This week, for some reason I have been quite interested in Vincent van Gogh’s earlier work. This painting is the earliest from his art-book, which is dated 1881. The mediums he used in this study were black chalk, charcoal, grey wash, and opaque watercolor on laid paper, a type of paper having a ribbed texture, that is especially good for watercolors.
I have been contrasting the preciseness of this early work with his later expressionism and imagery. I’m fascinated with the evolution of his choice of colors, from muted, yet somehow intense, in his early work, to brilliant and vibrant in his later pieces. In a way, it’s like reading the early works of a favorite author. You see everything you love about their work in that book written in their youth, but greatly admire the way their voice and style evolves in their later, more mature work.
Fortunately, Van Gogh was a prolific writer of letters, many of which have survived. Through his correspondence with his brother Theo Van Gogh, and to Anton van Rappard, a Dutch painter and draughtsman, we have a window into Vincent’s life.
Quote from Wikipedia: Theo kept all of Vincent’s letters to him; Vincent kept few of the letters he received. After both had died, Theo’s widow Johanna arranged for the publication of some of their letters. A few appeared in 1906 and 1913; the majority were published in 1914. Vincent’s letters are eloquent and expressive and have been described as having a “diary-like intimacy”, and read in parts like autobiography. The translator Arnold Pomerans wrote that their publication adds a “fresh dimension to the understanding of Van Gogh’s artistic achievement, an understanding granted us by virtually no other painter”.
There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo and around 40 from Theo to Vincent. There are 22 to his sister Wil, 58 to the painter Anthon van Rappard, 22 to Émile Bernard as well as individual letters to Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin and the critic Albert Aurier. Some are illustrated with sketches. Many are undated, but art historians have been able to place most in chronological order. Problems in transcription and dating remain, mainly with those posted from Arles. While there Vincent wrote around 200 letters in Dutch, French and English. There is a gap in the record when he lived in Paris as the brothers lived together and had no need to correspond.
Vincent’s comments regarding this picture, as quoted on Wikmedia Commons:
Letter 172 to Theo van Gogh. Etten, mid-September 1881. Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. Van Gogh Museum. “Prompted as well by a thing or two that Mauve said to me, I’ve started working again from a live model. I’ve been able to get various people here to do it, fortunately, one being Piet Kaufmann the labourer… Diggers, sowers, ploughers, men and women I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that’s part of a peasant’s life. Just as many others have done and are doing. I’m no longer so powerless in the face of nature as I used to be.”
Letter 178 to Anthon van Rappard. Etten, Wednesday, 2 November 1881. Vincent van Gogh: The Letters. Van Gogh Museum. “Today I again drew a digger, and since your visit a boy cutting grass with a sickle as well.”
Credits and Attributions:
Young Peasant with Sickle, Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wikipedia contributors, “Vincent van Gogh,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vincent_van_Gogh&oldid=845634731 (accessed July 6, 2018).
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Van Gogh – Kauernder Junge mit Sichel.jpeg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Van_Gogh_-_Kauernder_Junge_mit_Sichel.jpeg&oldid=286066347 (accessed July 6, 2018).