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Van Gogh on subjects in art

From a letter dated July, 1885:

Nothing seems simpler than painting peasants or ragpickers and other workers, but  - there are no subjects in painting as difficult as those everyday figures! As far as I know, not a single academy exists in which one can learn to draw and to paint a digger, a sower, a woman hanging a pot over the fire, or a seamstress. But every city of any importance has an academy with a choice of models for historical, Arabic, Lous XV – in a nutshell, every sort of figure, provided they do not exist in reality . . .

“But I should like to point out something perhaps worthy of consideration. All academic figures are put together in the same way, and, let us admit, ‘on ne peut mieux’—impeccably—faultlessly. You will have gathered what I am driving at—they do not lead us to any new discoveries . . .

“I can put it more succinctly—a nude by Cabanel, a lady by Jacquet, and a peasant woman not by Bastien Lepage but by a Parisian who has learned his drawing at the academy, will always convey the limbs and the structure of the body in the same way—sometimes charming, accurate in proportion and anatomical detail. But when Israels, or, say, Daumier or Lhermitte, draw a figure, one gets much more of a sense of the shape of the body, and yet—and that’s the very reason I’m pleased to include Daumier—the proportions will sometimes be almost arbitrary, the anatomy and structure often anything but correct in the eyes of the academicians. But it will live.”
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