My dear Theo,
When you were here we talked about that drawing1 that I was to send you — further to which I’ve already sent you that small bench.2 I’m enclosing a few sketches to show you that I do indeed plan to carry on working in that genre.
I’m working on a watercolour of the one with the herds of orphans with their spiritual shepherds3 — with which I’ll probably not succeed to the point of making it saleable.
But to show you that figures with some character in them don’t get there of their own accord, and that I nonetheless take great pleasure in overcoming that, I’m also sending you scratches of figure studies which I did recently, and which are of course more elaborate than these little sketches.4
Supposing I had remained on good terms with Mauve, I believe that if I had done a watercolour like the small bench or the present one with the orphans, he would have given me tips that would have made it saleable and changed its final appearance. With many people’s watercolours or paintings it’s even the case that some painter or other does some work on them, sometimes transforming them completely. I miss that now, but although I certainly don’t disapprove of more skilled painters either giving tips or even doing some work (mainly because it’s so vital for the younger ones to earn a little in order to keep going), I don’t think it’s entirely a misfortune to wrestle alone. What one learns from oneself one learns less quickly, but it imprints itself more deeply.
I went to see the drawings in the Gothic Room.5 I thought the Rochussen superb. It was something from the Napoleonic period: French officers in a room in an old village hall who appear to be demanding papers or information from the mayor and the councillors.6 It was so real, that little old mayor and then those generals, just exactly as Erckmann-Chatrian describes it in Madame Thérèse.7 It gave me an extraordinary amount of pleasure. There were also very beautiful things by Allebé too, drawings from Artis,8 and also a landscape with pine trees on the rocks on the coast through which a fisherman’s house is seen below.9 There were beautiful town and beach views with small figures by Hoeterickx.10 However beautiful I find his present drawings, it seems to me a pity that he hasn’t stuck to his first manner, when he did types from the common folk (such as a painting At the pawnbroker’s).11
It’s more or less the same with drawing as with writing. When one learns to write as a child, one has the feeling that one will never discover how to do it, and it seems to be a miracle when one sees the schoolmaster write so quickly. Nevertheless, in time one grasps it. And I really believe that one must learn to draw in such a way that it’s as easy as writing something down, and that one must master proportion and learn to see in such a way that one can reproduce at will whatever one sees on a larger or smaller scale.12
We’re having very beautiful bad weather at present — rain, wind, thunderstorms — but with splendid effects, that’s why I find it beautiful, but it does feel raw, by the way.
The time that one can sit outside is already getting decidedly shorter, and it’s important to make the most of it before winter comes.
Towards winter I empty the studio, namely take the studies off the walls and obstacles out of the way, so that I have a good space for working with models.
I feel that I need a host of figure studies, including Scheveningen ones.
When the opportunity arises I’d like to have the studies back that you don’t want to keep from among those you have, that is when there’s an opportunity to send them. If there’s something you would like to keep, or if there’s something you would like among what I have here, you only have to say so, for I regard it all as belonging to you. But if I ask for it back it’s because what one does directly from the model is often needed for watercolours, for example. But there’s no hurry, only don’t throw them away even if they’re not very beautiful, because everything is of use.
I don’t think I’m deceiving myself if I believe that being and remaining productive has to do with the studies one has and continues to make. The greater their variety, the harder one labours at them, the easier one works later when it comes to actual paintings or drawings. In short, I think of the studies as seed, and the more one sows the more one may hope to reap.13
In the last few days I’ve been reading Les deux frères by Erckmann-Chatrian, which is quite beautiful.14 It was certainly an interesting time when there were so many artists in Alsace: Brion, Marchal, Jundt, Vautier, Knaus, Schuler, Saal, Van Muyden, and many others surely15 — at the same time as a group of writers working in the same spirit like Chatrian and Auerbach.16 Personally, I prefer that to Tapiró or Capobianchi,17 or the host of other Italians who appear to be still multiplying.
Adieu, believe me, with a handshake,
You’ll see from this little scratch that I’ve begun doing what I spoke about in my last letter,18 namely trying to make notes regularly, either drawn or painted, of the scenes of workmen or fishermen that strike me, and these are precisely the things that could serve for illustrated magazines, I believe, if I practise them. It goes without saying, though, that then the types must be raised to a much higher standard.
I have at least 10 different events surrounding the arrival of that pink.19
Likewise the one I sent in an earlier letter, the weighing of the anchor.20