I’ve had an anxious and uneasy feeling since writing to you yesterday, and last night it kept me awake.
It is: will I be able to go on or will I not be able to go on? That, in a nutshell, is what I’m fretting about. You now have the photos1 so far, and you’ll be able to picture my state of mind more accurately with them in front of you than before you had them. To me, the drawings I’m doing now are a shadow of what I mean, but a shadow that already has a certain shape, and what I seek, what I’m after, isn’t something vague but things from full reality that can only be mastered by patient and regular work.
Look, imagining how I would have to work in fits and starts is a ghastly prospect for me. No one can work without money, and it seems to me advisable to work with as little as possible, yet anyone would feel weighed down and melancholy at the thought of stopping or going short of what one absolutely needs. Oh Theo, the work involves trouble and setbacks, but what is that compared with the misery that looms if someone leads a life without activity?
So don’t lose courage, and we must try to make each other’s heart strong instead of weak or upset.
I’ve talked to Blommers about painting. He wants me to carry on; I myself also feel that after having done these 10 or 12 large drawings I’m now at a point where I must change my manner rather than do more in the same vein.
What I wrote to you about (and about which you also wrote, our thoughts have crossed again), the meagreness or what they call the dryness is what must be overcome each day anew, and mustn’t become a chronic defect.
See, again I find it remarkable that you and I really seem to have thought the same thing again, for when you wrote just a brief word about it, that’s what immediately catches the eye in the two autographs.2 And in the photos too.
It seems to me that one thing and another wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for that defect. For my part I’ve constantly felt it myself while doing drawings, and thought about it a great deal, and I wrote to you about it precisely because it was urgent.
I’ve thought about causes and ways of overcoming it, and see no other way than to revive my capacity for work, and also to work a little on my constitution, since it’s taking a turn that isn’t for the best.
I absolutely must have some money, and must restore both my constitution and my painting box, otherwise I fear that things will crop up later that will be more difficult to put right. This is the beginning — the most recent drawings are less dry here and there than earlier ones.
If it were the case, Theo, that I could get some help and sympathy somewhere in some way, I think that
1v:3 would cheer things up soon enough. I could show you a similar moment of dryness in the history of many who have completely overcome it.
I don’t want to give any examples, because you yourself will find several once you give it some thought. But there’s one thing — nearly all the people who got through the Ecole de Rome,3 and had that period of ceaselessly grinding away at the figure, come up at the end of the course with rather clever, rather meticulously drawn things which, however, aren’t pleasing to see because there’s something of a soul in need4 about them, something they lose later when they feel a little freer and can move.
Now I don’t consider myself as clever in my drawings as those fellows; all the same, without being compelled by any particular course, I gave myself the task of studying the figure with perseverance for the sake of raising the level of my drawing. And precisely because of that effort, because of that over-exertion, I ended up in that dryness.
Again, it would be good if I could get a little more leeway, not for the sake of my pleasure or convenience but for the sake of the order and the progress of the work.
There’s no question of resting, but I believe that finding a diversion by changing the manner of work and the subjects would be a good thing.
After the figure studies I feel a need to look at length at things like the sea, the bronze potato leaves, stubble fields or ploughed earth.
So as to gain time I haven’t spared myself, I’ve stinted myself of everything as long as I could carry on working, but now I can get little more out of myself, can’t draw any more on my own basic needs, on that side there’s nothing more to be squeezed out, there is leanness and dryness.
Consider whether it’s understandable that I have grave doubts when I imagine the income being reduced while we’re already beginning to be in need.
I wish you could come soon.
Now I had hoped that perhaps a few of the 10 or 12 drawings could be placed, but that too has fallen through. Still, after all, whatever may come, I hope not to restrain myself weakly, and have hope that a certain fever and fury of work will carry me through it if it comes to the worst, as a boat can be hurled over a reef or a sandbank by the swell and can take advantage of the storm not to founder. Yet such manoeuvres don’t always work, and it would be desirable to sail round the spot by tacking. After all, if it fails, what is lost in me? I’m not that attached to it anyway. But generally one tries to have life bear fruit instead of just letting it wither, and thinks at times that one also has a life oneself that isn’t indifferent to how it’s treated. But it’s out of my hands. If I don’t have a little extra on occasion, I have to pay out so much each time when I receive the normal amount that not much is left for the 10 days that lie ahead, on the last of which one walks along the road with a very weak and faint feeling in the stomach. And then one of those sandy roads in the dunes begins to resemble a desert. And one feels oneself sinking and can’t have or can’t pay for necessary things. And then the inner conflict: will I be able to persevere in that way and carry on, or where am I going, what can be done? In any case write soon as to whether you see anything in the photos. You don’t find something absurd in them, do you?, as one might well conclude from Tersteeg’s ‘that he would rather stay out of it completely’? I’m too calm and cool-headed for that, after all. Adieu, a firm handshake in thought.
When you read this letter, in connection with the photos sent, I believe you’ll see that I myself see the weak side of the drawings and see ways of counteracting that weakness, and certainly don’t refuse to work to overcome it, but am also faced by the question of how to obtain what I would need for that. I don’t regard the fact that I don’t have it as being your fault, though, but it isn’t mine either, and what to do — what to do?