My dear friend Rappard,
Thanks to you know what,1 I’ve just been packing my drawings for Amsterdam. There are now 7 in all. The larger of the 2 courtyards2 is now completely flat as a result of being mounted on Bristol, and the lines have become much more rapid. Then there’s the nursery:3 to that I’ve done what you said, namely looked more closely at the side with the ditch and the water in the foreground, and only now does that show up well and expresses, I think, ‘spring’ and a gentle stillness. As for the one of the carpenter’s shed from the window of my studio,4 I’ve added a new black by working on it in pen, and now ‘the sun shines’ because the lights stand out more strongly. Today I made an early start because I wanted to do another one the same, and went to the dunes to draw a fish-drying barn, also seen from a height5 like the carpenter’s shed, and now it’s 1 at night but it’s all done thank God, and I can look my fearsome landlord in the eye. And so, it’ll get even better.6
I’m so glad to have seen you again, and what you tell me about your work interests me enormously, I assure you. I do so hope that we’ll be able to go on some more walks here in the neighbourhood when the opportunity arises. Because you would certainly find plenty of material in the fish-drying barns in Scheveningen &c., for example. They’re splendidly Ruisdael-like (I mean like that painting, The bleaching grounds at Overveen).7 But perhaps you know The Hague and Scheveningen better than I do. However, if you don’t know ‘Geest’, ‘Slijkeinde’ &c., namely the Whitechapel of The Hague with all its alleys and courtyards,8 I commend myself to take you there next time you’re in The Hague.
I’ve found another two woodcuts for you, one by Miss Edwards9 and one by Green. The latter is particularly fine: a painter working on a shop sign while people watch, in the age of Louis xvi.10 I must also have a good Rochussen in duplicate somewhere.
I believe that you could have a much finer collection than mine if you put your mind to it, or perhaps you do already; I’ve never seen all of yours together, only the small Dürers and Holbeins and the Du Mauriers and a few others. If you come across anything interesting in that line, let me know.
Do you know The wayfarers by Fred Walker?11 It’s a large etching of a blind old man led by a boy along a frozen road, with a ditch with copse-wood covered with glazed frost, and osiers, on a winter evening. It’s certainly one of the most sublime creations in that genre, with an utterly modern, distinctive sentiment, perhaps less robust than Dürer in his Knight, Death and Devil,12 but perhaps even more intimate, and certainly as original and sincere.
It’s a pity that the artists here know so little about the English. Mauve, for example, was enthusiastic when he saw that landscape by Millais, Chill October,13 but they don’t believe in English art, and judge it too superficially in my view. Mauve always says, ‘That is literary art’, but doesn’t realize that the English writers like Dickens and Eliot and Currer Bell, and among the French Balzac, are so astonishingly ‘plastic’, if I may put it like that, that it’s as powerful as, say, a drawing by Herkomer or Fildes or Israëls. And Dickens himself sometimes used the expression, I have sketched.14
Personally, I detest scepticism as much as sentimentality. I don’t mean to insinuate that artists here are sceptics or cynical, but they often give that impression and have that air, whereas when faced by nature they’re as serious and devout as can be. Well — I often catch myself making the same mistake, and in reaction sometimes lapse more into sentimentality than I intend, so I don’t really have the right to criticize.
How many beautiful things are being lost these days – in the sense of picturesque. I recently read a piece by the son of C. Dickens. He said, if my father were to come back he would find little left of the London that he described – that ‘old London’ is going, being ‘cleared away’.15 And it’s the same in this part of the world too — the pleasant little courtyards are being replaced by rows of houses. Most unpicturesque, except when they’re in the process of being built: then, with the sheds and scaffolding and workmen, it’s really interesting. For example, there’s a neighbourhood here behind Bazarstraat and Laan van Meerdervoort where I’ve seen wonderful things: sites being levelled or raised, sheds, planks, huts, fences &c. &c., everything you can imagine.
Another pleasing sight here is the soup kitchens, and always, always the 3rd-class waiting room. If I didn’t have to earn a living, that’s to say by drawing those townscapes, I would do only figures in times like these, but as yet I have no one who will buy them, and I still have the costs of a model, although I can often get someone.
I’m happy with the model I have, I mean the woman who was with me when you came,16 for she’s learning day by day and understands me. If, for example, I get angry because something isn’t working out and I get up and say ‘It isn’t worth a damn’, or even much harsher things than that, she doesn’t take it as an insult, as most people naturally would, but lets me calm down and start again from scratch. And she has the patience to put up with
1r:4 the tedious searching for this or that position or pose. And so I think it’s precious. If I need to have the size of a figure outside or if I’m looking for the position of a figure in a drawing I’m doing out of doors, for instance to see how a figure appears against a fishing pink on the beach and where it catches the light, I have only to say, be at such and such a place at such and such a time, and she’ll be there. I hear gossip about how I’m always together with her, but why should I let that bother me? — I’ve never had such a good assistant as this ugly??? wasted woman. To me she’s beautiful, and I find in her exactly what I need. Life has given her a drubbing, and sorrow and adversity have left their mark on her — now I can make use of it.
If the earth hasn’t been ploughed you can’t do anything with it. She has been ploughed — so that in her I find more than in a whole batch of the unploughed.
I hope you’ll write soon, and if you agree we must correspond regularly, in so far as our work permits, provided that we warn each other if our ‘practical talk’ lapses into the impractical, without getting angry about such a warning the way Mr Tersteeg did, as I told you.
Tomorrow I hope to go into the dunes again to the same drying barns. I recently read the great work about Millet by his friend Sensier.17 It’s extremely interesting, and if you haven’t read it I warmly recommend it to you. It has much that only Sensier, as Millet’s intimate friend, could know, and certainly contains new information, at least it was new to me, despite the fact that I had read various things about M. already.18 Now adieu, with a handshake.