letters to Theo from Vincent

Vineyard in Southern France

old vineyard, Southern France. Robin L. Chandler, 2019.

August 1888 

“And in the same way a child in the cradle, if you watch it at leisure, has the infinite in its eyes. In short, I know nothing about it, but it is just this feeling of not knowing that makes the real life we are actually living now like a one-way journey in a train. You go fast, but cannot distinguish any object very close up, and above all you do not see the engine.”

September 1888

“And in a picture I want to say something comforting as music is comforting. I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to confer by the actual radiance and vibration of our colourings.”

“If we study Japanese Art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philo-sophic and intelligent, who spends his time how? In studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. In studying the policy of Bismarck? No. He studies a single blade of grass. But this blade of grass leads him to draw every plant and then the seasons, the wide aspects of the countryside, then animals, then the human figure.”

September 1889

“My dear brother, you know that I came to the South [of France] and threw myself into my work for a thousand reasons. Wishing to see a different light, thinking that to look at nature under a brighter sky might give us a better idea of the Japanese way of feeling and drawing. Wishing also to see this stronger sun, because one feels that without knowing it one could not understand the pictures of Delacroix…”

“What a queer thing touch is, the stroke of the brush.”

“…if you work diligently from nature without saying to yourself beforehand – I want to do this or that – if you work as if you were making a pair of shoes, without artistic preoccupations, you will not always do well, but the days you least anticipate it you will find a subject which holds its own with the work of those who have gone before us. You learn to know a country which is fundamentally quite different from its appearance at first sight.”

“…confronted by the difficulties of weather and of changing effects, [ideas] are reduced to being impracticable, and I end by resigning myself and saying that it is the experience and the meager work of every day which alone ripens in the long run and allows one to do things that are more complete and true. Thus slow long work is the only way, and all ambition and resolve to make a good thing of it, false. For you must spoil quite as many canvases when you return to the onslaught every morning as you succeed with.”

Excerpts from The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, edited by Mark Roskill.

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