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« Ça ira! There will be fire and enthusiasm in you »
Sander Pleij
09 April 2024
published in Issue Five

Anthon van Rappard & Vincent van Gogh

I saw a self-portrait and it moved me. Two young eyes over a coarse visage looked at me, the eyes somewhat enlarged, in their gaze the hint of ... what, exactly, I could not say. Submissive yet superior, vulnerable yet untouchable, deliberate yet open. One feels and then one formulates. But I could not find an adequate word or new expression for what this face was telling me.

I did find a new name. This was Anthon van Rappard, an artist who died at the age of 33 and to whom Vincent van Gogh wrote 58 letters. I’d never heard of him before. Who was he? The immense corpus of Van Gogh Studies largely skips my man. Today, his paintings are sold for a trifle. Anthon Ridder van Rappard. Little is known about him. The Ridder in his name, meaning « knight », is a marker of the Dutch aristocratic milieu he was born into. He grew up in a warm nest. His father loved to go out hiking with his son, his mother was a good pianist. Anthon was encouraged to start a cultural magazine at fifteen years old. Friends and family members appeared on its pages. After graduation, he spent months in Germany’s Schwarzwald, a doctor had recommended going there « for his chest. » Later that year, in 1876, he enrolled at Amsterdam’s distinguished Rijksacademie to study painting. Afterwards, he travelled to Paris, where he met Theo van Gogh, before continuing his studies at the Art Academy in Brussels.

One reason so little is known about Anthon is that his letters to Vincent have not been preserved — except for one.

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All translations into English of Vincent van Gogh’s letters come from the (great!) online research project by the Van Gogh Museum.

Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, « Anthon van Rappard, Three Brushmakers and a Bookkeeper in the Institute for the Blind in Utrecht, 1891 » in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Autumn 2022.

Olav Velthuis, Talking Prices, Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art (Princeton University Press, 2007).

Jaap W. Brouwer, Jan Laurens Siesling and Jacques Vis, Anthon Van Rappard, Companion & Correspondent of Vincent Van Gogh, His Life & All His Works (Arbeiderspers, 1974).