not correct, is my own interpretation.

A lot of people don't copy. Lots of other people cheat – as for me, I find this job that I accidentally landed instructive, and more importantly, sometimes comforting.

That's when my brush plays between your fingers as if it were a bow on a violin, and strictly at my own pleasure.”

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Friday, September 20 or later, 1889

Jean-François Millet replicas

In his letters to Willemien van Gogh, Anthon van Rappard, Emile Bernard and Theo regarding copies of Jean-François Millet, Van Gogh states:

Angelus; The Nation, 1857/1859 – Van Gogh, 1880

“I saw these paintings in Durand-Ruel's gallery. There are at least 25 engravings by Millet, the same number by Michel, and loads of engravings by Dupré, Corot, and all the other artists; all for 1 franc per piece. This is truly seductive. I couldn't help getting a few from Millet: I bought the last three engravings of the Angelus, and my brother will get one as soon as the opportunity arises, of course.”

Paris, Tuesday 28 March 1876 To Theo van Gogh

“But Millet's Angelus painting that reflects the same twilight, the same endless emotion, or Breton's solitary figure in Luxembourg or Spring is equally sublime, I think.”

Nuenen, Thursday 2 October 1884 To Theo van Gogh

“So, don't think that even though more than half a million francs were paid for Millet's Angelus painting yesterday, more souls will feel what goes through Millet's soul. Or do not think that middle class people or workers will put, for example, Millet's lithograph of Angelus in their home. Do not think that the painters who are still working among the peasants in Brittany will receive more encouragement in this way, that they will suffer less from the black hunger that has always beset the Nation, and above all, that they will find more courage.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday 2 July 1889 To Willemien van Gogh

Field Studies; The Nation, 1853 – Van Gogh, 1889

“I collected a lot of woodblock prints this winter. Your Nation's paintings have been enriched by various other examples, and you will find that your wealth of woodcuts and the like has not been barren with me. Now I have 24 woodcuts made or made by Millet, including the Fieldwork series. But the most important thing is that I draw and everything should serve that.”

Brussels, Saturday 2 April 1881 To Theo van Gogh

“I still have copies of seven of the ten paintings in Millet's Fieldwork series.

I can assure you that making copies interests me immensely; It will ensure that I do not overlook the figure, as I do not have any models for now.

Moreover, it will turn out a studio decoration for myself or someone else.

I would also like to make copies of the Planters and Diggers tables.

There is a photo taken from the diggers drawing.

And Lerat's engraving of the Planter from Durand-Ruel's gallery.

The field with the rake under the snow is among the same engravings. There are also examples in the collection of engravings at the Four Times of the Day.

I would like to have all of these, at least the etchings and engravings.”

"You'll be amazed at the color effect his field work takes on, it's a very special series."

“Today I tried making the Sheepshearer in a color scale ranging from magenta to yellow. These are small canvases, about number 5.

“You say in your letter that I have never done anything but work, no, that's not true; I am very, very dissatisfied with my own work, and the only consolation for me is that experienced people say that it takes ten years to paint without expecting anything in return. But what I do is spend ten years with unfortunate studies that just don't succeed. A better time may come now, but I must strengthen the figure work and refresh my memory by examining Delacroix, Millet very closely. Then I'll try to get my drawing done. Yes, there is good in every job, it gives a person one more opportunity to work.”

“I would love to see Millet reproductions in schools; I think there will be children who turn to painting just by seeing good things.”

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Friday, September 20 or later, 1889


Two Villagers Digging the Land; The Nation, 1866 – Van Gogh, 1899


“I drew Millet's Diggers drawing from a Braun photograph I found at Schmidt's house; He lent it to me along with the Angelus photo. I sent both drawings to Father so he could see I'm doing something.”

Brussels, Monday 1 November 1880 To Theo van Gogh

Shepherd; The Nation, 1830/1875 – Van Gogh, 1889


“Looking at Millet's Engraving of the Diggers, an engraving by Albrecht Dürer, and above all the large woodcut by Millet himself called The Shepherd Girl, it is fully apparent what can be expressed with such a contour.

