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The lovely portrait of La Mousmé, Sitting (F 431, JH 1519)--a girl in a red and blue dress is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. I love this painting and have visited it several times. I have a small framed print hanging in my home. My question is regarding her hands. Both appear somewhat elongated--the right hand more than the left. But the left hand appears almost withered--deformed, somehow. Does anyone know the story behind this?

Jose Navarro of Utrera, Spain replies . . . . . .


There's a commentary in the web page of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C, where on say that the hands are "sketchily painted".

>From both informations and the contemplation of the portrait I get the idea that the painting was not completely finished. Couldn't we say the same about her ear? He was painting a girl, twelve or fourteen years old, who is a blossoming bud of woman; a girl that possibly begins to have new, strange and contradictory feelings. If she had a sick hand, wouldn't she had covered it with the other hand in an instinctive and innocent coquette movement? Would the painter be so cruel to put his own realistic style of painting over her self-conscious feelings?

There are some common features between the portrait and the photography of her sister Will (see below for comparison). If he really thought in her sister while he was painting La Mousmé, a sister that had health problems too, would he painted her with a visible sick hand?

Anyway, be a healthy or sick hand it is unfinished.

In the letter 514 (July 29th, 1888) he wrote "Now if you know what a 'mousmé' is (you will find out when you read Loti's Madame Chrysanthème), I have just painted one. It took me a whole week, and I haven't been able to do anything else, because I still haven't been too well. This is what annoys me--but I felt well, I would have been able to run off some more landscapes in the meantime, but to do justice to my mousmé I had to conserve my mental energies. A mousmé is a Japanese girl--Provençal in this case--12 to 14 years old."; and in the letter 529 (end of August, a month later) he said "This week I have two models: an Arlésienne* and an old peasant...unfortunately, I'm afraid that the little Arlésienne has left me for the rest of the painting. She, innocently, the last time she came, had asked me to pay an advanced the money that I had promised her for all the sittings and I put no difficulty, so she went away and I never saw her again. Well, one day or another she must return, it would be too much not to come back".

There's no other Arlésienne painted in July-August 1888, nor sketches I believe, so it is possible that La Mousmé and the fleeing Arlésienne are the same person. There's a note discordant: the long time between both letters. Could it be the consequence of an error in the dating of the 529 letter?

La Mousmé

Wilhelmina van Gogh

* Van Gogh had serious problems to find models, not only for his frequent lack of money, but for the lack of prestige he had in Arles where he was considered like a clumsy painter, and, nor the prostitutes, though paid, didn't want to sit for him because it could make them to loose prestige, too.

He had little relations with the people. His exotic aspect, his slovenly clothes, his behaviour, made him to look a strange being, incomprehensible and suspicious. He only had relations with a few humble people like Roulin, the postman. Most of his portraits were made to his friends or their families.

Those days he felt ill, which could irritate his character.

The little girl model ought to have a great lack of money to sit for Vincent, nevertheless all the circumstances exposed. One can imagine the girl, so young, sitting in an unpleasant study, alone for hours with a queerish and sometimes bad tempered man. It had to be disagreeable and frightening for her and after a week she couldn't support it anymore and ran away.

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