My dear Theo

In Jean-François Millet, Vincent van Gogh found profound inspiration. While he was living in Paris, at the age of twenty-two, working at his uncle’s art gallery Goupil, van Gogh saw a sale of the French artist’s drawings, and upon entering the room where the works were being exhibited, he wrote to his brother Theo, June 1875, “I felt something akin to: Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”

He would continue to mention Millet enthusiastically if not reverently in letters from 1873 to 1890. And in the small room in Montmartre that he rented, he could look out onto a petite garden of ivy and Virginia creeper, or around at the prints he had hung on the walls—among them were Millet’s four woodcut prints “Four Times of the Day.”

And later, in the south of France, during his convalescence at a clinic in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (where he would paint his most famous Starry Night), van Gogh would choose to honor Millet and his prints, rendering each of Millet’s four moments of the day in oil on canvas in his own voice. In November 1889, six months before he died, he wrote still to his brother: “I’m working on the [Millet’s] zealously. I was growing flabby by dint of never seeing anything artistic, and this revives me… The evening is in a range of violets and soft lilacs, with light from the lamp pale citron, then the orange glow of the fire and the man in red ochre. You will see it. It seems to me that doing painting after these Millet drawings is much rather to translate them into another language than to copy them. Apart from that I have a rain effect on the go, and an evening effect with tall pines.”

But, what about a mouse, you ask. Let’s go back for a moment, almost fourteen years earlier, to his tiny Parisian living quarters filled with Millet’s wood engravings and prints. For a few days van Gogh had a mouse. “My dear Theo…Every evening we put some bread out, and the mouse already knows how to find it.”

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Source: Van Gogh Museum, Vincent van Gogh, The Letters, reference numbers, letters: 36, 37, 55, 67, 816

(Night: After Millet is reproduced for non-commercial use only)


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