As you say, then one gets a feeling like “If I always go my own way, this is what I always want to do”. Bless your mouth, my friend, a manly word.”

To Anthon van Rappard in The Hague, Friday 15 June or circa 1883

“Another, even more striking example is Millet's woodcut engraving The Shepherd Girl. You showed it to me last year, that day has not left my mind to this day. Also, there are tile ink drawings by Ostade, by Bruegel the Villager and so on…”

The Hague, Sunday 31 July 1882 To Theo van Gogh

The Man Who Spawns the Seed; The Nation, 1850 – Van Gogh, 1890


The Man Who Spawns the Seed; The Nation, 1865 – Van Gogh, 1888

“Here's a sketch of a planter for you.

The large field with clods of plowed earth, mostly purple from head to toe.

Field covered with ripe wheat, clad in a slightly reddish ocher-tone yellow.

The sky in chrome yellow 1 is almost as bright as the sun, the sun is also chrome yellow 1 with a bit of white mixed in, the rest of the sky is a mix of chrome yellow 1 and 2, that is very yellow.

Planter's apron is blue, and his pants are white. Square number 25 canvas. There are many repetitions of yellow in the soil, neutral tones from the mixing of purple with yellow, but I wasn't in a position to care much about the accuracy of the color. It is better to be naïve and paint them in the old almanacs, where hail, snow, rain and good weather are presented in a very primitive manner. In the way that made Anquetin paint the Harvest so well.

I do not hide from you that I am not disgusted with the countryside – because I grew up there, the memories of the past, the eternal longing symbolized by the planter and the sheaf of wheat still fascinate me.”

Arles, on or about Tuesday 19 June 1888 To Emile Bernard

Morning. Going to Work; The Nation, 1857/1858 – Van Gogh, 1890
Lunch break; The Nation, 1866 – Van Gogh, 1890
End of the day; The Nation, 1865/1870 – Van Gogh, 1890
Evening; The Nation, 1867 – Van Gogh, 1889

“Dear Theo,

Attached is a list of paints I need to get my hands on as quickly as possible.

You made me very happy by sending those Millets, I am working on them with enthusiasm. I was on my way to becoming weak from not seeing artistic things at all; This job invigorates me. I've finished the evening painting, and my work on the Diggers on canvas number 30 and the man wearing his jacket and Planter on a smaller canvas continues. In the evening, in a spectrum of violets and soft violets, the light from the lamp is a pale greenish yellow, the glow of the fire is orange, and the man is a red ocher. You will see. It seems to me that painting by looking at these Millet drawings is more like translating them into another language than copying them. Apart from these, I have a rain scene and an evening scene with great pines.”

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Sunday, on or about 3 November 1889

Worshiping in the Snow Covered Field; The Nation, 1862 – Van Gogh, 1890
First step; The Nation, 1858/1866 – Van Gogh, 1890


“Dear Theo,

Thanks for your last letter, and I hope Wil has gotten over his frustration and it's nothing more serious than what he said. Many thanks for the canvas and paint package that just arrived. When the weather permits me to work outside, I have enough subjects for the pictures in my head.

I am delighted by what you said about the copy from Millet's Evening. The more I ponder the matter, the stronger my conviction becomes that it is justified to produce reproductions of things that Millet did not have time to do with oil paints. So, working on his drawings or engravings is not simply a matter of copying. Rather, it is to translate the effects of light-shadow and white-black into another language, the language of colors. This is how I just finished three other “time of day” drawings based on Lavieille's engravings. It took a lot of time and gave me a lot of trouble. You know I've already been doing Field work this summer. You'll see these reproductions one day - the reason I haven't posted them yet is because they're more groped than what I originally stated, but they've been pretty handy for the times of the day. In the future, who knows, maybe I'll make lithographs of them. I wonder what Mr. Lauzet has to say about them. The last three will take at least another month to dry; but when you get it, you will clearly see that they were made with the deepest and most sincere admiration for Millet. That is, even if one day they are criticized or despised as a copy, the fact that Millet's work is justified in trying to make his works more accessible to the ordinary audience will not diminish.”

