My dear Theo,
Many sincere thanks for your letter and the enclosure. I was pleased to learn about your patient in more detail from it, the more so since it seemed to me that these reports may be called highly favourable. Isn’t what they call a white tumour1 something that sometimes occurs of its own accord in anaemia when certain malignant elements are in the blood? I don’t know for sure, but I believe that in itself the abscess in question isn’t something unusual and, given the proper treatment, not in the least dangerous. And otherwise you write various good things.
What you write about her influence on others is very nice. I believe in things like that — the influence exercised by a good person sometimes extends a long way. The comparison with leaven is well taken. Two good people — man and woman united — wanting and intending the same, steeped in the same earnestness, what couldn’t they achieve! I’ve thought about that often. For by uniting, the force for good is not only doubled but doubled many times — as if raised to a higher power, to put it in mathematical terms.2
Well – then your description of the house and its surroundings — the cab-stand is very good. Stands out from other townscapes by you because of the more distinctive staffage — the cab-stand is excellent. Couldn’t you arrange for the figure with the red nose to pose for me sometime?
I’m pleased that you’ve spoken to friend Wisselingh — so he’s come back to Paris — still in Cottier’s firm?3 Would you give him my regards when you have an opportunity? If he ever comes to Holland, a visit from him — which he has actually promised me by the way — would give me great pleasure. I’d like you to encourage him not to forget this, I still have various things to ask him about London. Has he seen the lithographs? I’d like to make his acquaintance all over again, I always found much in him that was attractive, and he knows a great deal and has a true and original feeling in matters of art. In short, is someone with character.
The little scratch overleaf is after a drawing I began early this morning and toiled away at all day.4 It’s perhaps the best I’ve done so far, at least as regards light and shade. I’m sending you the scratch (although I can’t possibly work on this paper so that the same strengths come into it, it’s out of proportion — and the drawing has more foreground) because I believe you’ll see in it what I gain by the change in the light in the studio. This figure is posed against the light and something more than an outline is required in order to depict it, since light from a single source gives character to the form and brings the strengths into harmony and rapport with each other. And in the first place this approach entails the difficulties of depicting what one has before one’s eyes, but in addition something else that requires a lot of hard work, namely the question of how to position a figure and to have the light fall such that the character comes out at its best and most perfect. One must have analyzed what one sees inside or outside as regards the light in such a way that one can re-create it.
I’m very pleased that you write that you have the natural chalk. It didn’t come in the post today, however, although you write that you’ve sent it. Should you have forgotten it, let me remind you about it again, and if you’ve already sent it, no doubt it will come soon. I again have a stock of lithographic crayon, and wanted to combine the natural chalk with that, which I believe must be possible.
This week I was busy drawing Wheelbarrows; one chap seen from behind has turned out fairly real, I think.5 Van der Weele came by, we held a viewing of woodcuts, very cosily on a wheelbarrow, for I’d just been working with a model. He’s also going to start collecting them, and is to take steps to get some from the estate of Stam the wood engraver that he collected.6 I hadn’t written before that little by little I have almost the whole Graphic complete, from the beginning in 1870.
Not everything, of course, there’s too much lumber for that, but the beauties from it.
When one sees it, Herkomer’s work from it for example, arranged together instead of dispersed amid a mass of insignificant things, in the first place it becomes more enjoyable and easier to view, but then one also begins to see the peculiarities of the various masters better, and the great difference between the draughtsmen.
How much I would like to see something by Lhermitte.7
I can’t tell you how happy I feel because of the improvements to the studio, and how preoccupied I am once more with all manner of figures that I must do.
Van der Weele saw the studies of heads from this winter among others — I’m certain they’ll be of use to me — as, indeed, will the other studies.
Do you know what pleased me? You remember that Van der W. also came by one time this winter8 — it’s months ago now — I was working on studies of Diggers at the time — one of which I tried to lithograph.9 He saw them but they didn’t seem to interest him, far from it.
