My dear friend Rappard —
Thanks for your letter, I was interested to learn that you’re again working on your painting The tile painters.1 In your letter I also found something about your coming here, and that was all the more reason to send you the duplicate woodcuts I still have left quickly, since I believe you would rather not wait any longer than necessary. At any rate after seeing them, you’ll regard various prints as not unwelcome possessions, I imagine.
I’ve also taken The Graphic Portfolio apart and inserted it between my loose prints.2 This is why you already have Low lodging house by Herkomer,3 and several of the best of this consignment too. I’m sending you the ordinary impressions of some prints that I obtained in duplicate in this way, and in the case of some the prints from the book itself, which are printed not from the clichés but from the blocks themselves.
In this consignment you’ll at last find something by Boyd Houghton, namely Shaker Evans,4 Liverpool harbour,5 Mail in the wilderness6 and Niagara falls.7 Once you’ve seen my Boyd Houghtons from the first year of The Graphic you will better understand what I wrote to you about the importance of this master’s work. Van der Weele saw them this week and was also struck by them.
This week I worked on drawings of figures with wheelbarrows8 — perhaps for lithography as well — yet what do I know of how it will turn out? — I just carry on drawing. As I wrote, Van der Weele came by this week — I was just working with a model — and we held a viewing from The Graphic on a wheelbarrow that I had drawn with the model. One sheet that we paid particular attention to was by Boyd Houghton — I wrote to you about it at the time — it shows a corridor at the offices of The Graphic at Christmas. The draughtsmen’s models come to wish them a merry Xmas and no doubt receive a tip. Most of the models are disabled — a man on crutches leads the way — holding on to his coat-tail is a blind person with someone else on his back who can’t walk at all — his coat-tail is held by a second blind person who is followed by an injured person with a bandage round his head, behind whom yet more come trudging along.9 I asked Van der Weele — Tell me, do we take models often ENOUGH??? Van der W. replied: When Israëls was at my studio lately and saw my big painting of the sand-carts,10 he said: ‘Now above all take plenty of models’.
Now I believe that many people would use more models if they had more money to spend — but still, as long as we always spend on them every 10 stuivers we can spare.
It would be wonderful if people joined forces and there was a place where models would rendezvous each day, as at The Graphic
1v:3 in the past.11 Anyway, be that as it may, let’s keep up each other’s enthusiasm, and let’s encourage each other, as far as we can, to carry on working. Not in the direction of pleasing dealers or the ordinary art lovers but in the direction of manly strength, truth, loyalty, honesty.
Which are all directly connected, in my view, with working with models. It seems that everything one makes in this way is doomed to be called ‘disagreeable’, but I believe this far from imaginary but definitely existing prejudice ought to give way all the same before the attempts of the painters against it, provided the painters are agreed on this between themselves and support and help each other, and don’t allow the dealers to be the only ones who speak to the public, but put a word in for themselves now and again. For while I’m prepared to accept that what a painter says about his own work won’t always be understood, I still believe that in this way better seed would be scattered in the field of public opinion than the seeds the dealers and their associates are in the habit of sowing according to a conventional formula that’s always the same.
These thoughts naturally bring me to the field of exhibitions. You work for exhibitions — fine — I myself am decidedly not at all fond of exhibitions.
I used to be fonder of them in the past than I am now — I don’t know why this is — in the past I viewed exhibitions from a different angle — perhaps in the past I had ample occasion to see behind the scenes of certain affairs connected to exhibitions &c. — and perhaps it isn’t just nonchalance on my part that I believe that many are mistaken regarding the results of an exhibition. I don’t want to discuss it further now, other than to say that I myself would have more faith in a coming together of painters through mutual sympathy and similarity of purpose and warm friendship and loyalty than in a coming together of their works by means of exhibitions.
This is why, when I see paintings hung together in the same room, I don’t yet venture to conclude that a spirit of unity and a respect for each other and a certain healthy collaboration exists among those who made the aforementioned paintings &c. I regard this last point — the existence or non-existence of these things — as being of such great weight that little else qualifies as possibly being important, other than in connection with this spiritual unity, and whatever other matters, important in themselves, there may be apart from that, no surrogate can make up for the lack of that unity, and the lack of that is a lack of firm ground under one’s feet. I don’t have the least desire for exhibitions &c. to stop, but I do desire a reform or rather renewal and strengthening of the associations and the collaboration between painters, which would certainly have the kind of influence that would make even exhibitions beneficial. As for your Tile painters — I was interested to hear that you’re working on it again — I’m especially interested in what it’s like and what it will become. I take an interest in everything to do with this painting or with your other paintings, and see something of them and hear about them with sympathy — but whether or not they go to an exhibition matters as little to me as what kind of frame you have them in. Well, adieu — write again soon.
I dislike writing or talking about technique in general, Rappard — although all the same I sometimes long to talk about how to realize some idea or other that I might have, be it with you or with someone else, and I don’t take the practical value of such discussions lightly.
However, this latter doesn’t alter the first thought — which perhaps I’m not expressing properly. That first thought — I can’t exactly put it into words — is based not on something negative but on something positive.
In the positive awareness that art is something larger and loftier than our own skill or learning or knowledge. That art is something which, although produced by human hands, is not wrought by the hands alone but wells up from a deeper source in our soul, and that I find something in dexterity and technical knowledge about art that reminds me of what, in religion, they’d call self-righteousness.
My sympathies in the literary as well as the artistic sphere are drawn most strongly to those artists in whom I see the soul most at work. Israëls, for instance, is a clever technician, but Vollon is equally so — I like Israëls even more than Vollon, though, because in Israëls I see something more and something very different from the masterly rendering of fabrics, something very different from the light and shade, something very different from the colour — yet that something very different being achieved by that accurate rendering of the effect of light, fabric, colour. Eliot really has that ‘something different’, which I see, as I said, in Israëls much more than in Vollon, and Dickens has it too.
Does it lie in the choice of subjects? No, that too is another consequence.
And what I’m getting at, among other things, is that Eliot is masterly in execution, but above and beyond that is that extra something of singular genius of which I would say: perhaps one improves by reading these books — or, these books have the power to invigorate.
Without meaning to I wrote a lot about exhibitions there, actually I barely think about them. Now I do happen to be thinking about them, and I view my thoughts with a degree of surprise. I wouldn’t be expressing them fully enough if I didn’t add that there’s something so thoroughly honest and good in some paintings that, whatever is done with them — whether they fall into good or into bad — into honest or dishonest hands — something good comes from them. ‘Let your light shine before men’12 is something that I believe is every painter’s duty, but — it doesn’t, in my view, immediately follow that letting the light shine before men has to be done in exhibitions — I have to tell you that, rather than wanting to hide the candle under the bed instead of putting it in a candlestick, I wish there were more and better opportunities than exhibitions to bring art to the people. Anyway, enough of that.
I recently re-read Eliot’s Felix Holt, The radical. This book has been very well translated into Dutch.13 I hope you know it — if you don’t know it, see if you can’t get hold of it somewhere.
There are certain ideas about life in it that I find outstanding — profound things said in a plain way — it’s a book written with great spirit, and various scenes are described exactly as Frank Holl or someone like him would draw them. It’s a similar conception and outlook. There aren’t many writers who are as thoroughly sincere and good as Eliot. This book, The radical, isn’t as well known in Holland as, say, her Adam Bede, and her scenes from clerical life aren’t very well known either — more’s the pity, in the same way that it’s a great pity that not everyone knows Israëls’s work.