“This week I will be starting Millet's drawings of “Snow-covered field” and “First steps” in the same format as the others. So there will be six canvases forming a series; I can assure you that I put a lot of thought into calculating the color on the last three of the “times of the day” drawings.”

“Daumier's drawings of Drinkers and Régamey's Correctional Facility are things I intend to paint in painting. You will find them among the engravings. I'm busy with Millets for now; My aim is to state that I will not miss any of the things to be worked on. So even if I'm half-crashed, I'll be able to linger for a long time.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Monday 13 January or about 1890 To Theo van Gogh

Virgo Gatherers; The Nation, 1857 – Van Gogh, 1890

“Dear Theo,

I haven't been able to write to you until now, but when I'm feeling a little better these days, I didn't want to delay wishing you, your wife, and your child a happy birthday on the occasion of your birthday. On the other hand, please accept the various paintings I have sent you, thanking you for all the kindness you have shown me; Because without you, I would be extremely unhappy.

First you will find that there are canvases made from Millet. Since these are not made to be seen by everyone, perhaps one day you will give them as gifts to our sisters. But you should reserve the good ones for yourself first hand; take as much as you want, it's totally yours. If you can find it now, you should send me some other things by old and modern artists for me to make copies.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday 29 April 1890 To Theo van Gogh

“I admit that sometimes in order to see something, you have to more or less believe it. Now, if I, for my part, intended to continue to TRANSLATE some of Millet's works—say—then—not to prevent others from criticizing me because I don't mind them at all; but to prevent them from complicating my work or the situation I'm in by claiming that I'm making copies - I would need people like Russell and Gauguin among the artists to get the job done and to come up with something serious. For example, I feel a kind of remorse for painting by looking at the Millets you sent, which you made a very good choice. That's why I sent the photos to Russell without thinking as I received them, so that I wouldn't see them without thinking about them. I don't want to do this without your and a few other people's opinions on what I've done before. If I do not do this, my conscience will not be at ease, and I am afraid that what I have done will fall within the scope of theft. If not now, in a few months, I will try to get Russell's true and clear opinion on the usefulness of what I'm doing. Whatever the case, Russell is a very emotional person; gets angry, gets angry, and says the right things. Sometimes I need it too. You know, I found the Virgin Mary so dazzling that I couldn't afford to look at her. All of a sudden, I had a feeling like "it won't happen yet". I am very sensitive right now due to my illness, I cannot find the strength to continue these "translations" when it comes to such masterpieces. I've also stopped work on the Seed Scattering Man, which I now have and is not progressing as I would like. While I was ill, I thought a lot about whether to continue this work, but when I paint, I do it calmly… You will see that soon, when I send the five or six finished canvases.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saturday 1 February 1890 To Theo van Gogh

Eugène Delacroix replicas

Van GoghIn his letters to Theo and Willemien van Gogh regarding the Eugène Delacroix copies, states:

Pietà; Delacroix, 1850 – Van Gogh, 1889

“My studies are going well. I find many things that I have been looking for in vain for years… When I realize this, I always think of Delacroix's saying that you know too… You know, he said that he discovered the painting when he had no breath or teeth anymore. Well, I have this mental illness, okay… I think of many more artists who have had mental depressions and I repeat to myself that the illness does not prevent me from continuing to paint as if nothing has happened.

Moreover, given that my crises here take on a meaningless religious tone, I might even dare to argue that it is necessary for me to return to the north. Don't talk too much about it when you see the doctor, but I think it's because in places like monasteries - as was the hospital in Arles, this place looks like a monastery - it might well be living for months… As a matter of fact, I shouldn't live in such an atmosphere, it's even better to stay on the street. I'm not indifferent, you know, religious thoughts sometimes bring me great consolation, even when I'm suffering during a crisis. So something terrible happened to me during my last crisis - I had a lithograph of Delacroix's Pietà, which, along with some other editions, fell into the oil and messed up.

