Dutch Post-Impressionist artist (1853-1890). He was a pioneer of Expressionism with enormous influence on 20th century art, especially on the Fauves and German Expressionists. Some of his paintings are now among the world’s best known, most popular and expensive works of art. Extremely rare unsigned handwritten poem fragment, four lines on a 2.75 x .75 clipped slip (with one line on the reverse), undated, but from van Gogh’s days as a theology student, circa 1876. The fragment, in French, a section of a poem entitled ‘Le Retour des Champs, a Francois Millet (Return from the Fields, after Francois Millet),’ reads, in full (translated): “He carries the scythe or the spade; On the shoulder he goes slowly; Dampening his dry chest; Of mist and smell of wheat.” Archivally-triple-matted and framed with an engraved plaque and a portrait of Van Gogh to an overall size of 21.5 x 16.25. In very good to fine condition, with some mild toning to the front, slight show-through from the line on the reverse, and two small mounting remnants to the reverse touching one word of text. Accompanied by a clipped certificate of authenticity from Charles Hamilton, who offered several fragments for sale years ago, complete with its red wax seal, from when the fragment was framed.
This leaf was most certainly originally included as a part of a friendship album belonging to Annie Slade-Jones, the wife of Congregational minister Thomas Slade Jones, which originally contained about sixty entries (approximately 180 pages) written during Van Gogh’s residence in England. According to the Van Gogh Museum, in 1980 the album was sold by Slade-Jones’s descendants at Sotheby’s for £550. It then changed hands again, and it seems that the Van Gogh pages were first removed, and then cut up into fragments.
Nearly as passionate about literature as he was about art, Van Gogh took great pleasure in sharing his favorite poems with friends and family in his lengthy letters. In late March of 1884, he wrote to Dutch painter Anthon van Rappard, a friend and mentor, sharing samples of the poetry of Jules Breton, noting, ‘if you don’t have them, I feel sure you will be greatly impressed.’ Well-known for his paintings of rural peasant scenes of the French countryside, which were among Van Gogh’s favorites, Breton also developed a strong reputation as a writer, publishing a book of poetry and several works on the art world of which he was a part. The poem excerpted here is a beautiful interpretation of fellow French painter Jean-Francois Millet’s painting ‘Return from the Fields.’
Along with highlighting the impact of Breton on Van Gogh, this piece brings to light the crucial influence of Millet’s work on the troubled artist. A pioneer in the ‘peasant genre’ that so deeply touched Van Gogh, Millet was the only major artist of the Barbizon School who displayed laborers as more than small elements in a larger landscape, presenting the realistic sentiments of peasant life as, what Van Gogh would call, ‘something on high.’ Struggling to find inspiration while committed at the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy in 1889, Van Gogh created more than 30 interpretations of works by some of his favorite artists: twenty-one of these were of Millet’s. Regarding these pieces, which many hold as some of the finest in his vast body of work, Van Gogh explained, ‘it’s not copying pure and simple…It is rather translating into another language, the one of colors, the impressions of chiaroscuro and white and black.’
Van Gogh’s letters are virtually all in institutions, as are his poetry books and journal, making anything written in his hand nearly impossible to obtain; we have found fewer than a dozen such sold at auction over the last 30 years. This fragment, the seventh stanza of Breton’s poem ‘Return from the Fields, after Francois Millet,’ containing such vital relevance to the artists that inspired Van Gogh, is a truly extraordinary piece and sure to garner great international interest. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.