My dear Theo,
Pending your arrival there’s hardly a moment that I’m not with you in my thoughts.
These days I’m doing my best to paint some different studies so that you can see something of them at the same time.
And I feel fine when I seek distraction through this change of work, for while I don’t literally do as Weissenbruch does and spend a fortnight with the polder workers,1 I nonetheless act in the same spirit, and looking at nature has a calming effect.
And, moreover, I have definite hopes of making considerable progress with colour in this way. It seems to me that the latest painted studies are more assured and sounder in colour.
Thus, for example, a few I did recently in the rain of a man on a wet, muddy road better express the mood, I believe.2 Anyway, we’ll see when you come. Most are landscape impressions. I wouldn’t claim that they’re as good as the ones sometimes found in your letters, since I often run into technical difficulties, but still I believe they have something similar.
For example, a silhouette of the city in the evening as the sun is setting,3 and a towpath with mills.4
Otherwise things are so wretched that I still feel faint if I’m not actually at work, but I believe that is passing. I’m definitely going to do my best to build up a reserve of strength, because I’ll need it if I want to do a lot of painting, including figures. A certain feeling for colour has been aroused in me of late when painting, stronger than and different from what I’ve felt before.
It may be that this recent malaise is connected to a kind of revolution in the working method which I’ve sought for more than once already, and have thought about a great deal. I’ve often tried to work less drily, but each time it came out roughly the same. But these days, now that some weakening prevents me from working as normal, it’s just as if this helps rather than hinders, and letting myself go a little and looking more through my eyelashes instead of looking sharply at the joints and analyzing how things fit together leads me more directly to see things as patches of colour next to each other.
I’m curious as to how this will continue and where it will lead. It has sometimes surprised me that I’m not more of a colourist, because my temperament would certainly lead one to expect that, and yet up to now that has hardly developed at all.
I repeat, I’m curious as to how it will continue — I see clearly that my recent painted studies are different. If I remember rightly, you have another one from last year, of a few tree-trunks in the woods.5 I don’t think it’s particularly bad, but it’s still not what one sees in studies by colourists. There are even correct colours in it, but although they’re correct they don’t do what they should do, and while the paint is highly impasted here and there, the effect remains too meagre. I take this one as an example, and believe that the recent ones that are less impasted are nonetheless becoming more assured in colour, because the colours are more worked into each other and the brushstrokes are painted over each other, so that it fuses together more, and one captures something of the softness of the clouds or of the grass, for instance.
At times I’ve been very concerned that I wasn’t making progress with colour, and now I have hope again. We’ll see what happens. Now you can imagine how eager I am for you to come, for if you also see that it’s changing I’ll no longer doubt that we’re on course. I don’t dare trust my own eyes when it comes to my work.
For example, the two studies that I did while it was raining, a muddy road with a small figure. It seems to me that it’s the opposite of some other studies — when I look at it I recognize the mood of that sad, rainy day, and in the figure, though no more than a few patches, there’s a kind of life that isn’t due to accuracy of drawing, for it isn’t drawn, so to speak. What I want to say is that I therefore believe that in those studies, for instance, there’s something of that mysteriousness that one gets by looking at nature as if through the eyelashes, so that the forms simplify themselves into patches of colour.
Time will tell, but for the present I see something different in the colour and the tone in several studies.
Lately I’ve thought sometimes of a story that I read in an English magazine, a tale of a painter in which a person featured who had also been weakened during a difficult time, and went to a remote area in the peat fields and found himself in the melancholy nature there, so to speak, and was able to paint nature as he felt and saw it.6 It was very accurately described in the story, evidently by someone who knew about art, and it struck me when I read it, and I’ve now been thinking of it from time to time these past few days.
Anyway, I hope we’ll soon be able to talk about it and confer together. If you can, write again soon and, of course, the earlier you can send, the more I would welcome it.
With a handshake in thought.
For no particular reason I can’t help adding something here that’s just a recurring thought of mine.
Not only did I start drawing relatively late, but on top of that I can’t count on living for a great many years, relatively speaking. When I think about that cool-headedly and calculatedly — as if estimating or measuring something — then it’s in the nature of things that I can’t possibly know anything definite about it.
Yet through comparisons with various people with whose life one is familiar, or in comparison with whom one believes one sees certain correspondences, one can nonetheless put forward certain propositions that aren’t absolutely without foundation.
So as to the length of time in which to work that lies ahead of me, I believe I may assume the following without being too hasty: that my body will endure for a certain number of years come what may — a certain number, say between 6 and 10. I dare all the more to assume this because at present there’s no immediate come what may.
That’s the period that I count on for sure, for the rest I would find it far too airily speculative to dare to determine anything in myself, given that whether or not anything is left after that period will depend precisely on these first 10 years, say. If one goes into a serious decline in those years, one won’t get past 40; if one remains sufficiently well preserved to withstand certain shocks to which a person is likely to be subject, solving more or less complicated physical problems, then from 40-50 one is once more in new, relatively plain sailing.
Calculations about that are not on the agenda now, but plans for a period, as I began by saying, of between 5 and 10 years are.
My plan is not to spare myself, not to avoid a lot of emotions or difficulties. It’s a matter of relative indifference to me whether I live a long or a short time. Moreover, I’m not competent to manage myself in physical matters the way a doctor can in this respect. So I carry on as one unknowing but who knows this one thing — ‘I must finish a particular work within a few years’ — I needn’t rush myself, for that does no good — but I must carry on working in calm and serenity, as regularly and concentratedly as possible, as succinctly as possible. I’m concerned with the world only in that I have a certain obligation and duty,7 as it were — because I’ve walked the earth for 30 years — to leave a certain souvenir in the form of drawings or paintings in gratitude. Not done to please some movement or other, but in which an honest human feeling is expressed. Thus this work is the goal — and concentrating on that thought, what one does and does not do simplifies itself in that it’s not a chaos, but everything one does is one and the same aspiration. Now the work is going slowly — all the more reason not to lose any time.
Guillaume Régamey was, I believe, someone who doesn’t have much of a reputation (as you know, there are two Régameys, F. Régamey paints Japanese and is his brother), but was a character for whom I have great respect all the same. He died at the age of 38, and a period of 6 or 7 years was devoted almost exclusively to drawings that are in a very singular style and were done while working was made difficult by physical problems.8 He is one of many — a very good person among many good people. I mention him not to liken myself to him — I’m not as good as he was — but to give an example of a certain self-control and willpower that held on to an inspiring idea that showed him the way to produce a good work in serenity despite difficult circumstances.
I see myself in a similar way — as having to do something with heart and love in it within a few years, and do it with willpower. If I live longer, so much the better, but I’m not thinking about that. In those few years SOMETHING MUST BE DONE — that thought is my guiding principle in making plans for the work. A certain desire to make every effort will thus seem to you all the more understandable. At the same time a certain resolve to use simple means. And perhaps you’ll also be able to understand that, for my part, I don’t view my studies in isolation, but always have in mind the work as a whole.