I'm so sorry about that. I spent my spare time making an oil painting copy of the painting. One day you will see too. I made the copy on a size 5 or 6 canvas, I hope I was able to convey the emotions.”

“My brain is so precise, my fingers so sure, that I drew Delacroix's Pietà without taking a single measurement. However, in the foreground of that painting, there are four hands and arms, hand gestures and torso twists that are neither easy nor simple to draw.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday 10 September 1889 To Theo van Gogh

“Let's say in about a month, when I write to Valide, I'll send her a picture; there will be one for you too.

I've also made a few for myself these past few weeks – I made copies of one by Delacroix and a few by Millet, as I don't like seeing pictures of myself in my bedroom.

The Delacroix painting is a Pietà, that is, the Sorrowful Mother with the dead Christ. The exhausted corpse lies curled forward on its left side at the entrance to a cave, hands outstretched and the woman standing behind it. It's an evening after the storm, and this shabby figure, whose blue clothes are blown away by the wind, stands out against a floating sky background with purple clouds with golden fringes. She too has stretched out her empty arms in a gesture of great desperation, and her hands are visible, the beautiful, firm hands of a working woman. With his fluctuating clothes, this figure is almost as wide as his height. And because the dead man's face is in shadow, the woman's pale head stands out brightly in front of a cloud – obviously the contrast that makes these two heads look like a dark and pale flower is obviously arranged to better stand out. I didn't know who got this painting, but just in the process of working on it, I came across an article by Pierre Loti, the author of My Brother Yves, the Icelandic fisherman and Madam Chrysanthemum.

An article on Carmen Sylva.

If I remember correctly, you have read that woman's poems. A queen, the queen of Hungary or any other country (I don't know which); When Loti describes his private room, or rather his studio where he writes and paints, he states that he saw this Delacroix painting there and was very impressed.”

“However, it is good to think that a painting like this is in such hands, and it is a bit of a relief for painters to imagine that there are people who really have a feeling for paintings.

But such are relatively few.

To give you an idea of ​​what Delacroix is, it occurred to me to send you a sketch. Of course, this tiny copy is of no value in any way. In it, however, you will be able to see that Delacroix did not draw the features of a Sorrowful Mother in the style of Roman statues.

And in her, the dullness, the confused, blurred look of a person who is tired of suffocating, shedding tears, and not sleeping, is quite similar to the Germinie Lacerteux style.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday 19 September 1889 To Willemien van Gogh

Benevolent Samarran; Delacroix, 1849 – Van Gogh, 1890

“(Famous portrait of a man you know in my room (engraving), painting of a mandarin woman by Monorou (large print from the Bing album), stalk of grass (from the same album), Pietà by Delacroix and the Good Samaritan, literate lithograph by Meissonier, also There are two large saz dipstick drawings.)”

Arles, Friday 3 May 1889 To Theo van Gogh

“Copying may be the old system, but it certainly doesn't bother me at all. I will also make a copy of Delacroix's The Good Samaritan."

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Friday, September 20 or later, 1889

Rembrandt van Rijn replicas

Van Gogh expresses his thoughts on the Rembrandt van Rijn copy in a letter to Theo as follows:

Resurrection of Lazarus; Rembrandt, 1630/1632 – Van Gogh, 1890

“Dear brother, Today with Mr. Peyron's return, I have read his kind letters, as well as letters from home, and it has been extraordinarily good to give me some energy again, or rather the desire to come out of my pessimistic mood again. Thank you very much for the engravings – you just picked some of my favorites all along, the great engraving of David, Lazarus, the Samaritan and the wounded man. You added the blind man and other very small engraving; the last one was so mysterious that I was afraid of it and didn't dare find out what it was. I didn't know him, the little jeweler. But Lazarus! I looked at him early this morning and remembered not only what Charles Blanc said about him, but actually not everything he said."

