Vincent's letters

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Slide 1: Slide
Art and designHandwritingPrimary EducationLower Secondary Education (GCSE)

This lesson contains 18 slides, with interactive quiz and text slides.

time-iconLesson duration is: 50 min

Introduction

After a brief introduction to the letters between Vincent and his brother Theo, the students write letters about their own art works.

Instructions

General learning objectives
- The students will be introduced to Vincent van Gogh's letters
- The students will write letters describing their own drawings or paintings

Materials required
- Each student needs a drawing or painting of their own
- Paper for writing
- Pens

Optional variations
1. You can make the writing paper look old by dyeing it in coffee or strong tea. If you have the students write rough drafts of their letters first, then they can write the final drafts on the "antique" paper with dip pens and India ink.
2. Put all the drawings and paintings on display in the classroom at the end of the lesson. Read a few of the descriptions anonymously. Can the students figure out which works are being described?

Background information
Vincent van Gogh was a prolific letter writer. In an era without telephones or the Internet, writing was the only way to communicate with family and friends who lived far away. Vincent's surviving letters are one main reason we know so much about him and his work. His younger brother Theo played an important role in preserving those letters. From 1872 onwards, he saved all the letters that Vincent wrote to him... more than 800 in eighteen years' time.

Items in this lesson

Slide 1 - Slide

This is the earliest surviving letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo (written in September 1872). Don't tell the students that right away, but ask:
• Who do you think wrote this letter? • Can you see who the letter was written to? • How old is the letter? How do you know? • Can you read the letter? (Why not?) • Which language do you think this is? > Dutch
How many of Vincent's letters have been preserved?
A
28
B
280
C
820
D
208

Slide 2 - Quiz

Ask the group the quiz question. Then tell the students that these 820 letters are not the only ones Vincent wrote. There must have been many more. More than 650 of the surviving letters are to Theo. It's thanks to all those letters that we know so much about Vincent.

































































































































































































































































































Slide 3 - Slide

Explain: In Vincent's day there were no telephones or computers. After he and his brother Theo grew up and left their parents' home, the only way they could communicate was by writing letters. Question: These days, how do we communicate with people who live far away? (Op deze foto’s is Vincent jonger dan Theo: 19 jaar. Er zijn van Vincent geen latere portretfoto’s bekend.)

Slide 4 - Slide

Story: In his letters to Vincent, Theo wrote about working as an art dealer in Paris. He often sent money, so that Vincent could spend his time drawing and painting and had no need for any other job. This is a French 100-franc note.

Slide 5 - Slide

Story: In his letters to Theo, Vincent writes about his health and says what kinds of paint he needs. He also describes the paintings he is working on or encloses a drawing of a painting. Question: Who knows the title of the famous painting you see in this letter? > The Potato Eaters
'I’m working on those peasants around a dish of potatoes again.'

Slide 6 - Slide

Story: When Vincent wrote this letter, he was practising before he made the actual painting. Here's what he told his brother: 'I’m working on those peasants around a dish of potatoes again.'

Slide 7 - Slide

Story: This is one of Vincent's practice versions. He made this painted sketch before the final painting. (You can see it in the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Dutch village of Otterlo.)

Slide 8 - Slide

Story: Then he painted The Potato Eaters one last time. This time, it was just how he wanted it to look. Here is that version. (You can see it in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.)

'These folk, who are eating their potatoes by the light of their little lamp, have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labour and — that they have thus honestly earned their food.'

Slide 9 - Slide

Story: Here's what Vincent said about the subject of the painting: 'These folk, who are eating their potatoes by the light of their little lamp, have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labour and — that they have thus honestly earned their food.'

Slide 10 - Slide

Question: What do you think? Was Vincent able to express that idea in the painting? Can you see that those farmers earned their food honestly through hard work?

Slide 11 - Slide

Story: Let's go back to the earliest surviving letter from Vincent to Theo.

Slide 12 - Slide

Explain: A letter has four parts: the salutation, the introduction, the body, and the closing.

Slide 13 - Slide

Story: This letter is damaged, but the salutation was probably 'Waarde Theo'. That was like starting with 'Dear Theo' in English.

Slide 14 - Slide

The translation of the closing is 'Regards from the Haanebeeks and the Rooses. Ever, Your loving Vincent'. • How might Vincent have closed his letter if he were writing today?

Assignment

Describe your
own work of art in a letter to Vincent.

Slide 15 - Slide

This item has no instructions

Describe your
own work of art in a letter to Vincent.


Remember the four parts of a letter:

salutation –introduction – body – closing

You could write about:

- what you can see in your drawing or painting.

- what colours you used.

- what you want it to express: what is your work of art about?

- what was easy or hard for you when you made it.


Like Vincent, also make a small sketch of your art work.

Slide 16 - Slide

Discuss the assignment on the whiteboard and then pass out the assignment sheets. You can leave the assignment on the board while the students work.

How did it go?

How does your
letter look? What did you write about?

Slide 17 - Slide

Discuss with the group how the assignment went. Ask: Who wants to read their letter?

Slide 18 - Slide

Conclusion: Ask for volunteers to read their letters and, if possible, display them on the whiteboard (with a camera, or Apple TV, or by e-mailing a photo).