My dear Theo,
I’ve written to you quite often lately, but it comes down to the same thing so much that I’m in fact dissatisfied that I don’t write to you more entertainingly. That will come again eventually — I think that once you’ve been to the studio again there will be livelier material. At least I hope so, and that will be the case if you’re in sympathy with what I’m working on and you haven’t yet seen.
This week in Paris Illustré I saw a fine reproduction of a drawing by Ulysse Butin, Launching the boat. Fishermen and women pushing a boat into the sea.1 I saw it just as I couldn’t help thinking a great deal about Butin and Legros while looking for something that’s a completely different subject from what they do, namely the potato grubbers on their knees and working with short forks, about whom I recently wrote to you that I was doing studies for them.2 I now have a sketch of them on the easel with 4 figures, 3 men and 1 woman.3 I wanted to have something broad and bold in silhouette and delineation in it. I’m searching for that more and more. I still remember how the first painting by Butin I saw (one of his later ones) made a strong impression on me. It was the one he later etched himself, called The pier I believe, women looking out for ships that are due to come in on a stormy evening.4 That was the first thing of his that I saw, and since then the one in the Luxembourg5 and several others.
I find him very honest and thorough, and believe that precisely when he appears to have dashed something off quickly he remains no less sound and correct in his drawing after all. He’s one of those men I don’t know personally and yet, when I see something by him, I can imagine how he did it.
Don’t you think the painting by Blommers at the Salon is beautiful (November)? I haven’t seen the painting but the reproduction,6 I think it’s just as if it were by Butin, with more passion and a greater dramatic element than B. normally has.
At the moment I have no fewer than 7 or 8 drawings measuring about 1 metre that I’m working on,7 so you can imagine that I’m up to my ears in work. But I’m very hopeful that I can make my hand more skilled through this period of toil. Thus, for instance, the reluctance I felt to work with charcoal is disappearing day by day. One of the reasons is that I’ve found a way of fixing the charcoal and then going over it with something else, such as printer’s ink.8
Here’s a scratch of potato grubbers, but they’re slightly further apart in the drawing.
Now as I write to you I think of that evening — you may remember it even though it was years ago — when you and I spent an evening together with Mauve when he still lived near the Barracks, and were given a photograph after a drawing by him, a plough.9 Little did I think then that I would make drawings myself. Little did I also think then that difficulties would arise between Mauve and me.10
I continue to be rather surprised that it hasn’t come right, all the more so because when you get down to it there’s virtually nothing about which there is a difference of view.
It’s now so long ago, in fact, that these days I’m beginning to regain my good humour as regards work, and confidence that it will be all right. I used to have that before, in spite of everything, but one can’t help being upset all the same, and feeling melancholy when such people disapprove or say that what one is doing is the wrong direction.
Will you write soon? Your letter will be most welcome again as always. Would you believe that a figure a foot high is not a bit easier to draw than a smaller one? On the contrary — everything is much more critical — and to get it as forceful in proportion as small figures at that size is sometimes very hard labour. Adieu, old chap, have good days and just do good business. With a handshake.