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Thursday, 1 May, 1890

Angel Figure; Rembrandt, 1655/1660 – Van Gogh, 1889

“After all, I'm very happy to have received the landscape package I sent from here. First of all, I would like to thank that engraving from the Rembrandt painting. It's amazing and reminds me of the man with the wand from the La Caze gallery again. If you want to make me very, very happy, send a copy to Gauguin. And the Rodin and Claude Monet brochure is really interesting.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday 22 August 1889 To Theo van Gogh

“Dear Theo,

Since I wrote to you that I was feeling better and I don't know how long it will take, I don't want to wait any longer to write to you again.

Thanks once again for that beautiful engraving from Rembrandt's painting. I would love to get to know the painting and learn what period of his life he made it. This is precisely where Fabritius' portrait of Ratterdam, together with the traveler in the La Caze gallery, falls into a special category where the human portrait becomes something bright and comforting.

And how different this is from Michelangelo or Giotto, although Giotto comes close to it and thus creates a kind of possible hyphen between the Rembrandt school and the Italians.”

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, September 2, 1889

Honoré Daumier copy

Van Gogh, in his letter to Theo, evaluates the Honoré Daumier copy:


Those who drink; Daumier, 1862 – Van Gogh, 1890


“I found a Daumier edition: those who have seen a tragedy and those who have seen a vaudeville. The longing to see Daumier's other works grows in me. He has a solid spontaneity, a sane “depth”, full of passion that is both witty and emotional; In some of his works, for example, in Drunkens, maybe in the Barricade I don't know, I see a passion reminiscent of the heat of a hot iron.”

The Hague, Thursday 8 February 1883, to Theo van Gogh

“Speaking of expression in a figure, I am increasingly convinced that it lies more in the attitude as a whole than in the features of the face. There are few things I find as terrifying as highly academic facial expressions. I prefer to look at Michelangelo's "Night", a drunk by Daumier, Millet's The Diggers, and his large woodcut called The Shepherd. Or an old horse that Mauve made or something.”

The Hague, Wednesday 11 July or circa, 1883 To Theo van Gogh

“Daumier's drawings of Drinkers and Régamey's Correctional Facility are things I intend to paint in painting. You will find them among the engravings. I'm busy with Millets for now; My aim is to state that I will not miss any of the things to be worked on. So even if I'm half-crashed, I'll be able to linger for a long time.”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Monday 13 January or about 1890 To Theo van Gogh

“As for the studio, it's a decoration of red floor tiles, white walls and ceiling, country chairs, a pine table, and hopefully, portraits. He'll have a character in the Daumier style and I can only imagine it won't be out of the ordinary.

Now I'm going to ask you to look for some Daumier lithographs and some Japanese editions for the studio, but it's not urgent and only send if you find duplicates."

Arles, Sunday 9 September 1888 To Theo van Gogh 

Émile Bernard copy

Concerning the Émile Bernard copy, Van Gogh states in his letters to Emile Bernard and Theo:

Breton Women; Bernard, 1888 – Van Gogh, 1888

“I had a slight feeling that I was going to get sick for a while, but Gauguin's arrival so relieved my anxiety that I'm sure it will pass. I shouldn't neglect my diet for a while, that's all. That's it for sure.

And after a while, some work will come into your hands.

Gauguin brought with him a magnificent painting, which he exchanged with Bernard, Breton women in a green meadow. An image of white, black, green and red, dull skin tones. Anyway, let's all be hopeful.

I believe that the day will come when I will sell as well, but I am far behind you and when I spend money, I do not contribute anything.”

Arles, on or about Thursday 25 October 1888 To Theo van Gogh

“What message is that? – – – I see angel figures whose elegance can be called amenna, and a bench with two cypress trees that I like very much; there is a huge amount of air, clarity in it…. but in the end, when that first impression wears off, I wonder if it's an air of mystery and these secondary characters don't tell me anything anymore.

But what I've just said is enough for you to understand that I will miss things about you, like your painting in Gauguin, where the Breton women walking in a meadow are depicted in beautiful arrangement, with very naive clarity of color. Ah, you're replacing it with something that I wonder if I should say the exact word, it's artificial, it's fake."

