London, Oct. 1873
Dear Caroline and Willem,
Many thanks for your letter of this morning. It was a wonderful surprise, I’m happy you’re doing so well.
Our Anna has passed her examinations in English and in needlework, you can imagine how delighted she and all of us are.1 Pa and Ma have suggested that she stay at school until next April, and in that case attempt French, but if she’d rather not she needn’t do it. I’d like it so much if something could be found for her here; we’ve talked about this before, as you know.
You already know that Theo is coming to The Hague, I think it a good change for him, even though it will be difficult for him
1v:2 to leave beautiful, convivial Brussels.
I also received a letter from your Pa2 some time ago and have already answered it, so you’ll probably have heard that things are continuing to go well for me here, and also know a thing or two about my new lodgings.
What you say about winter is quite right, I think so too. I myself almost don’t know which season I like best; I believe all of them, equally well.
It’s striking that the old painters almost never painted the autumn and that the moderns have such a particular preference for it.
Herewith a couple of small photos which I hope will be to your liking. Here there are practically no albums like those we have in Holland, but rather so-
1v:3 called ‘scrapbooks’ in which one puts photographs, as I’ve done in this letter (which explains why we don’t put the photos in mounts here),3 the advantage of which is that one can arrange all shapes and sizes on the same sheet however one wants. I would advise you to buy a kind of writing-book with blank pages and to put these in it, for a start.
‘A baptism’ is after Anker,4 a Swiss, who has painted all manner of subjects, all equally sensitive and intimate.
‘Puritans going to church’ is after Boughton,5 one of the best painters here; an American, he’s very fond of Longfellow, and rightly so. I know 3 paintings by him based on ‘The courtship of Miles Standish’.6 Seeing the paintings prompted me to read Miles Standish and Evangeline7 again, I don’t know why, but I never knew they were as beautiful as I find them now.
‘The good friar’ is after Van Muyden, a Swiss painter,8 having ‘as yet more modesty than talent’.9
1r:4 Mr Post in The Hague has this painting.10 If you visit our gallery ask to see his (Van Muyden’s) ‘Refectory’.11 There are no more than 4 or 5 copies of this photograph,12 because the negative is broken. Show it to Mr Tersteeg when you have the opportunity.13 ‘The honeymoon’ is after Eugène Feyen,14 one of the few painters who paint intimate modern life as it really is and don’t turn it into fashion plates. I know the photo of ‘The landlady’s daughter’15 and I find it very beautiful. It’s good that you find Bouguereau beautiful. Not everyone is as capable as you are of noticing and feeling good and fine things. And now I’ll stop; I’m enclosing another picture of autumn, by Michelet.16
I hope you’ll be able to read this; I just kept on writing without thinking that one should take care to make a letter legible. Adieu, I wish you both the best; many regards to those in the Poten17 and to any other friends you might see.
From here I see a lady,18 I see her walking, pensive, in a garden that is not very big and has lost its flowers quite early, but is sheltered, like the ones one sees behind our cliffs in France or the dunes of Holland. The exotic shrubs have already gone back into the greenhouse. The fallen leaves reveal some statues. A sumptuousness of art, which contrasts slightly with the very simple attire of the lady — modest, grave — the black (or grey) silk of which is barely brightened by a plain lilac ribbon.
Unadorned, this we can say, she is no less elegant. Elegant for her husband and simple for the benefit of the poor. She reaches the end of the avenue, turns. We can see her. But have I not seen her before in the museums of Amsterdam or The Hague? She reminds me of a lady by Philippe de Champaigne (NB in the Louvre), who had found
2v:6 her way into my heart, so ingenuous, so honest, sufficiently intelligent, yet simple, without the subtlety to extricate herself from the snares of the world. This woman has remained with me for thirty years, obstinately returning to me, worrying me, making me say, ‘But what was she called? What became of her? Did she have a little happiness? And how did she manage to get through life?’ She reminds me of another portrait, a Van Dyck, a poor woman, very pale, unhealthy. The pale satin of her incomparably delicate skin clothes a sickly body, which is beginning to slacken. A great melancholy fills her lovely eyes, the melancholy of old age? Of heartbreaks, of the climate too, perhaps. It is the vague, distant look of someone who has lived within sight of the vast North Sea, the great grey sea, deserted but for the flight of the seagull.
Les aspirations de l’automne.19