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Van Gogh Letter Sketches

October 22, 2009

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Huygens Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences have undertaken quite a feat. Taking over 15 years in the making, they have amassed (and organized) over 900 letters with accompanying illustrations written by the great master in subject.
I’ve only included a small sliver of an example for you to see here so I highly recommend following these links…
to see much much more.

Café Au Charbonnage - To Theo Van Gogh (Vincent's brother) from Laken (near Brussels)

Café Au Charbonnage - To Theo Van Gogh (Vincent's brother) from Laken (near Brussels)

“That little drawing, ‘The Au charbonnage café’ is really nothing special, but the reason I couldn’t help making it is because one sees so many coalmen, and they really are a remarkable people. This little house is not far from Trekweg, it’s actually a simple inn right next to the big workplace where the workers come in their free time to eat their bread and drink a glass of beer.

Back during my time in England I applied for a position as an evangelist among the coal-miners, but they brushed my request aside and said I had to be at least 25 years old. You surely know that one of the root or fundamental truths, not only of the gospel but of the entire Bible, is ‘the light that dawns in the darkness’. From darkness to Light. Well then, who will most certainly need it, who will have an ear to hear it?”

Four people on a bench - To Theo from The Hague September 1882

Four people on a bench - To Theo from The Hague September 1882

“Well, I hope that the small bench, even if not yet saleable, will show you that I have nothing against tackling subjects with something agreeable or pleasant about them, which are thus more likely to find buyers than things with a more sombre sentiment. [..]

There’s so much paint around that it has even got onto this letter — I’m working on the big watercolour of the bench. I hope it comes off, but the great problem is to retain detail with deep tone, and clarity is extremely difficult.

Adieu again, a handshake in thought, and believe me, Ever yours, Vincent”

The bedroom - To Theo from Arles October 1888

The bedroom - To Theo from Arles October 1888

“At last I’m sending you a little croquis to give you at least an idea of the direction the work is taking. Because today I’ve gone back to it. My eyes are still tired, but anyway I had a new idea in mind, and here’s the croquis of it. No. 30 canvas once again. This time it’s simply my bedroom, but the colour has to do the job here, and through its being simplified by giving a grander style to things, to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general.

In short, looking at the painting should rest the mind, or rather, the imagination.
The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
The bedspread scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.

And that’s all — nothing in this bedroom, with its shutters closed.
The solidity of the furniture should also now express unshakeable repose.
Portraits on the wall, and a mirror and a hand-towel and some clothes.
The frame — as there’s no white in the painting — will be white.
This to take my revenge for the enforced rest that I was obliged to take.
I’ll work on it again all day tomorrow, but you can see how simple the idea is. The shadows and cast shadows are removed; it’s coloured in flat, plain tints like Japanese prints.”


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