My dear friend Rappard,
I received your letter and thank you very much for it. How I sometimes long to see something of your work. As for Arti, I think this is another of the usual tricks of those gentlemen, one of those things that do not change, that were and will remain what they are. I congratulate you on their refusal.
I can’t share a similar experience with you for the simple reason that I never even consider exhibiting. That sort of thing leaves me absolutely cold. I may occasionally long for one friend or another to come to the studio to look at something, which very rarely happens, but I’ve never felt a desire (and I don’t believe I ever shall) to bring the public to my work. I’m not indifferent as regards appreciation of my work — but that too should be quiet, and a certain popularity seems to me the least desirable of things. These past few days I’ve been gathering together the studies done since about the time of your visit. I found about one hundred figures of men, women, children, not counting what I drew in my sketchbook. Although the number isn’t that important, I mention it to show that I try to put some effort into it, and yet I’m looked down upon as nothing by people who certainly work less than I do, which also leaves me fairly cold, and no one here takes the slightest notice of my work.
And from that you can see that, although not exactly the same has happened to me as to you, it’s a near thing.
Yet, on the other hand if one wants to do figures I believe that first of all one must have what’s on a Xmas Number of Punch: Good will to all — to a high degree.1 One must have and retain a warm feeling of sympathy for people, for all in fact, otherwise the drawings remain cold and feeble. And I think it so necessary that one keep an eye on oneself and take care that one doesn’t become disenchanted in that respect, and that’s why I think there’s so little point in becoming involved in what I’ll just call the painters’ intrigues and doing anything other than remaining defensive towards them. And I think of the old saying, one gathers no figs of thistles,2 when I think that some believe they’re stimulated by spending a lot of time with artists. I believe Thomas a Kempis says somewhere: I have never been among men without feeling less a man.3 Similarly, I think one feels weaker, and rightly so, as an artist the more one mixes with artists. It’s only when people combine seriously to work together on something that’s too much for one person (such as Erckmann-Chatrian in their works or
1v:3 The Graphic draughtsmen for The Graphic) that I think it an excellent thing. In most cases it comes down to: they drank a glass &c. and left things as they were.4
Just as I said above that I long to see your work, so in turn I very often long for you to see mine again. Precisely because you would be of value to me, I believe, and you would see the whole that the individual drawings are gradually beginning to form, and we could talk about them and discuss whether something could be got out of them.
I’ve finally discovered, not without difficulty, how the women miners in the Borinage carry their sacks. You remember that I once did something with that – but it wasn’t yet right.
I now again have 12 studies for that same thing.5
You see, the opening of the sack is tied shut and hangs downwards. The corners at the bottom are tied together and this creates that charming sort of monk’s cowl. (The hands grasp it at 1 and 2.)6 I often had a woman pose with a sack and it never came out well. I learned about it from a man who loaded coal at the Rijnspoor yard.
This week I found the Punch of 1855 and that of 1862. In the first there’s a print — one of the old Swains — that is inexpressibly great in character. The then Emperor of Russia had said in his speech from the throne, I believe, alluding to the Crimean War then taking place, that Russia had two generals on whom it could rely, namely the winter months of January and February. In the month of February of that same year, however, it happened that H.M. the Emperor fell ill,
1r:4 having caught a cold, and died.
Now in this print, probably drawn by Tenniel, one sees the old Emperor on his deathbed and General Fevrier turned a traitor stands beside that deathbed, in the form of a skeleton in a general’s uniform — both the deathbed and the phantom standing beside it are covered in snow or glazed frost.7 It’s marvellous, and I find the sentiment if possible even more profound and more serious than Holbein’s Dance of Death.8
C.R. (Robinson) — I sent you what I consider a marvellous print by him — is rather uneven, that’s to say that, although his figures are always well drawn, it isn’t always gripping. But now I once more have a print that’s almost as beautiful as, for instance, the Afternoon in the King’s Road by Caldecott.9 It’s a long row of figures looking over a railing at a collapsed bridge.10
Do you have the Dagnan, Bird charmer in the Tuileries Gardens and the Montbard, Arab beggars, I wrote to you about?11 — you know that they’re at your disposal.
I found a beautiful print by Emslie, The rising of the waters, a peasant woman with 2 children on a half-flooded pasture with pollard willows.12
I assure you that whenever I’m a little downhearted, my collection of woodcuts gives me fresh heart to set to work myself. In all these fellows I see an energy and a willpower and a free, healthy, lively mind that stimulate me. And their work has something lofty and dignified about it — even if they’re drawing a dung-heap. When one reads in the book on Gavarni, about his drawings, that ‘he knocked off up to six a day’,13 and thinks of the enormous productivity of most of the men who make those footling illustrations (you know, ‘the things that lie in the Zuid-Hollandsch Koffiehuis’),14 then it sometimes occurs to one that there is indeed a remarkable amount of zeal and fire in them. Having something of that fire in oneself and continuing to stoke it is better in my view than the pedantry of those artists who consider it beneath them to look at them. I find the reasoning of your friend, or rather critical visitor (how should one put that?), about the ‘DISgraceful line’ very curious and typical. When the opportunity arises, please express my great respect for his wisdom and competence: although I don’t have the honour and pleasure of knowing His Hon. myself, the type isn’t entirely unknown to me and so &c. Ask your friend with his disgraceful line whether he has criticisms of the Saying grace by Degroux15 and the Last Supper by L. da Vinci,16 in which composition the heads are also placed practically in a straight line.
Don’t you find Andersen’s fairy tales very beautiful? — he must be another of those illustrators.
Do you know Harry Furniss, A midsummer night’s dream, depicting various characters — an old man, a street urchin, a drunkard &c. — who spend the night on a bench under a chestnut tree in the park?17 That print is as beautiful as the most beautiful Daumier.