Now he has evidently had diggers pose recently for the painting10 he’s working on, or observed them at work somewhere — anyway, he has taken a close look at diggers in nature.
When we came to those diggers while looking through my studies, the way he spoke about them was very different from what it was this winter — at least he didn’t say so readily ‘this or that is different’. This time I myself said nothing at all about them. But more and more I begin to see both in myself and others how mistaken one can often be when one thinks this or that ‘isn’t so’ or ‘doesn’t look right’; above all, one often says it instinctively when it isn’t applicable, I myself no less than others. One imagines one knows for certain, but has to retract if one wants to be fair.
Your description of the cab-stand and the venerable urinal and the bills stuck on it is really very good — it’s a great pity you don’t draw it.
Speaking of bills, the place where they’re put up is sometimes a curious parody of the bill, or the other way round.
To mention just one of many — at the entrance to the Lombard or pawnshop I saw a bill with the following words in big letters
NB. As you probably know, Eigen Haard is a magazine. I thought this one rather good; if one kept an eye out for them one would find even better ones.
Gavarni once came up with one, namely this. The entrance of a house with the announcement ‘Children weaned here’. Standing on the doorstep are a woman with a most unprepossessing appearance and a fellow with a short pipe in his mouth, evidently the people from the institution. A bill is posted on the wall. Lost a child — so and so.12
Similarly, At the meeting-place of the brotherhood is the sign of an estaminet where several drunken fellows are squabbling.13
Rappard wants to send a large painting to the Amsterdam exhibition. It shows 4 tile painters around a table.14 I’ve heard good things about it indirectly.
Although it isn’t part of my plan at present to do large paintings for exhibitions, I wouldn’t like to work less than Rappard, say.
I even find something encouraging in the fact that one person can work in this direction and another in that, and yet still feel a sympathy. Rivalry stemming from envy is completely different from trying to do one’s best to make the work as good as possible precisely out of respect for each other. Extremes meet15 — I don’t see the slightest value at all in envy, but I would despise a friendship that didn’t entail making an effort to keep up with one another.
What I’m beginning to long for very much at times is to work with several models at once. To do drawings that are slightly more complicated. But this desire isn’t pressing — after all, I have enough to do.
At Van der Weele’s I saw the studies for his big painting.16 Those studies were outstanding — conscientious — but anyone with some understanding of how studies from nature are made, and the difference between them and a painting or definitive composition, won’t expect to find the painting in the studies — obviously. One doesn’t see the greatness and unity of the painting in the studies — that’s not surprising. Because the studies are done for the figures, horses or people, it doesn’t matter, the setting is ignored, there’s not enough foreground, background, &c. They don’t look right, and they’re not standing in their place as in the painting. Does everyone understand that when looking at studies? Bear that in mind when you’re looking at mine — especially when sooner or later you see what I still have here. This week, for the fun of it, I set down one or two in a different proportion so that I could merge them into a whole. Through a simple indication of a few lines and washing in a few flat tones of sepia, what for once I’ll call the painting-like quality came into it naturally. I just mean to say — don’t think that I look differently from, say, Van der Weele as regards seeing space in nature. Adieu, write again soon, best wishes.
In this scratch you see something of what I said at the end of this letter — here there’s now no foreground at all — at any rate in the actual study there’s a little more — but if I combine this study with, for instance, one of the diggers, say the one I lithographed — then belonging with this is a large, flat piece of land in front and, for example, a brushwood fence behind, and right at the top something of the sky would be visible, just to indicate where the light comes from. Then perhaps it would become a composition breadthways, and the figure would be in its setting and in its place. If I did all that in the study itself, the figure would be so small that it would be of no use to me as a serious study for the figure. Believe me, the appearance isn’t a tough job, if my studies are good I’m very calm about that point.
And Space, Sky, breadth — don’t think that I rationalize them away — but one shouldn’t begin with them, first the foundation — then the roof will follow in its own time.