My dear Theo,
This week I’ve been busy working on a large drawing,1 a scratch of which I’m sending.2 When I talked to Rappard, he said ‘those very first drawings of yours were good after all, you should do something in that genre again’.
Do you remember that in the very beginning I once sent you sketches of a sort, ‘Winter Tale’, Shadows passing, etc.?3 You said at the time that you thought the action of the figures was insufficiently expressed — do you remember? Now that was entirely true, but for a few years now I’ve been toiling solely on the figure in order to get some action and also some structure into it. And precisely because of that toil, I had rather lost my enthusiasm for composing and for making my imagination work once more.
It was reawakened when Rappard talked about those early days with a certain warmth. Now, however superficial this little sketch may be, I believe you’ll find something of the earliest time in it, but just with more action.
This is Peat diggers in the dunes — the drawing itself is now about 1 metre by 1/2 metre.
It’s a wonderfully beautiful sight in nature, from which an infinite number of subjects can be taken. I went there often these last few weeks and have all kinds of studies of it. Rappard saw studies of it, but when he was here we didn’t know how to bring it together. This composition came about later. And once I’d finally got it all just about together, it went quite smoothly, and at 4 o’clock in the morning I was already working on it in the attic.
Now that I’ve begun composing again, my plan is to execute more things which I have in my mind and for which I already have studies.
And have made arrangements for that by having stretching frames &c. made, and also a big wooden frame so that I can work in the frame and enclose the drawing.
I believe you may not be opposed to taking this one when it’s finished to show to the people at the illustrated magazines. And will take greater pleasure from something like this than from separate studies. I don’t know in advance, though, and we can see when you come.
But, old chap, I’m glad that I’ve been able to start work on this before you come, and we’ll be better able to talk about the future.
I feel such a need to make something pleasing, something that makes one think.
You know that one of the paintings I think the finest of all in existence is The walk on the ramparts by Leys.4
1v:3 It isn’t that movement, though, that’s the order of the day at present, but the sentiment in it is something eternal, and one can conceive reality, nature, in different ways, and even now recognize what was perhaps sought and felt more generally in Leys’s time than it is today.
But it takes constant study to express what one feels and to capture the form.
I can’t tell you how much it raised my spirits to see Rappard again, I think his work is really so good, and when I was at his place he also told me that it had refreshed him to visit me. Through talking to each other we’ve got new ideas. I would like you to see Rappard again when you’re here in Holland. Both in his studio and mine I believe you would get an impression based more on what one saw in the studios in the past than on what there is at present. Yet I believe it would still be in your spirit. At the moment Rappard has a sort of forge,5 and this winter he did the institute for the blind6 and the tile painters.7 They all have style, and are pleasing and solid, it seems to me.
You’ll understand that, what with one thing and another, I’ve had quite a few outgoings. If I hadn’t had the money from R., I wouldn’t have been able to undertake this.
And although I have studies for it, I need models continually for this and for others, and progress depends on whether I have the money to take them.
I have a few others in my mind, but I’m beginning to run short again.
As you see, when I have a windfall, I make use of it to do something that would otherwise miscarry.
So if at all possible, send something extra as well.
This, namely the peat diggers, is a different kind of landscape from ‘le paradou’.8 And please believe that I also feel something for le paradou. Who knows, one fine day I might just tackle such a paradou.
Write soon if you haven’t written already. When you see the drawing, I don’t think you’ll think it too big. The proportions the figures acquire in this way are such that one can do them with some force, and they demand to be studied separately. I have studies for all the figures in it.9 I did this drawing in charcoal and natural chalk and printer’s ink. Well, I wish you well and write soon. I went into the dunes with Van der Weele recently. There we found a place where the dunes are being levelled for sand, a fine sight with fellows and wheelbarrows.
Adieu, with a handshake.