Etten, 2 Nov. 1881.
Thanks for your prompt letter, so you quickly succeeded in finding rooms and are living in the neighbourhood of the academy.1
In response to a certain question that I noticed at the bottom of your postcard, I’d just like to say that, far from finding it ‘stupid’ that you’re attending the aforementioned sanctuary, I think it very wise of you, so wise, in fact, that — well, that I’d almost call it unduly wise and righteous.
If you hadn’t gone, if nothing had come of this expedition of yours, all the better, in my opinion, but now that you’ve undertaken it I wish you much success with all my heart, and don’t doubt it will turn out well all the same.
In my eyes, you
and others like you, even if you’re actually attending the academy, aren’t of course academicians in the detestable sense of the word. That’s to say, I don’t take you for one of those pedantic people who could be called the Pharisees2
of art, of whom père Stallaert3
is one such type4
in my view. And yet even this man might have a good side, and if I knew him better I’d perhaps think differently of His Hon. But it would be difficult to convince me that His Hon. has no damnably bad side that eclipses His Hon.’s possibly good qualities. Nothing is more agreeable to me than to discover good qualities, even in such people. It always hurts me, it always makes me nervous to meet someone and the tenor of his life makes me say ‘but that’s really a bit too bad, that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny’, and that grieved feeling stays with me until one day I find something good in him. You mustn’t think that I enjoy or take pleasure in observing something wrong, it grieves me and causes me so much pain that at times I can’t keep quiet about it. It provokes me.
I don’t like to catch myself with ‘a beam in my eye’5
either, and yet – yet sometimes I’ve caught myself with one, and when that happened I didn’t let it stay there but sought a cure.
And precisely because I know from personal experience how terrible such a ‘beam in the eye’ is, it doesn’t leave me cold when I see others suffering from the above-mentioned complaint.
Do not by any means take me for a headstrong person or partisan. I dare to take sides as much as the next person, sometimes one must do that in life, one must declare oneself and dare to stand up four-square for one’s opinion and stick to it.
But considering that I’m utterly determined to see things from the positive, good side in the first place, and to see the bad side only afterwards and with reluctance, I thus take it that even if I haven’t already got it entirely, eventually I’ll succeed in acquiring a generally mild and broad and unprejudiced opinion. And that’s why I consider it one of the petty vexations of human life6
to meet someone who thinks he’s always right and wants to be regarded as someone who’s always right, that’s why, I say, because I’m so very convinced of my own fallibility and also that of all the sons of men.7
Now as for you, I believe it’s true that you’re also searching for a mild and broad and unprejudiced opinion of the things in life, also more specifically in the artistic sphere. And that’s why I’m far from thinking you a Pharisee, whether morally or artistically.
But that doesn’t alter the fact that those like you and I, who have decidedly honest intentions, aren’t perfect and very often make serious mistakes,
and are also influenced by those around us and by our circumstances. And would be deceiving ourselves if we thought we had such a firm foothold that we didn’t need to guard against the danger of falling.
You and I think we stand firm to a certain extent, but woe betide us if we were to become overconfident and careless because we were certain, and rightly so, of possessing some rather good qualities. Attaching too much importance to the good that is in us, even if it’s truly present, will lead us to Pharisaism.
When you make strong studies of nudes, whether at the academy or elsewhere, like those of yours that I’ve seen, when I draw diggers in the potato field, those are good things of ours, and we’ll progress thereby. But in my opinion, despite that, we must nevertheless have misgivings about ourselves and be on our guard against ourselves when we sense we’re on the right path. Then we must say: by all means let me take care because I’m just the sort of man to spoil things for myself when they’re going well unless I take care. Now how should we take care???..... I can’t say exactly, but that it’s necessary to take care in the aforementioned case, yes, I do think so, because through my own bitter experience, by learning the hard way, I’ve become aware of what I’ve underlined above. That this awareness of my own fallibility will prevent me from making many mistakes doesn’t alter the fact that I’m bound to make a great many mistakes anyway. But if we fall, we get up again!
Now then, I think it very good that you’re painting nudes at the academy, precisely because I trust that you, unlike the Pharisees, won’t think yourself righteous because of it and regard those who think otherwise as contemptible. Not only your words and expressions but, even more so, your work have led me to believe this, and this conviction grows stronger every day.
Today I again drew a digger,8
and since your visit9
a boy cutting grass with a sickle as well.10
And also a man and woman sitting by the fire.11
Your visit was very pleasant for all of us, I’m so glad to have seen your watercolours, you’ve made a great deal of progress.
But now I wish that you’d also draw or paint ordinary people with clothes on. It wouldn’t surprise me if it came easily to you, I think so often of that reader you drew during the sermon delivered by the Rev. Dr Kam
But since then I haven’t seen any such drawings by you and I really regret that. Have you perhaps converted and do you now listen to the sermon more than you observe the speaker and his congregation? In some cases we can be so carried away by the speaker that we forget everything around us, but is it often like that in church? I wish it were always like that in church.
Well, I hope that you’ll write soon and that you’ll have a good stay and success in Brussels. Be sure and stop here on your return journey, let’s agree on that straightaway, if possible.
Best regards from my parents and a handshake in thought from me. Believe me always