My dear Theo,
It matters greatly to me that you shouldn’t get the idea that I’m in a dejected or abnormal mood. That’s why I wrote to you already about work in my last letter, and since I have a few more things to ask in that connection I haven’t waited long before writing again.
By the time you come I’ll do my best to have several watercolours done in different ways ready for you to see, then we can discuss which seems best to you.
So I’ll work regularly on this every day, and continue to do so until you come.
I now have 3 of Scheveningen1 — again the Fish-drying barn you know — drawn in as much detail — only now there’s colour as well.2 As you well know, Theo, it isn’t harder to work in colour than in black and white, the opposite perhaps, but as far as I can see 3/4 comes down to the original sketch, and almost the whole watercolour depends on its quality.
It isn’t enough to give an approximation, and my aim has been and still is to make it more intense. I believe that’s already evident in the black-and-white fish-drying barns, because there you can follow everything and see how it all fits together, and look, I think this is why I now work much more fluently in watercolour, because for such a long time I did my best to draw more correctly.
Tersteeg said that what I was doing was a waste of time; soon you’ll see that I’ve saved a great deal of time.
I already feel that, and you’ll see it for yourself when you come.
This evening I went from one shop to another searching for thick Ingres, but in vain. They have the thin, but the dense or double is nowhere to be found. At the time I bought all that Stam had left, and it was wonderfully mature. Before you come, oh do your best to find some once more. And if you can’t get any, try asking for ‘papier de la forme’. That is with a yellowish tint — stiff — and you can use wash on it. I believe it’s also much cheaper than Harding or Whatman, so that in the end there’s quite a saving.
When you come I know of a few lovely paths through the meadows where it’s so quiet and peaceful that you’ll be delighted. I’ve discovered old and new labourer’s cottages there, and other houses that are distinctive, with small gardens lining the banks of the ditch — really charming. I’m going to draw there early tomorrow morning. It’s a path through the meadows from Schenkweg to Enthoven’s factory or Het Zieke.3 I saw a dead pollard willow there, just the thing for Barye, for example. It hung over a pond with reeds, all alone and melancholy, and its bark was scaled and mossy, as it were, and spotted and marbled in various tones — something like the skin of a snake, greenish, yellowish, mostly dull black. With white flaking spots and stumpy branches. I’m going to attack it tomorrow morning.4
1v:3 I’ve also done a bleaching ground at Scheveningen,5 on the spot in one go, entirely in wash almost without preparation, on a very coarse piece of torchon. Here are a couple of small sketches of it.
I’ll make sure that several things are ready by the time you come. I think you’ll like the Fish-drying barn now that it’s with colours.
Make no mistake, old chap, I’m fully back into my normal routine, and rest assured that everything else depends on work, and I see everything as directly related to that. The new studio makes a huge difference compared to the previous one in that it’s more pleasant to work in; for posing, especially, it’s a great improvement because one can stand further back. I’m sure it will be well worth the extra rent.
I have one request for you, though. I would entirely understand and would find it quite natural if, instead of sending the money on 1 August, you were to give it to me yourself when you arrive on, say, 7 August. As soon as I received your last letter, however, I made some purchases of paper and paint and brushes, and by 1 August I’ll certainly need some more things. So I want to ask you to be so kind as to send something all the same just before 1 August, if possible, even though you’ll be coming soon afterwards, because I’ve worked it out exactly, exactly, and after the first few days of August I’ll certainly be absolutely broke. I hope this won’t inconvenience you: of course, more is not the intention; it’s the time that matters, namely 1 August, if possible, and otherwise only a few days later.
I also have a second of the Rijswijk meadows in which the same subject takes on an entirely different aspect through being seen from a different height and viewpoint.6
As you see, I’ve become very caught up in landscapes. The reason is that Sien can’t pose yet, but otherwise the figure must remain the chief concern.
When you come I’ll take care to be close to home as long as you’re in the city and that you know where I am, and otherwise I’ll carry on with my normal routine while you do your business and pay visits. I can find you wherever you suggest a meeting, but for various reasons I believe it’s better for both of us if I don’t go with you to the Plaats,7 say, or to Mauve, for example. I’m so used to my working clothes, in which I can sit or lie in the sand or grass as I please (for in the dunes, for example, I hardly ever use a chair, except perhaps an old fish basket), that my outfit is rather too Robinson Crusoe-like8 for me to accompany you much on your rounds.
