London, 20 July 1873
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter, which gave me a great deal of pleasure. I’m glad you’re well and that living at Mr Schmidt’s is still to your liking. Mr Obach was pleased to make your acquaintance.1 I hope that in future we’ll do a lot of business with you. That painting by Linder2 is very beautiful.
As to the photogravure, I know more or less how they’re made, though I haven’t seen it, and it isn’t clear enough to me to explain it.3
English art didn’t appeal to me much at first, one has to get used to it. There are some good painters here, though, including Millais, who made ‘The Huguenot’, Ophelia, &c., engravings of which you probably know,4 they’re very beautiful. Then Boughton, of whom you know the ‘Puritans going to church’
1v:2 in our Galerie photographique.5 I’ve seen very beautiful things by him. Moreover, among the old painters, Constable, a landscape painter who lived around 30 years ago, whose work is splendid, something like Diaz and Daubigny. And Reynolds and Gainsborough, who mostly painted very, very beautiful portraits of women, and then Turner, after whom you’ll probably have seen engravings.6
Several good French painters live here, including Tissot, after whom there are various photos in our Galerie photographique,7 Otto Weber and Heilbuth. The latter is currently making dazzlingly beautiful paintings in the style of the one by Linder.
Be sure, when you get the chance, to write and tell me whether there are photographs after Wauters, besides Hugo van der Goes and Mary of Burgundy,8 and whether you also know photographs of paintings by Lagye and De Braekeleer.
1v:3 It’s not the elder De Braekeleer I mean but, I believe, a son of his, who had 3 splendid paintings at the last exhibition in Brussels, titled ‘Antwerp’, ‘The school’ and ‘The atlas’.9
Things are going well for me here. I go walking a lot. Here where I live it’s a quiet, convivial, nice-looking neighbourhood, in this I’ve really been fortunate. And yet I sometimes think back with nostalgia to the wonderful Sundays in Scheveningen10 and so on, but never mind that.
You’ll surely have heard that Anna is at home and not well.11 It’s a bad start to her holiday, but let’s hope she’s better by now.
Thanks for what you wrote to me about paintings. Be sure to write and tell me if you ever see anything by Lagye, De Braekeleer, Wauters, Maris,12 Tissot, George Saal, Jundt, Ziem, Mauve, who are painters I like very much, and by whom you’ll probably
1r:4 see something now and then.
Herewith a copy of that poem about that painter ‘who entered The Swan, the inn where he boarded’,13 which you no doubt remember. It’s Brabant to a T, and I’m so fond of it. Lies copied it out for me on my last evening at home.14 How much I’d like to have you here, what pleasant days we spent together in The Hague. I still think so often of our walk on Rijswijkseweg, where we drank milk at the mill after the rain.15 If those paintings we have from you are to be sent back, I’ll send you a portrait of that mill by Weissenbruch.16 Perhaps you remember, ‘the merry tune’ is his nickname, ‘I say, superrrb’.17 That Rijswijkseweg holds memories for me which are perhaps the most delightful I have. Perhaps we’ll speak of it again sometime when we meet.
And now, old chap, I wish you well, think of me from time to time and write to me soon. It’s so refreshing when I receive a letter.
My regards to Mr Schmidt and Eduard.18 How are Uncle Hein and Aunt? Write to me about them, do you go there often? Give them my warm regards.
The evening hour.19
Slowly the toll of the angelus-bell resounded o’er the fields,
As they blissfully bathed in the gold of the evening sun.
O solemn, moving moment! When every mother in the village suddenly
Stops the whirring of the wheel to bless herself with the sign of the cross;
While in the field the farmer reins in his steaming horses,
And, behind the plough, bares his head to murmur an Ave.
O solemn, moving moment! When the bell that proclaims far and wide
The end of the day’s work makes those powerful, dripping heads
Bow down for Him who causes the sweat in the furrow to thrive.
For the artist, too, on the slope of yon shady hill,
Absorbed in his painting from the earliest morning,
The angelus now gave the sign to retreat. Slowly he wiped
His brush and palette, which he stowed with his canvas in the valise,
Folded his camp-stool and dreamily descended the path
That leads, gently winding, through the flowery dale to the village.
Yet how oft, before reaching the foot of the hill, did he
Stand admiringly still, to imprint on his mind once again
The refreshing scene down below, unfolding before his eyes.
Just before him lay the village, with a hill to north and to south,
Between whose crests the sun, inflamed and sinking in the west,
Let flow the whole wealth of its colours and up-conjured glory.
The bell, in the grey tower entwined with black-green ivy,
Was now silent. Hanging motionless on high were the brown
Sails of the windmill; the leaves stood still and above the huts
Blue clouds of peat-smoke ascended so straight from the chimneys
That they, too, seemed to hang motionless in the shimmering air.
’Twas as though this village, this field, those hills, as though everything,
Before wrapping itself in a cloak of evening dew to sleep
Beneath the sun’s parting kiss, silently and gratefully
Recalled once more the peace and plenty it had again savoured.
Soon, though, this silence was gently disturbed by the sweet sounds
Of the evening. In the distance, from a hollow in the hill echoed
Lingeringly the sound of the cow-horn, calling the cattle.
And at this sign from their herdsman there soon appeared in the furrowed
Sandy mountain road the whole of a colourful herd of cows.
Cracking and smacking, the lad’s lash drove them forward,
While they, as if by turns, their necks outstretched, with friendly lowing
Greeted from afar the cow-shed where the milkmaid
Waited for them each evening to ease their taut udders.
Thus on the paths running out from the village like spokes
From an axle, there slowly came movement and life.
Here, ’twas a farmer, dragging homeward a harrow or plough
On a sledge, whistling a tune and riding beside on his bay;
There, a blushing lass, on her head a lock of sweet clover
Laced with daisies and poppies, called from afar to the others,
Kindly and gaily at once, her clear-toned ‘good evening’.
Further... But on the same track where the painter’s path
Led, he suddenly heard peals of joyous laughter.
Rocking from side to side, a wagon, nearly toppling
Under its load of fresh-harvested buckwheat, came rumbling closer,
Both horse and burden adorned with fluttering ribbons and greenery.
Children, all with wreaths of flowers on their little flaxen heads,
Were seated on top, happily waving branches of alder,
Or scattering flowers and leaves, which rained down on all sides,
While round the wagon a troop of country lads and lasses
Skipped and sang enough to startle the whole drowsy plain.
Quietly smiling, the Painter, from behind the thicket,
Watched as the revellers slowly wound their way down the rutted road.
‘Aye’, he thus mumbled, ‘Aye, the Lord must think it
A happy sound, the jubilance with which these hearts
So simply pour forth their thanks as they gather the last
Fruits, which He yearly lets grow fully ripe from their toil.
Yea, for the purest prayer of simplicity and innocence is joy!’
And thus contemplating the calm, deep delight upon which the soul
Feasts in the fields; or with his artist’s mind reconstructing
In silent rapture the glorious scene of a moment ago,
He found he had sauntered, unnoticing, into the village.
Already the purple and yellow had faded to grey in the west,
And in the east there had risen close by the little church the full
Copper-coloured disc of the moon, in mist enshrouded,
When he entered The Swan, the inn where he boarded.
Jan van Beers