My dear Theo.
You’ll perhaps find it rather harsh, what I wrote to you about Tersteeg. By no means do I take it back, though. Tersteeg is someone who is extremely hard of hearing, though I don’t consider him deaf. He must be told things very decidedly, otherwise it doesn’t penetrate his armour.
For years he’s thought me a kind of blockhead and dreamer, he still views me as such, and even says about my drawings: that’s a kind of opium daze you administer to yourself so as not to feel the pain you suffer at not being able to make watercolours. Now then, that’s very cleverly put, but that expression is actually ill-considered, superficial and doesn’t hold water (the main reason I can’t make watercolours straightaway is that I must draw more seriously and pay attention to proportion and perspective). Similarly, Mr T.’s ‘practical talks’ (say) on art couldn’t be more impracticable. It doesn’t help him even if he uses as arguments some things that could be called conversation killers, because it’s difficult to find an answer to them. Enough – I don’t deserve his reproaches, and if my drawings don’t amuse His Hon. neither does it amuse me to show them to His Hon. like that.
He condemns drawings of mine which contain much that is good, and I hadn’t expected that of His Hon.
If I make serious studies from a model it’s a lot more practical than his practical talks about saleability or unsaleability, about which I – having dealt in paintings and drawings myself, for that matter – don’t need to be enlightened by His Hon. to the extent that he thinks.
I’d prefer, then, to lose his friendship than agree with him about this.
Although at times I’m overwhelmed by worries, all the same, I’m calm, and my calmness is based on my serious approach to my work and on reflection. Although I have moments of passion, and my disposition tends to make them worse, nonetheless I’m composed, as His Hon., who’s known me long enough, very well knows. Now he even said to me: you have too much patience.
Those words aren’t right, one can’t have too much patience in art, that word is beyond the pale. Perhaps in my case Mr H.G.T. has too little patience.
Now he must see, once and for all, that I’m setting to work seriously and won’t let myself be forced into sending work into the world that doesn’t bear the stamp of my own character. My own character is beginning to emerge particularly in my last drawings??? studies???, which Tersteeg rejected.
Perhaps – perhaps I’d succeed even now in making something in the genre of watercolour that could perhaps be sold with a great deal of effort.
But that would be forcing watercolours to grow in the hothouse. Tersteeg and you must wait for the natural season, and it hasn’t arrived yet.
He spoke English when he was here because of the model. I said to him: in due time you shall have your watercolours, now you can’t – they are not due yet. Take your time. And I’m sticking to that. Enough.
Since T.’s visit I’ve made a drawing of an orphan boy polishing shoes. It might have been done with a hand that doesn’t exactly obey my will yet, but even so it contains the type of that orphan boy. And no matter how clumsy my hand, that hand will still have to end up doing what my head wants. So I’ve made a study of the studio with the stove, the fireplace, easel, tabouret, table &c., of course not exactly saleable just now, but very good for putting perspective into practice.1
I’m longing for you to come, you have quite a lot to see, which I’ve made since your visit last summer. Theo, I’m counting on your looking at my work with sympathy and with confidence, and not with two minds or dissatisfaction. Tersteeg thinks, because I work so much, that it’s easy, that’s where he’s also mistaken. But I’m actually a drudge or a draught ox.
If you come, would you be sure and think of the Ingres paper? It’s the thick one in particular that I like to work on, and it seems to me it must lend itself even to studies in watercolour.
Believe me that in artistic matters the words hold true: Honesty is the best policy. Better to put a bit more effort into serious study than being stylish to win over the public. Occasionally, in times of worry, I’ve longed to be stylish, but on second thoughts I say no – just let me be myself – and express severe, rough, yet true things with rough workmanship. I won’t run after the art lovers or dealers, let those who are interested come to me.
In due time we shall reap if we faint not.2
Oh well. Listen, Theo, what a man that Millet was! I have the big work by Sensier on loan from De Bock. It interests me so much that I wake up at night and light the lamp and go on reading.3 Because during the day I have to work.
Do send me something soon if it’s at all possible. I wish that for once Tersteeg had to face a week of doing what I do on what I have to spend, he’d notice that it’s not dozing or dreaming or an opium daze, but that one has to be wide awake to combat the many difficulties that crop up. Nor is it easy to find models and to get them to pose. Most painters are driven to desperation by it. Especially when one has to scrimp – go short of – food, drink, clothing in order to pay them. Well, Tersteeg is Tersteeg and I am I. Nonetheless, rest assured, I’m not opposed to, i.e. hostile towards him, but I must make him understand that he judges me too superficially and – and – I believe that he’ll change his mind – I sincerely hope so, because being at odds with His Hon. pains me very much and makes life difficult for me. I hope your letter comes soon – my last pennies are for posting this letter. It’s only been a few days since I received the 10 guilders from Tersteeg, but that same day I had to pay 6 guilders of it to the model, to the baker, to the girl who sweeps the studio.
Adieu, I wish you health and good cheer, in spite of everything I’m not without good cheer either. I shake your hand.
I had a very pleasant visit from Jules Bakhuyzen, and I may go and visit him whenever I wish.
Here you have a few words that struck me and moved me in Sensier’s Millet, sayings of Millet.
Art is a battle4 – you have to put your whole life into art.5
One must work like a bunch of negroes.6
I’d rather say nothing than express myself weakly.7
It was only yesterday that I read that last saying of Millet, but I’d felt the same before then, which is why I sometimes feel the need to scratch in what I feel not with a soft brush but a hard carpenter’s pencil and a pen. Watch out! Tersteeg! Watch out! You’re clearly wrong.
Theo, it’s almost miraculous!!!
First of all, a message arrives that I must go and fetch your letter. Secondly, C.M. comes, orders 12 small pen drawings from me, views of The Hague, having seen a few that were finished (Paddemoes. The Geest district – Vleersteeg were finished)8 for a rijksdaalder9 apiece, the price set by me. With the promise that if I make them to his liking he’ll order 12 more,10 but for which he’ll fix the price higher than I do. Thirdly, I run into Mauve, successfully delivered of his large painting, promises to come by soon. So, it’s fine – it’s going well – it’ll get even better!11
And something else moved me, and moved me deeply – I’d said that the model didn’t have to come today – I hadn’t said why – but the poor woman came anyway and I protested. Yes, but I’m not coming to be drawn, I’m just coming to make sure you’ve got something to eat – she had a portion of string beans and potatoes with her. There are indeed things in life that are worth the effort.