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Tuesday, November 26, 1889 To Emile Bernard

Breton copy of Virginie Demont

Van Gogh refers to the Breton copy of Virginie Demont in his letters to Theo:

Woman at Sea; Demont Breton, 1889 – Van Gogh, 1889

“I'm copying Demont-Breton's painting of a lavender-clad woman with her child on her chest. When it's finished, another piece will be added to my collection and I'm thinking of donating it to a school.”

To Theo van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Tuesday, 8 October 1889

Jacob Jordaens copy

Regarding the Jacob Jordaens copy, Van Gogh says in his letters to Theo:

cows; Jordaens, 1624 – Van Gogh, 1890

“The Herb Leaf and carnations and the Housaki reproductions that Bing put out are very good, I think.

I like even the simplest prints painted in solid color, whatever you say; As beautiful as Rubens and Veronese are to me, so are they. I know very well that these are not true primitive art. However, don't think that just because the primitives are beautiful, "When I go to the Louvre, I can't go beyond the primitives", etc.

If one were to say to a serious collector of Japanese estamps, let's say to Levy himself, 'My dear friend, I can't help admiring these five-cent estamps,' the man would probably be shocked and feel sorry for the ignorance and bad taste of the other person.

Likewise, it was once considered bad taste to like Rubens, Jordaens, Veronese.

I don't think I'll be alone at home much. I will be able to find occupations that will keep me completely occupied on bad winter days or long evenings. Weavers and basket makers can often spend a whole season alone or almost alone, just by doing the work at hand.

But here's the thing that makes people like this stay in one place, that sense of domesticity, the confidence of the familiar look of the environment. from this. If you were willing to let someone stay in your house, you would see that the housing problem confronts many painters as a very serious problem.

For my part, I believe making money with my work is a definite task for me, so I see very clearly what I have to do.”

Arles, Sunday 23 September or 24 September 1888 To Theo van Gogh

Utagawa Hiroshige replicas

Regarding the Utagawa Hiroshige copies, Van Gogh states the following in his letter to his brother Theo:

Rain on the Bridge; Hiroshige, 1857 – Van Gogh, 1887


“It's not too bad that I don't have enough money to force certain things at a cost, if you ask me. The idea of ​​making portraits for mere posing is perhaps the safest… Because the citizens of the city are very different from the villagers… One thing is for sure: Antwerp is a very interesting and beautiful place for a painter…

My atelier is not bad at all, especially after I hung those Japanese estamps on the walls that I really like… You know, either in the gardens or on the beach, tiny female figures, horsemen, flowers, squirming thorn branches…

I'm glad I moved, I hope I won't be sitting idle this winter.”

Antwerp, Saturday 28 November 1885 To Theo van Gogh

“But it's a good sign that young people are very angry, perhaps proving that there are some older people who speak well of him.

As for the matter of staying in the south, even if it costs more, look, we like Japanese painting, we have seen the effect it creates, this is what all impressionists have in common. Well, we're not going to go to Japan now, in other words, to the south of Japan, are we? So, I think the future of the new art still lies in the south after all.

But it's bad policy to stay there alone when two or three people can help each other get by with less.

I want you to spend some time here, so you can sense this: After a while, one's gaze changes, one sees with a more Japanese eye, one feels the color differently. I also think that I will reveal my personality by staying here for a long time. The Japanese draw very quickly, like a lightning bolt, because their nerves are more sensitive, their emotions are simpler. I've only been here for a few months. Well, tell me, could I have drawn those boats in an hour in Paris?”

Arles, on or about Tuesday, June 5, 1888 To Theo van Gogh

Blooming Plum Tree; Hiroshige, 1857 – Van Gogh, 1887


“Dear Theo,

You received my letter this morning in which I put a 50-franc note for Bing, and it is because of this Bing thing that I want to write to you again. The truth is, we don't know enough about Japanese art.

Fortunately, we know better the French-Japanese, namely the Impressionists. This is absolutely the essence and the main thing.

So, to tell the truth, Japanese art, which has already taken its place in the collections, which has already become impossible to find in Japan itself, is becoming a subject of secondary interest.

