My dear Theo,
In the days since you left I’ve done some experimenting with painting. And thought you might be curious to know how I’m getting on. I do wish that you could be back in the studio for just an hour — that would be the best way to tell you how it turned out. Since that is, of course, impossible, I just want to say that I have 3 painted studies. One of a row of pollard willows in the meadow (behind the Geestbrug),1 then a study of the cinder road close to my neighbourhood — and today I was again in the vegetable gardens in Laan van Meerdervoort, where I found a potato field with a ditch. A man in a blue smock and a woman were gathering up the potatoes, and I put their figures in. The field was white, sandy ground — half dug over, half still covered by rows of dried stalks — with green weeds in between. In the distance dark green and a few roofs.2 I took the greatest pleasure in doing the last study in particular. I must say that painting is not as alien to me as you might think. On the contrary, I find it very appealing on account of it being a powerful means of expression.
And at the same time one can say delicate things with it too — let a soft grey or green speak in the midst of roughness.
I’m very glad that I have the necessary equipment, because in the past I often had to restrain myself. It opens up a much broader horizon.
Now I would like quietly to amass a good number of painted studies to hang in my studio without referring to this as a change. And should anyone express surprise at seeing painted work by me, to say: Well, did you think I had no feeling for that or couldn’t do it? But I’ve put a lot of work into drawing and will continue to do so, because it’s the backbone of painting, the skeleton supporting everything else.
I’m enjoying it so much, Theo, that I’ll have to restrain rather than push myself because of the costs. These studies are of medium size, though slightly larger than the lid of an ordinary painting box, because I don’t work in the lid, but instead pin the painting paper for the study to a frame with canvas stretched across it, which is easy to carry.3
Before I paint bigger things, I’ll draw them bigger. Or, if I can find out the technique — I’ll look into it — make what they call grisailles4 of them.
1v:3 It becomes too expensive a business if you’re not sparing with the paint.
But, old chap, it’s wonderful for me that I’ve once again been given so many good tools — thanks again for everything. I’ll do my best to ensure that you need have no regrets, but rather the satisfaction of seeing the progress made.
I’m writing now just for the time being to say that I’ve made a start. It goes without saying that the studies must become more beautiful — and that certainly they have their shortcomings too — but I believe that even in these first ones you’ll already see that there’s something of the open air in them, something that proves I have a feeling for nature and the heart of a painter. Herewith a small scratch of Laan van Meerdervoort.5 The vegetable gardens there have a sort of Old Dutch cachet that always appeals to me.
Well, good-night, it’s late, with a handshake.
I’m busy with Zola’s ‘La curée’.6
When I’d written this letter, I realized that it lacked something. I thought — I must ensure that I can write to him that I’ve tackled a piece of sand, sea and sky like we saw together at Scheveningen. Then I kept my letter back and marched off to the beach this morning, and have just got back with a fairly large painted study of sand, sea and sky, and a few fishing-boats and men on the beach.7 There’s still dune sand in it, and I assure you this won’t be the last one. I thought you’d be pleased that I’ve tackled this.
As said, I want to make sure that when you come again, in six months or a few months or a year, the studio has become a painter’s studio.8 These scratches were done in great haste, as you can see. Now that it’s going well, I’ll try to strike while the iron’s hot and carry on painting for a little. If you can send the usual towards the 20th, there’s no question but that I’ll be able to occupy myself exclusively with it for a while. I believe that after a month of regular painting the studio will look completely different. Hoping that this will please you, I shake your hand again, and warmly wish you good fortune in everything.