My dear Theo,
Just a few words to congratulate you on 10 Sept.1
I don’t know whether I told you that I’ve had a letter from Wil in which she gives a quite charming description of the countryside at Nuenen. It does seem to be really beautiful there. I’ve asked her for more information on one or two points about the weavers, who especially interest me. I saw that at the time in the Pas de Calais2 — inexpressibly beautiful.
But in the meantime I don’t need to paint weavers, although sooner or later I hope I’ll get round to that. Now it’s autumn in the woods — that preoccupies me.
There are two things about the autumn that particularly attract me. Sometimes there’s a gentle melancholy in the falling leaves, in the tempered light, in the haziness of things, in the elegance of the slender trunks. Then, I like the more robust, rougher side just as much — the strong light effects, for example on a digger3 sweating in the midday sun. Herewith a few scratches of studies I did this week.4
I’ve been thinking again about the workmen in Montmartre you described in your last letter. I vaguely recalled that there was someone who did them extremely well.
I mean A. Lançon. I had another look at the woodcuts I have by him — how clever that chap is. Among them I saw a gathering of rag-pickers,5 a soup distribution6 and Gang of snow-shovellers,7 which I think is splendid. And he’s so productive — it’s as if he just dashes them off.
Speaking of woodcuts, this week I found some fine ones — from L’Illustration. It’s a series by Paul Renouard, The prisons of Paris. What beautiful things it contains.8 If I can’t sleep at night, which often happens, I always rummage among the woodcuts with new enjoyment.
Another excellent draughtsman is J. Mahoney, who illustrated the Household edition of Dickens.9
I believe that through painting I’ll come to feel the light better, so that in my drawings, too, there’ll be something very different.
How much is involved before one can express something — but in that very difficulty lies a stimulus.
Here’s another scratch from the woods. I’ve made a large study of it.10 I feel the power to produce so strongly within myself, I’m aware that there will come a time when I’ll finish something good, so to speak, daily, and do so regularly.
At present hardly a day passes without my making a few things, but it isn’t yet what I really want.
Well — sometimes it seems to me that I’ll become productive very soon — I shouldn’t be surprised if it happens one fine day. I’ve an idea that in any case painting will also indirectly awaken something in me. Here, for example, is a scratch of the potato market in Noordwal.11 The bustle of workmen and women, with the baskets being unloaded from the barge — it’s a very interesting sight.
These are things I would like to paint or draw forcefully. The life and movement of such a scene, and the types of folk.
It doesn’t surprise me, though, that I can’t do this straightaway, and that so far when I try I’ve often failed. Now, through painting, I’ll certainly become handier with colours, and better able to capture such a subject. Well, the point is to be patient and carry on working. I’m sending you the scratch — I make so many like this — precisely to tell you that things like that scene, say, with the workmen in Montmartre do indeed preoccupy me. They require a general knowledge of the figure that I’m trying to gain by drawing large figure studies. And provided I continue to work on that, I firmly believe that, as I say, I’ll reach the point where I can express the bustle of workmen I see on the street or outdoors.
The place where I saw the potato market is so interesting. All the poor people from the Geest district, from Ledig Erf12 and from all the courtyards in that neighbourhood come to it. Similar scenes take place there all the time: now it’s a barge with peat, then one with fish, then with coal or something else. I have a host of sketches by English artists from Ireland — I think the neighbourhood I’m writing about probably has much in common with an Irish town. I’m doing my very best to put all my energy into it, for I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort — and disappointment and perseverance.
Here’s a part of the woods in the evening after rain. I can’t tell you how superb that effect was in nature, with the bronze of the greenery and the fallen leaves here and there.
I wish you could walk there in the evening sometime, in the superb autumn woods here. What I’ll bring out of it this year will be only a meagre harvest. Well, a few things nevertheless I hope, and with time more and more.
Meanwhile, my paint is finished. I sincerely hope you aren’t hard pressed yourself. At all events, I hope you’ll be able to send the usual on 10 Sept. This afternoon I must go to the potato market — it’s impossible to paint there because of the crowd — they’re enough trouble already. One ought to be allowed to enter any of the houses and sit down at the windows without further ado. Anyway, it’s Saturday evening, and so there’s bound to be something to do that makes a typical scene.
Wishing you the very best — be assured that I think of you every day. Adieu, with a handshake.