VINCENT VAN GOGH:
Excerpts from the Letters
THE POTATO EATERS, 1885
To his brother Theo, 30 April (1885 (404, Vol. II, 369-37o)*
As to the potato eaters, it is a picture that will show well in gold, I am sure of that,
but it would show as well on a wall, papered in the deep color of ripe corn.
It simply cannot be seen without such a setting.
It does not show up well against a dark background, and not at all against
a dull background. That's because gives a glimpse of a very gray interior. In
reality too it stands in a gold frame, as it were, because the hearth and the glow of
the fire on the white wall would be nearer to the spectator, now they are outside
the picture, but in reality they throw the whole thing into perspective.
I repeat, it must be shut off by framing it in something of a deep gold or
If you yourself want to see it as it must be seen, don't forget this, please.
This putting it next to a gold tone gives, at the same time, a brightness to spots
where you would not expect it, and takes away the marbled aspect it gets when
unfortunately placed against a dull or black background. The shadows are painted
in blue, and a gold color puts life into this ....
I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the
lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it
speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food.
I have wanted to give the impression of a way of life quite different from
that of us civilized people. Therefore I am not at all anxious for everyone to like it
or to admire it at once.
All Winter long I have had the threads of this tissue in my hands, and have
searched for the ultimate pattern; and though it has become a tissue of rough,
coarse aspect, nevertheless the threads have been chosen carefully and according to
certain rules. And it might prove to be a real peasant picture. I know it is. But he who
prefers to see the peasants in their Sunday-best may do as he likes. I personally
am convinced I get better results by painting them in their roughness than by
giving them a conventional charm.
I think a peasant girl is more beautiful than a lady, in her dusty, patched
blue skirt and bodice, which get the most delicate hues from Weather, Wind, and
sun. But if she puts on a lady's dress, she loses her peculiar charm. A peasant is
more real in his fustian clothes in the fields than when he goes to church on Sunday
in a kind of dress coat.
In the same Way it would be Wrong, I think, to give a peasant picture a
certain conventional smoothness. If a peasant picture smells of bacon, smoke,
potato steam-all right, that's not unhealthy; if a stable smells of dung--all right,
that belongs to a stable; if the field has an odor of ripe corn or potatoes or of