Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, October 22, 1882:
At the moment, I can see a splendid effect out of my studio window. The city, with its towers and roofs and smoking chimneys, is outlined as a dark, sombre silhouette against a horizon of light. This light is, however, no more than a broad streak over which hangs a heavy raincloud, more concentrated below, torn above by the autumn wind into large shreds & lumps that are being chased away. But that streak of light is making the wet roofs glisten here & there in the dark mass of the city (on a drawing one would achieve this with a stroke of body colour), so that although the mass has a single tone one can still distinguish between red tiles & slates. The Schenkweg runs through the foreground like a glistening streak through the wetness, the poplars have yellow leaves, the banks of the ditches & the meadows are a deep green, the little figures are black. I would have drawn it, or rather tried to draw it, had I not been working hard all afternoon on figures of peat-carriers, which are still too much on my mind to allow room for anything new, and should be allowed to linger.As I discovered just yesterday (via Open Culture), Van Gogh’s letters are available online from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: original texts, facsimiles, and English translations. Odd to discover that the Penguin text combines three paragraphs into the one paragraph above.
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh , ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans (New York: Penguin, 1997).
If I were teaching the art of description, I would ask my students to read some of Van Gogh’s letters.
Also from Van Gogh’s letters
“Admire as much as you can”
“It was a bright autumn day and a beautiful walk”
“Lately, during the dark days before Christmas”
“So you must picture me sitting at my attic window”
[The Schenkweg? Wikipedia explains.]