I say this in advance so that you’ll know I won’t be an embarrassment to you, but otherwise you understand that I long for every half hour you can spare.9 I think we’ll be more at ease if we’re completely taken up by painting and drawing, and talk mainly about that. Unless you’re not bored or embarrassed by other matters, if not, then of course I have no secrets from you, and you have my complete confidence in everything.
I also long to show you the woodcuts.10 I have another splendid one, a drawing by Fildes, ‘Dickens’s empty chair’ from The Graphic of 70.11 I could have bought 3 etchings by Meryon for 2 guilders for all three, but I let them go. They were good though, but I have so few etchings and want to concentrate on woodcuts if I buy anything else. But I wanted to tell you about them — Blok12 has them, and I don’t know if all Meryons are rare and valuable. They’re from an old volume of L’Artiste.13 I’m still under the spell of Zola’s books. How painted those Halles are.14
My health is good, though I still feel the odd thing and will probably continue to do so, at least for some time yet. Sien and the child are also well; they’re getting stronger and I love them dearly. I must have another go at the cradle (when it’s a rainy day and I can’t go outside), entirely in watercolour. But for the rest, when you come I want to show you — landscape watercolours — nearer winter I hope to have figure watercolours, that is, after I’ve been here a year. First I’ll have to draw more nudes and a lot more in black and white, it seems to me. We’ll discuss all that, and I don’t doubt that your visit will be a great help in keeping things in order and making work go smoothly. Adieu, with a handshake.
By quietly carrying on with my work I have every hope I’ll gradually acquire a new circle of friends to make up for the loss of the friendliness of Mauve, HGT and others.
But I’ll take no steps to bring that about, none at all, for it must come through the work. What has happened to me with H.G.T. is nothing out of the ordinary; everyone experiences things like that in life. It’s impossible to say exactly what the cause is. But in the case of H.G.T. it’s an old grievance. I know now with near certainty that he said things about me long ago which did much to cast me in a bad light. However, I needn’t be concerned about that — what could hurt me in the past can’t do so now. When you come to the studio you’ll see for yourself how utterly absurd it is for him to say: oh, your drawing will never amount to anything. But it’s difficult to counter a pronouncement like that, because as soon as one does so it’s seen as conceit, and people cite the very greatest names and say: he thinks he’s so-and-so or so-and-so.
But, again, anyone who works with love and with intelligence has a kind of armour against people’s opinion in the sincerity of his love for nature and art.
Nature is severe and hard, so to speak, but never deceives and always helps you to go forward.
So I don’t count it a misfortune if I find myself out of favour with HGT or anyone else, however much I regret it. That can’t be the direct cause of unhappiness — if I felt no love for nature and my work, then I would be unhappy. But the less I get on with people the more I learn to trust nature and to concentrate on it. All these things make me fresher and fresher inside — you’ll also see that I’m not afraid of a fresh green or a soft blue and the thousand different greys, for there’s hardly any colour that isn’t a grey: red-grey, yellow-grey, green-grey, blue-grey. This is what all colour mixing comes down to.15
When I went back to the Fish-drying barn, a luxuriant and indescribably fresh green from a wild vegetable or oilseed had shot up in the baskets filled with sand in the foreground that serve to stop the sand of the dunes blowing about. Two months ago it was all barren except for a bit of grass in the small garden, and now that rough, wild, luxuriantly sprouting green produced a most pleasant effect as a contrast to the bareness of the rest.
I hope you’ll like that drawing. The vista — the view over the roofs of the village with the small church tower and the dunes — was so attractive. I can’t tell you with how much pleasure I drew it.
So come soon — I believe you’ll be completely content with the change of studio when you see how infinitely better it is for my work — more space, better light, greater distance.
Yesterday evening I got a parcel from home. Among other things, it contained a sort of demi-saison16 which is very useful. It was very kind of them. And there were tobacco and cigars, a cake and underwear. In short, a whole package. Don’t you think that’s kind? It’s more that I’m pleased by it showing their warm feelings than by anything else.
I’ve also had another letter from Rappard. I take enormous pleasure in the fact that that chap is so fascinated by his English woodcuts. I got him going in the beginning, but now he needs no further encouragement; now he’s almost as enthusiastic as I am.
When you come I’ll show you a few prints which, once seen, won’t lightly fade from memory. Among them there are things very different from the school of Boughton, say, although he’s certainly one of the leaders.
I mean things remarkable at once for their reality and their style, drawn like Albrecht Dürer but with lots of local colour and chiaroscuro. You don’t often see those prints any more these days; for you have to look for them in magazines of 10 or 15 years ago. For example, during the war of 70-71.17