My dear Theo,
The weeks pass quickly — and we’re at Sunday again. Have been to Scheveningen quite often lately, and one evening, very interestingly, happened to see a pink arriving. There’s a wooden shed near the monument1 where a fellow keeps a look-out. As soon as the pink could clearly be seen approaching, the fellow emerged with a big blue flag, followed by a gang of children no higher than his knees. It was evidently a great pleasure for them to stand next to the man with the flag, and no doubt in their imagination to help bring the pink in. A few minutes after the man had waved his flag, a fellow rode up on an old horse – he was to get the anchor. The group was then joined by several men and women – including mothers with children — who were to receive the crew.
When the pink was close enough, the fellow on the horse went into the sea and returned with the anchor.
Then the men were carried onto the beach on the backs of fellows in high waders, and there was a noisy welcome for each arrival.
When they were all ashore, the crowd trooped off home like a flock of sheep or a caravan, with the fellow on the camel, I mean the horse, rising above them like a tall wraith.
Naturally, I tried to sketch the various events with my full attention.
I also painted something of it, namely the small group in the enclosed scratch.2
Then I also painted a study of a seascape, nothing but a bit of sand, sea, sky, grey and lonely3 — sometime I feel a need for that silence — where there’s nothing but the grey sea — with an occasional seabird. But otherwise, no other voice than the murmur of the waves. It’s in order to refresh me after the din of the Geest district or the potato market. Apart from that, this week I’ve worked mostly on sketches in watercolours. I’ve also come a long way with the large one of the bench,4 and in addition done a sketch of women in the hospital garden,5 and a bit of the Geest district.6 You’ll see from the accompanying scratch7 what I’m searching for. Groups of people doing something or other.
But how hard it is to get life and movement into it, and to get the figures in place and separate from each other. It’s that great problem — moutonner,8 groups of figures who, though forming a whole, gather to look with the heads and shoulders one above the other at the top, while in the foreground the legs of the first figures stand out clearly, and higher up the skirts and trouser-legs again form a sort of confused tangle in which there is nevertheless some detail. Then to right and left, depending on the viewpoint, the extension or shortening of the sides. As to composition, all possible scenes with figures, be it a market or the arrival of a boat, or a crowd of people at the soup kitchen — in the waiting room, the hospital, the pawnshop, the groups on the street, talking or strolling, are based on that same principle of the flock of sheep from which the word moutonner certainly derives — and everything comes down to the same questions of light and shade and perspective. The effect of the chestnut trees that you describe in your last letter is here too, as you’ll have seen from the drawing of the bench — it’s just that here one sees very little left of the new green leaves, although some time ago I noticed it too. But here they’ve been withered by the frequent gales. Perhaps we may soon have the true falling of the leaves here — that’s when, above all, I hope to paint many more studies of the woods. And no fewer of the beach for, though there are no effects of autumn leaves there, the peculiar light of autumn evenings does its work and it’s doubly beautiful there, as everywhere, at this time.
I’m a little concerned about paint and a few other things, but you know all about it, I can vary my work in several ways, and there is and will continue to be an endless amount of things to draw. Because the group of folk in the accompanying scratch has endless variations and requires countless separate studies and scratches of individual figures which one must catch on the street as if on the wing. Character and meaning must gradually come into it in that way. For instance, I recently drew a study of gentlemen and ladies on the beach9 — a flurry of strollers. I would be really pleased if sooner or later, after even more or even less effort, I could supply drawings for illustrated magazines. One might follow from the other. The point is to keep on working. I sincerely hope that you’re well, and would greatly welcome any news about yourself and what strikes you in your surroundings. Adieu, with a hearty handshake.
I’m so concerned that you yourself might perhaps be in serious difficulties as a result of what you wrote to me about, and do hope that it will be settled.