My dear friend Rappard.
Sincerest thanks for your letter and for the information about the woodcuts you’ve found. I’d very much like to see some of them, particularly Degroux and Lançon.
The fact that you’re recovering so well gives me no little pleasure. You know that before your illness we were corresponding fairly regularly about the lithographs, and then we had to break off that correspondence.
Since then I’ve been toiling away, not directly on stone but using lithographic crayon.
That’s an excellent material.
If I write quite frequently now, please bear with me, and for your part write often too, for you have some way to catch up — although not you yourself but the circumstances of your illness are to blame for that.
I do assure you that The Graphics I now have are amazingly interesting. More than 10 years ago I used to go every week to the display case of the printer of The Graphic and London News in London to see the weekly publications.1 The impressions I gained there on the spot were so strong that the drawings have remained clear and bright in my mind, despite everything that has since gone through my head. And now it sometimes seems to me as if nothing lies between those old days and now — at any rate my old enthusiasm for them is now greater rather than less than it was originally. I don’t doubt for a moment that you’ll have no complaints if you come to see them one day.
I know that you don’t look on the Black and White in the way that most of the Dutch do, and while I don’t know for sure whether you have plans to make use of this means yourself to express what you feel, I do believe that at any rate you have no prejudice about it. The one needn’t rule out the other, and in many cases Black and White especially is a means that makes it possible to put effects on paper in a relatively short time which would lose something of what people call their ‘spontaneity’ if done in another way. I wonder whether the London sketches — such as Low lodging house St Giles’s by Herkomer,2 Casual ward by Fildes3 — wouldn’t be a little less compelling and full of character if painted than they are in the rough Black and White.
There’s something manly about it, something rough that I find highly attractive. Something else — the boss of Black and White may be someone neither you nor I know. In reviews of exhibitions I see mention made
1v:2 of the work of Lhermitte, a Frenchman who does scenes from the life of fishermen in Brittany. It’s said of him that ‘he is the Millet and Jules Breton in Black and White’, and his name crops up again and again.4 I’d like to be able to see something by him, and have recently written5 about him to my brother, who has given me very good information several times in the past (about Daumier’s painted work, for example).
As to the lithographs, the one of the chap sitting on a basket slicing his bread6 is a failure. When it was being transferred to the stone, the upper half came out all blotted and I could only partly correct it with the scraper. All the same you’ll see that there are things in them that prove that with this technique one can work vigorously and render materials, for example the basket, the trousers and muddy boots. And while I myself found this sheet very ugly in the first days, I’ve since become more reconciled to it, and if I began again I’d continue in the same, more vigorous way — with a background behind.
I read in Herkomer’s biography how in his early days (when the incident with the rough sketch of Sunday at Chelsea Hospital took place) he did his best to find some among the artists of that time who also wanted to do figures from the people.7 He then found Gregory,8 who was the first to come up with sketches from the Franco-Prussian War (Paris under the red flag ((I didn’t know at first that this print was by him)) and an emergency hospital in a theatre), and later confined himself to scenes on board ships.9 And Gregory and Herkomer have remained friends ever since.
Now your writing to me about getting better brings back the days last summer when I too was getting better.
There’s something that dates from that time that I must tell you about. Perhaps I wrote to you about it at the time but I don’t remember for sure. Do you recall that when you visited me last summer we met a woman and I told you that she was a model I’d found, and also told you how I discovered that she was pregnant and tried all the harder to help her because of that?
Soon after that I fell ill myself. She was then in the hospital in Leiden, and in hospital I got a letter from her saying how anxious she was. Before then — during the winter when she suffered terribly — I did what I could, and now I was deeply divided within myself as to what to do. Could, should I help? I was ill myself and the future was so dark. Nonetheless, I got up, against the doctor’s advice in fact, and went to see her. I saw her in the hospital in Leiden on 1 July. That night she had given birth to a boy who lay sleeping in his cradle beside her with his pert little nose above the blanket — knowing nothing, of course, about the ways of the world. At any rate, a sick painter like me struggling to get by knows things about it a child like that doesn’t know.
And what should I do? I had much to think about at that moment. She’d had a very difficult birth, the poor creature of a mother. Aren’t there moments in life when remaining inactive or saying, ‘What’s it to do with me?’ is criminal? At any rate, I said to the woman, when you’re better, move in with me. I’ll do what I can. Now, my dear friend, this woman had another child as well, a sickly, neglected lamb. It was an undertaking that was in fact considerably further beyond my strength than, say, buying The Graphic, but what else could I do? A person has a heart in his body after all, and if we didn’t dare take on things we wouldn’t be worthy of life. Well, she moved in with me — I went to live in a house that wasn’t even entirely finished and that I could get for a relatively low rent. That’s where I still live, two doors along from my old studio, it’s No. 138. And we’re still there. But now the baby from the cradle in the hospital doesn’t sleep as much as in those first few days.
1r:4 He’s turned out to be a delightful, lively fellow, now 7 or 8 months old. I fetched his cradle from a junk shop on my shoulders, and that child — for me he was a light in the house through the whole dark winter. And the woman, although she isn’t strong and must nevertheless work hard to keep everything in order, has still become stronger because of it. So you see that while I try to penetrate deeper into Art, I also try to do that in life itself — the two go together.
That I’ve had no lack of unpleasantness with former friends who no longer looked me in the eye is something that didn’t particularly surprise me.
This was happily not the case with my best friend, namely my brother — for he and I are more friends than brothers — and he’s someone who understands such matters, and not only that — he himself has helped and still helps many an unfortunate. Nonetheless, I’ve lost some friends because of it, but I’ve gained more light and shade in my own house and more of a Home, even though sometimes when cares weigh heavily on me it’s as if I were on a ship in a storm. Anyway, though I know very well that the sea holds dangers and one can drown in it, I still love the sea deeply and despite all the perils of the future I have a certain serenity.
