A sketch

Dear Theo,

. . . . Yesterday I drew some decayed oak roots, so-called bog trunks (that is, oak trees which have perhaps been buried for a century under the bog, from which new peat had been formed; when digging the peat up, these bog trunks come to light).

These roots were lying in a pool, in black mud.

Some black ones were lying in the water, in which they were reflected, some bleached ones were lying on the black earth. A little white path ran past it all, behind that more peat, pitchblack. And a stormy sky over it all. That pool in the mud with those rotten roots was completely melancholy and dramatic, just like Ruysdael, just like Jules Dupré.

This is a scratch of the peat fields.

There are very often curious contrasts of black and white here, for instance, a canal with white sandy banks, across a pitchblack plain. In the above sketch you can see it too, black figures against a white sky, and in the foreground again a variation of black and white in the sand.

Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (6 – 7 October, 1883)


black mud, black
which bleached black
white path past more
peat pitch

black sky, pool in the
mud, rotten root
just like, just like
a scratch

peat —
black white, white pitch
black sketch, black white
black white


Two Women in the Peat-Field, with a Wheelbarrow

Van Gogh’s Two Women in the Peat-Field, with a Wheelbarrow, painted after the observations referred to in van Gogh’s letter.


My Dear Theo:

. . . . Let’s talk of something else – I have a model at last – a Zouave – a boy with a small face, a bull neck, and the eye of a tiger, and I began with one portrait, and began again with another; the half-length I did of him was horribly harsh, in a blue uniform, the blue of enamel saucepans, with braids of a faded reddish-orange, and two yellow stars on his breast, an ordinary blue, and very hard to do. That bronzed, feline head of his with a red cap, I placed it against a green door and the orange bricks of a wall. So it’s a savage combination of incongruous tones, not easy to manage. The study I made of it seems to me very harsh, but all the same I’d like always to be working on vulgar, even loud portraits like this. It teaches me something, and above all that is what I want of my work. The second portrait will be full length, sitting against a white wall.

Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (21 June 1888)

For Dave Bonta, on the tenth anniversary of
Via Negativa.

I began, began again
with half-length, harsh
in enamel saucepans

that bronzed feline against
the orange bricks of
a wall

so a savage nation of tones
I made. it seems
harsh, vulgar, loud —

traits like his.

teach me something
full length — sit against
a white wall


Van Gogh’s Der Zuave, the half-length referred to in van Gogh’s letter.

Don’t mow the meadow

Just now I have two new studies like this: you already have a drawing like of one of them, of a farm by the high road among cornfields.

A meadow full of very yellow buttercups, a ditch with iris plants with green leaves and purple blooms, the town in the background, a few gray willows – a strip of blue sky.

If they don’t mow the meadow I’d like to do this study again, for the subject was very beautiful, and I had some trouble finding the composition. A little town surrounded by countryside completely blooming with yellow and purple flowers; you know, it is a beautiful Japanese dream.

Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh (12 May 1888)


like this:
you already have
a farm, a meadow,
very yellow.

ditch green leaves
and purple blooms,
strip blue sky.
don’t mow the meadow:

I’d like to do this again.
trouble the town,
surround countryside
with yellow:



Van Gogh’s Field with Flowers Near Arles, the result of the studies referred to in van Gogh’s letter.