My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your letter and for the money.
There’s much that comes to mind when I read or re-read your letters about your patient. And I’d like to ask you much more and write to you — but because I only know the person through your letters, it’s all too vague and too indefinable, and occasionally I’ve torn up a letter about it. But believe this, it is constantly in my thoughts in spite of myself, and that such a meeting, apart from the melancholy thought of her suffering, is something you’re grateful for and regard as a rare piece of good fortune — that I can readily understand and I agree completely.
That je ne sais quoi, as with the heath, or that recalls her native country, the old coast of Brittany, is something that will become stronger rather than weaker with time, I believe, when you’ve been with her longer.
I thought1 your expression: ‘Will she later be like the dog with the shepherd, or something better?’ quite typical — don’t you think it likely that it will vary considerably from time to time? In one and the same love there are so many different states or metamorphoses — precisely because of the loyalty to one and the same love — that it’s constantly changing.
It’s still a difficult phase, that operation — if I were you I shouldn’t talk to her too much about looking for a job later — given that, especially in relation to her foot, the future is so uncertain — better leave it uncertain. For I would fear that, precisely in a crisis of pain, say, that she might very inopportunely get an idée fixe such as ‘I must do this or that’ — this does happen with women who are ill — which might make her somewhat obstinate, against her own heart, and which would grieve you, because it was out of delicacy that you wanted to leave her future FREE and independent through the idea of a job, and she might take it that you were more indifferent to her than is the case. This may be putting it too vaguely, but women by no means always understand delicacy, any more than humour, and while one certainly ought to act with delicacy, this sometimes leads to misunderstandings (although in my view one can’t be held responsible for that) which make life more difficult. Anyway.
I don’t know whether Heyerdahl, for instance, would find anything picturesque about the woman I am with — in her everyday actions. But Daumier certainly would. I thought of Heyerdahl’s words — I don’t like a figure to be too degenerate — when I was drawing not the woman but the old man with a bandage over his eye,2 and I found they were not true. There are ruins, absolute ruins, of physiognomies, which nonetheless have something that I see fully expressed in, for example, the Hille Bobbe by Frans Hals3 or some heads by Rembrandt. Now, as for Heyerdahl, I don’t really doubt that the intention behind what he said was good, but if one didn’t bear that in mind I don’t think it would be valid.
In the last letter I wrote to you I asked in passing about the work of Lhermitte.4 In reviews of the Black and White he almost always comes out on top as ‘the Millet and Jules Breton in Black and White’, and there was, for instance, a description of a drawing of old women on the cliffs,5 and it said of his way of working that no one was bolder, more audacious, more vigorous than he, to such an extent that it was astounding and was unlike any other drawings, and was approached more broadly than the broadest. He was compared with Legros too, but only with the most outstanding, most excellent drawings or etchings by Legros, which are also very vigorous and broad, for example the pew.6
Old chap, I’m still a little weak, and I’ve had a pretty clear warning that I must be careful — my eyes sometimes seemed tired to me, but I didn’t want to imagine things. But last night, for example, there was a great discharge of the fluid one always has in the eyes and my eyelashes kept sticking together, and looking is an effort and is cloudy, so to speak.
Now, since about the middle of December I’ve been slogging away without stopping, mainly on those heads. This last week I’ve deliberately gone out of doors a good deal to refresh myself, and taken several baths and washed my head often with cold water &c. &c. But at a time like this one feels so ill — I have a big pile of studies, but they give me no pleasure and I think them all bad.
Rappard wrote to me again this week, will only get back to normal slowly, he wrote, was weak but beginning to go for a walk outside now and then. Otherwise wrote lucidly and clearly about various things to do with work.
Now and then everything outside looks spring-like, and it won’t be long before the lark sings in the meadow again.
Will you still come in the spring??? Now I fear not. I’d like to discuss the studies from this winter — with you, and with Rappard too, sometime — he’ll come one day when he’s better.
I’ll rest for about a week or so sometime, and continue to go for walks out of doors — to get new ideas. I wanted to get something from my studies for watercolours, for instance, but that’s not working at all well at the moment.
In my eyes and my face I now look as if I’ve been having a high old time — which of course is not the case — on the contrary, but who knows if some time from now I don’t even notice that someone I meet has remarked that I’m evidently going downhill? These things are sometimes so silly that I can’t help laughing at them.
When the sun sets in the evenings there are effects of dark clouds with silver edges that are superb if one is walking on Bezuidenhout or Boschkant, for example.7 You’ll remember that. It’s also beautiful from the window of the studio or in the meadow — one feels spring in the distance, and now and again the air is already balmy.
Adieu, old chap, thanks again for your letter, good luck with your patient — I hope that I’ll soon find a drawing or a study again with something in it. It’s so disagreeable when one must ‘take a rest’. One cannot rest precisely because one must. Adieu, with a handshake.