My dear friend Rappard,
I was delighted by your letter, which I received yesterday evening. I had already been looking forward to it, but thought you were toiling away somewhere.
What you tell me about Drenthe1 is interesting — I don’t know Drenthe at all from having been there myself, only through what Mauve and Ter Meulen, for instance, have brought back.2 I imagine it as being like North Brabant when I was young, about 20 years ago. I remember as a boy seeing the heath and the small farmhouses, the looms and the spinning wheels exactly as I see them now in drawings by Mauve and Ter Meulen. The part of Brabant I know well has since changed enormously through land reclamation and industry.3 It isn’t without a certain nostalgia that I now see a new tavern with a red tiled roof at many places where I remember seeing a wattle-and-daub hut with a moss-covered, thatched roof.
Since then have come sugar-beet factories, railways, heath reclamations, &c., which are much less picturesque.4
Well, what will remain in me is something of the austere poetry of the true heathland. And it seems that the true heath still exists in Drenthe just as it used to in Brabant.
Yet there’s still a great deal of beauty left in Brabant — just think of Het Heike, where we went together.5
I think your sketches in the letter are very good. There’s a lot of character in the churchyard in particular.
As for me, as the result of a visit by my brother, who saw my watercolours, I too am busily painting.
Actually, I don’t believe that anyone seeing my first painted studies would say that they were my first.
For I don’t find it in the least alien, and I’m very interested in it.
Yesterday evening I found an interesting effect in the Rijswijk meadows. Flat green meadows through which a black cinder road passes with a ditch beside it. The sun goes down fiery red — a peasant trudges home — far-off a peasant cottage.6
I also have a small seascape — and pieces of dune ground — a row of pollard willows, a potato field and so on.7
I find painting so appealing that I’ll have to make a great effort not to paint all the time.
It’s rather more manly than watercolour, and has more poetry to it.
You probably know that at present there’s an exhibition here by the Dutch Drawing Society.8 There are some truly beautiful things.
There’s a woman at the loom by Mauve9 that I can’t get out of my head. An old mother by Israëls10 ditto. Neuhuys,11 Maris,12 Du Chattel,13 Ter Meulen14 and a mass of others,15 not forgetting Weissenbruch.16
There’s a lovely portrait of Weissenbruch by Israëls; I can’t tell you how lifelike and quintessential it is.17
There’s also a very beautiful large seascape by Mesdag, and two Swiss things by him that I find rather inane, though they have a certain boldness — but not pursued and not felt.18 But the large seascape is superb.
By Willem Maris a delightful sow with a host of piglets.19
And a Jaap Maris — a very big townscape20 as strong as Vermeer of Delft.
Some time ago there was also an exhibition of French art from private collections21 — Daubigny, Corot, Jules Dupré, Jules Breton, Courbet, Diaz, Jacque, T. Rousseau — which at once stimulated me and yet made me feel a little melancholy, when I thought of how the faithful veterans have vanished one by one. Corot is no more. T. Rousseau, Millet, Daubigny — they’re resting from their work. Jules Breton, Jules Dupré, Jacque, E. Frère, they’re still with us, but how long will they still be going around in their smocks? They’re all already old and have one foot in the grave. And their successors — are they worthy of those first modern masters?
All the more reason to get on with things vigorously and not to slacken.
The new studio I have pleases me greatly and I find my subject matter here in the neighbourhood. I sincerely hope you’ll come here sooner or later, and I very much want to see some of your work or hear about it by letter.
My brother sends his regards. I told him you were working very busily.
I’m in the same position as you in the sense that I write few letters these days, and indeed am writing in haste now. I wish you well and good fortune in every respect, and believe me, with a handshake in thought,