Prayer Before the Meal (December, 1882, The Hague)



Prayer Before the Meal (Painted in December, 1882, Hague)
Method: Pencil, black chalk, ink, heightened with white
Dimensions: 60cm x 50cm (23.6in x 19.7in)
Location: Currently a Private collection (Switzerland)
Painter’s Age: 29 years old
“I just want to copy for you something which I had in mind when drawing that little old man, though it is not literally applicable to it – for instance, it is not night in the drawing:

Oft (often) in the stilly night
Ere (before) slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me.
The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood’s years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm’d and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me.
When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together,
I’ve seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Then in the stilly night
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me.
Well, I hope you will enjoy nature somewhat these days, either in the aspect of the short wintry days, or of the wintry figures. What different people one sees on the streets in winter than in summer. Yours sincerely, Vincent.


This sketch and the Eternity’s Gate (a.k.a Sorrowing Old Man) perhaps share the same motif as noted by Vincent van Gogh in his letter. Skim through this passage by him: “It seems to me that a painter has a duty to try to put an idea into his work. I was trying to say this in this print — but I can’t say it as beautifully, as strikingly as reality, of which this is only a dim reflection seen in a dark mirror — that it seems to me that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the existence of ‘something on high’ in which Millet believed, namely in the existence of a God and an eternity, is the unutterably moving quality that there can be in the expression of an old man like that, without his being aware of it perhaps, as he sits so quietly in the corner of his hearth. At the same time something precious, something noble, that can’t be meant for the worms. … This is far from all theology — simply the fact that the poorest woodcutter, heath farmer or miner can have moments of emotion and mood that give him a sense of an eternal home that he is close to.

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The most obvious correlation that I can draw from is the mention of hardworking old man with bald head, which the two work share in common: “How beautiful such an old workman is, with his patched fustian clothes and his bald head.” (From Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, 24th of November, 1882, The Hague)


Vincent van Gogh had a thing (interest as a motif) for old man who belonged to working class. This work from 1882 carried the same sentiment in the other work (1890), and the lithograph of the exact same. Then prominently so through out his career such as the Potato Eaters, the Seeder, the Postman, the drunk shenanigans and what not, then the field landscape featuring farmers and so forth. He grasped all the chances to work with a model for he had very little money to spare to hire one.





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