Monday, June 12, 2006

The village of Zweeloo

There is an excellent Webexhibits site containing English translations of the letters of Vincent Van Gogh. The site allows you to search for words; I tried putting in Daubigny, the Barbizon landscape painter whom Van Gogh often mentions, and the site yields 58 results and a timeline showing each of these letters. The first is from 23 July 1873, when Van Gogh was in London and writing to his brother about English art: “Among the old painters, Constable was a landscape painter who lived about thirty years ago; he is splendid - his work reminds me of Diaz and Daubigny.” The last letter to talk about Daubigny is Van Gogh’s final letter, written from Auvers-Sur-Oise a few days before his death, exactly seventeen years after the letter from London: “Perhaps you will take a look at this sketch of Daubigny's garden - it is one of my most carefully thought-out canvases. I am adding a sketch of some old thatched roofs and the sketches of two size 30 canvases representing vast fields of wheat after the rain.”

Van Gogh wrote some beautiful descriptions of landscape. A favourite of mine is the letter of 2 November 1883 from Drenthe, describing a visit to Zweeloo which started before dawn. As the first light appeared “everything, the few cottages we passed - surrounded by wispy poplars whose yellow leaves one could hear falling - a stumpy old tower in a little churchyard with an earth bank and a beech hedge, the flat scenery of heath or cornfields, everything was exactly like the most beautiful Corots. A stillness, a mystery, a peace as only he has painted it...”

“The ride into the village was so beautiful. Enormous mossy roofs of houses, stables, covered sheepfolds, barns. The very broad-fronted houses here are set among oak trees of a superb bronze. Tones in the moss of gold-green, in the ground of reddish or bluish or yellowish dark lilac-greys, tones of inexpressible purity in the green of the little cornfields, tones of black in the wet tree trunks, standing out against the golden rain of swirling, teeming autumn leaves, which hang in loose clumps - as if they had been blown there, loose and with the light filtering through them - from the poplars, the birches, the limes and the apple trees.

The sky smooth and bright, shining, not white but a barely detectable lilac, white vibrant with red, blue and yellow, reflecting everything and felt everywhere above one, hazy and merging with the thin mist below, fusing everything in a gamut of delicate greys.”

As the description continues, Van Gogh’s enthusiasm for this humble landscape becomes genuinely moving. “Journeying through these parts for hour after hour, one feels that there really is nothing but that infinite earth, that mould of corn or heather, that infinite sky. Horses and men seem as small as fleas. One is unaware of anything else, however large it may be in itself; one knows only that there is earth and sky.”

Quotations are from Webexhibits, which gives permission to use the letters under Creative Commons.

4 comments:

aurelia said...

What a fascinating website on Van Gogh. Referring to one of your earlier blogs, have you seen the following?

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Anthon van Rappard
The Hague, c. 5 March 1883

'I know, Ruysdael himself has had his metamorphoses, and perhaps his most beautiful works are not the waterfalls and the grand forest views but “L'estacade aux eaux rousses” and “Le Buisson” in the Louvre, “The Mill at Wijk bij Duurstede” in the Van der Hoop Collection, the “Bleacheries at Overveen” in the Mauritshuis [museum in The Hague] and other more commonplace things which he turned to in later years, probably under the influence of Rembrandt and Vermeer of Delft.'

aurelia said...

What a fascinating website on Van Gogh. Referring to one of your earlier blogs, have you seen the following?

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Anthon van Rappard
The Hague, c. 5 March 1883

'I know, Ruysdael himself has had his metamorphoses, and perhaps his most beautiful works are not the waterfalls and the grand forest views but “L'estacade aux eaux rousses” and “Le Buisson” in the Louvre, “The Mill at Wijk bij Duurstede” in the Van der Hoop Collection, the “Bleacheries at Overveen” in the Mauritshuis [museum in The Hague] and other more commonplace things which he turned to in later years, probably under the influence of Rembrandt and Vermeer of Delft.'

aurelia said...

What a fascinating website on Van Gogh. Referring to one of your earlier blogs, have you seen the following?

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Anthon van Rappard
The Hague, c. 5 March 1883

'I know, Ruysdael himself has had his metamorphoses, and perhaps his most beautiful works are not the waterfalls and the grand forest views but “L'estacade aux eaux rousses” and “Le Buisson” in the Louvre, “The Mill at Wijk bij Duurstede” in the Van der Hoop Collection, the “Bleacheries at Overveen” in the Mauritshuis [museum in The Hague] and other more commonplace things which he turned to in later years, probably under the influence of Rembrandt and Vermeer of Delft.'

Plinius said...

Thanks, Aurelia (you are referring to Scandinavian Landscape with a Waterfall). Most people would probably now tend to agree with Van Gogh; Ruisdael is not now generally seen as a painter of the Sublime. Van Gogh’s love for modest subject matter is evident throughout the letters.