Now I have a great desire to speak to you again, and I’d very much like you to come to see The Graphics before long, if you can, but I write to you in advance about the changes in my household because I don’t know exactly what you think of such matters in life. If we were in the days of the ‘Bohème’, a painter’s family and studio like mine would be nothing unusual.10 Nowadays, though, we’re a very long way from the original Bohème, and among the painters there are considerations of decency that I don’t exactly understand, but I don’t wish to offend those who have them.
Again, were we still in the days of Bohème, I’d let everything take its course, but now I say to you, my dear friend Rappard, I live with a poor woman and two children, and there are so many who will have no dealings with me, for that and other reasons, that I’m bound to tell you this when I write, Would you like to come and go through The Graphics one of these days?
What I must also tell you is that when my father first heard about this, you will understand that he wasn’t best pleased, or rather didn’t know what to think, not having expected such a thing from me. Then we saw each other again nonetheless, which hadn’t happened since I came here after leaving home because of the problems there. And when he heard more of the details, he looked at it differently from at first. The disagreement I had with him when I left home didn’t last long, and we’d already settled our differences before I was with this woman. Since then even my father has paid me a visit while I was living with her.
But how many misunderstandings there are in life, and how much better everything would be if people cooperated a little more instead of arguing.
Oh, old chap, I wish more of the Bohème was left in society, and especially among the painters.
Above all, you mustn’t think that it’s because of the woman that they don’t visit me; that’s one thing, but in general it’s because of the painting itself, although this summer I certainly painted studies too. In short, contact with painters here has been a severe disappointment to me. Will it get any better???
One painter here recently ended up in the madhouse — Boks, a landscape painter.11 It was very difficult to get help for him before he was in there, although during one illness he did get some help after all, chiefly through Mauve. Now that he’s inside, everyone speaks sympathetically of him and calls him very clever.
2v:6 Among others, a person12 who refused him help on several occasions and rejected studies by him said lately, ‘finer than Diaz’, which I find rather an exaggeration. The chap himself told me a year ago that he got a medal in England — which he’d sold for the silver. Another painter, Breitner, with whom at first I occasionally went out drawing in the street, and who was in the hospital at just about the same time as I was, has become a teacher at the secondary school, although I know he wasn’t looking forward to it.
Is it a good time for the painters??? When I first came here to the city I went to all the studios I could get into for the sake of seeking contact and making friends. Now I’m much cooler on that point, and believe that there is a very dark side to it, precisely because the painters seem warm-hearted but all too often try to trip you up. That’s the fatal thing. We should help and trust each other, for there are hostilities enough in society anyway, and in general we’d do better if we did no harm to each other. Envy drives many to malign others, systematically. And what is the result? — instead of one large entity, a body of painters where unity is strength, everyone withdraws into his shell and works by himself. Those who are now cock of the walk create a kind of desert around them just because of their envy, and that’s very unfortunate for themselves, it seems to me. A battle with paintings or drawings is good in a sense, and at any rate fair, but we shouldn’t become personal enemies of each other or use other means for fighting.
Anyway, if this kind of thing is no obstacle for you, think about coming to see those Graphics, for they’re splendid, and I’d like to have a word with you about what to do with the duplicates. For there are many, and among them some of the very finest, Last muster by Herkomer,13 old women’s home,14 Low lodging house St Giles’s15 by him. Emigrants16 and BOARD SCHOOL by Frank Holl.17 Caxton printing by Small,18 Barque at sea by Nash,19Old Gate by Fred Walker20 and suchlike that are the core of a woodcut collection. In short, it’s a lot. From earlier correspondence I understand that you don’t want to have them for nothing,21 though for my part I would gladly give you what I have in duplicate without further conditions, as long as you take pleasure in them and love them.
But I know for sure that we can arrange it so that you needn’t feel any qualms about accepting them and, since this can certainly be settled one way or another, it seems to me that perhaps we may soon meet each other again, especially if your recovery continues to progress.
And I would find it all the more desirable if you came because I’ve now put together a large number of studies from this winter which I’d like to speak to you about.
I would have written to you before about one or two things that I’m telling you now, but it was still so strange for me myself, and I was rather put out by some unpleasantness with others. And I’m writing about it now, not because I regard you as someone with narrow views on life, and not because I believe you’ll find anything incomprehensible in what I did, but because I wouldn’t think it honest of myself if, while
3v:8 asking you: couldn’t you come and see these woodcuts?, I didn’t say that things in my household had changed considerably since your visit, and that because of that change many avoid me and would certainly never set foot inside.
The studio is much larger than my old one, but I’m always afraid that the landlord will raise the rent or find tenants who can pay more than I.
Still, as long as I can keep it, it’s a very good studio.
If you reckon that almost every one I already had from The Graphic has now become a duplicate, you’ll understand that it’s rather a lot.
And I have hopes of getting some more, especially from the very first volumes.
I’ve had both illusions and disappointments with other women once or twice, and in the past I didn’t imagine that I would end up like this. But there was something that struck me in this woman, that as a mother she was so alone and abandoned, and I didn’t hesitate, and neither then nor now do I believe I did wrong. For in my view one shouldn’t pass by where a woman is a mother and is abandoned and in need. This is a figure like those done by Holl or Fildes.
If you do come before long, don’t make your visit too short. The Graphics are so beautiful that I believe that, even while you’re still weak, provided the journey itself isn’t too tiring (as it happens, I live close by Rijnspoor station), looking at them could revive and strengthen you. Anyway, do as you think fit.
With a handshake.