But when I can see Paris again for just one day, that doesn't mean I won't stop by Bing just to see the Hokusays and other drawings from the original period. By the way, what Bing himself told me while I was so fascinated by the commonplace Japanese hashish is that I'll see there are other things in the future. Loti's book, Madame Chrysanthemum, taught me: Circles are bare when there are no decorations or ornaments. That's when my curiosity for the extremely synthetic drawings of another era was aroused. These would probably count as a dignified Nation against a Monticelli in the face of the Japanese pressures at hand. You know enough that I'm not averse to the Monticellis.

The same goes for Japanese color prints, even if people say to me, “You have to quit that habit.” It seems to me, however, that at this point it is quite inevitable that we should recognize the dignified quality that is the equivalent of the colorless Millets.”

Arles, Sunday 15 July 1888 To Theo van Gogh

Keisai Eisen copy

Van Gogh refers to the Keisai Eisen copy in his letter to his brother Theo and Willemien van Gogh:

Oiran; Eisen, 1886 – Van Gogh, 1887

“When we examine Japanese art, we see a very wise, philosopher-minded and intelligent person… How does this person spend his time? By measuring the distance between the Earth and the Moon? No. By examining Bismarck's policy? No. All he does is examine a single leaf of grass…

But this leaf of grass will lead him to draw every plant, then the seasons, the various aspects of the countryside, then the human figure… And so his life passes, and life is too short for him to finish it all.

Accept this; Isn't this almost a new religion taught to us by the simple Japanese, who live in the middle of nature as if they were flowers themselves?

It seems to me that everyone who studies Japanese painting becomes much more cheerful and happy. In a world full of traditions and customs, despite all the education we have received and the work we have done, I think we should return to nature.

Isn't it sad that Monticelli's works have not been reproduced in good lithographs or live eau fortes? I wonder what these painters would say if an engraver like the man who made Velazquez's engravings were to make eau fortes from the works of some painters. Anyway, never mind, our job should be to learn and love a lot of things for ourselves rather than teaching others… Sure, it's possible to do both. I envy the infinite clarity of things in the work of the Japanese. These works are never tedious, and they never seem rushed. It seems as simple as breathing; they can easily give a figure as if buttoning a jacket with a few precise and sure lines. Ah, whatever I have to do, I must manage to draw a figure with a few lines! I'll be dealing with this all winter. Once I can achieve that, then I can make new subjects in my paintings, of people walking on the boulevards, in the streets, and many more. I drew about a dozen as I wrote this letter. I've caught the end of the rope now, but it's a very complicated task... Because the man, woman, child, horse or dog figure I have given in those few lines must have a head, body, arms and legs that are compatible with each other. See you soon and I'll shake your hand."

Arles, Sunday 23 September or 24 September 1888 To Theo van Gogh

“Theo reported that he gave you some Japanese prints. This is definitely the most practical way to come to understand the direction that painting style is currently heading. Colorful and bright.

For myself, I don't need the Japanese editions here because I always say to myself that I am here in Japan. So all I have to do is open my eyes and paint what makes an impression on me, right in front of me.”

Arles, Sunday 9 September or circa 14 September 1888 To Willemien van Gogh

“Dear brother, you know, there was a reason I came south, a reason why I was so immersed in my work.

The wish to see a different light, the thought that if I look at nature under a brighter sky, I will better understand the emotions and drawing styles of the Japanese…”

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday 10 September 1889 To Theo van Gogh


Resources;

Vincent van Gogh (2016). Letters to Theo/ Yapı Kredi Publications

Walther, IF, (2005). Van Gogh, First Edition, Taschen/Remzi Bookstore, Istanbul.

Eroglu, O., (2014). Three Post-Impressionist Spirits, Cézanne-Van Gogh-Gauguin, First Edition, Tekhne Publications, Istanbul.

Jun; Jansen, L., Luijten, H., Bakker, N., (2015). Selected Letters by Vincent van Gogh Friendship, First Edition, Yapı Kredi Publications, Istanbul.

Translation:Kadıoğlu, B., (2010). Van Gogh, First Edition, Yapı Kredi Publications, Istanbul.

http://vangoghletters.org

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