Your letter has just come, so I know that the post is working properly. I dropped you a line a couple of days ago to tell you a thing or two about the countryside here.1 Everything is beautiful here, wherever one goes. The heath is much vaster than it is in Brabant, near Zundert or Etten at least — rather monotonous, particularly when it’s afternoon and the sun’s shining, and yet it’s that very effect, which I’ve already vainly tried to paint several times, that I shouldn’t want to miss. The sea isn’t always picturesque either, but one has to look at those moments and effects as well if one doesn’t want to deceive oneself as to its true character. Then — the heath is sometimes far from pleasant in the heat of midday. It’s as irritatingly tedious and fatiguing as the desert, just as inhospitable, and as it were hostile. Painting it in that blazing light and capturing the planes vanishing into infinity is something that makes one dizzy.2 So one mustn’t think that it has to be conceived sentimentally; on the contrary it’s almost never that. That same irritatingly tedious spot — in the evening as a poor little figure moves through the twilight — when that vast, sun-scorched earth stands out dark against the delicate lilac tints of the evening sky, and the very last fine dark blue line on the horizon separates earth from sky — can be as sublime as in a J. Dupré. And it’s the same with the figures. The peasants and the women aren’t always interesting, but if one is patient one will nonetheless really see the whole Millet-like quality.
Yesterday I came across one of the oddest churchyards I’ve ever seen3 — imagine a patch of heath with a hedge of small, closely planted pines around it — so that one would think that it was an ordinary little pine-wood.
However, there’s an entrance — a short avenue and then one comes upon a number of graves overgrown with bent-grass and heather. Many of them marked with white posts bearing the names.
I’m sending you a croquis of it after the study that I painted of it.4
I’m working on another study of a red sun between little birches standing in a marshy meadow from which the white evening mist rises; above this one can just see a blue-grey line of trees and a few roofs on the horizon.5
It’s certainly a pity that you’ve still heard nothing from C.M. Obviously he doesn’t have to do anything, but I think that his never sending a single word in reply is rather rude. But understand one thing clearly — it increasingly appears to me that we’re living in an age when things have become somewhat confused6 (I think that that should be enormously rather than somewhat, but I don’t want to force this opinion on you). As to C.M., like many other people he would be very polite to a stranger, but one only hates one’s friends,7 and having lost himself rather in focusing his attention on the ebb and flow of commerce and art dealing, he’s so engrossed in fundamentally very abstract things that something that’s very natural, namely that I’ve spoken to him and still speak to him about my affairs, is as disagreeable to him as an open door letting in a draught, because his thoughts are very, very far away — always — and he knows no better than to get himself out of it rather rudely if necessary, just as one slams the draughty door shut.
You will say, this presumes that he’s rather insensitive. Well, I most certainly do presume that, although I don’t doubt that he really can be very obliging, at least provided he has gathered his thoughts together, and in my case he has not, all the more so because he appears to have certain fixed opinions about me that I don’t believe I may endeavour to dispel. When I write to him it’s in a tone that resounds with, ‘I’m a bad lot, am I not, well then, I don’t say that this is so, but I leave you to believe what you believe, and I say only what I might say if everything was as you suppose’. You will say that this tone is really rather dry — very well — it still makes sense to adopt this tone to some people. If they then don’t even read the few words that one writes to them once a year, if even that’s too much for them — well — so be it — I shan’t resort to any other means though, because I don’t want there to be even the appearance of insistence.
And if C.M. didn’t answer me, I can if need be understand that in so far as I say, oh well, it’s as it is and nothing more. Make no mistake — if C.M. does not reply to you though, then I really will hold that against C.M., being an insult to you (to whom he should behave otherwise). And then he’ll fall a very long way in my estimation — nothing more than that.
I hope to be able to send you studies from here before too long, when I’ve got a few together. And give it some thought, perhaps some of them might be something for Wisselingh.
I’m running out of money again, though, and I had actually hoped to be able to lay in some more paint and some tools. But there — we have to cut our coat according to our cloth, although it’s a great shame that there isn’t a little more cloth. That too may be put to rights by continuing to work patiently, and at least it isn’t entirely dependent on C.M. Only I’m very glad that I’m here because, old chap, it is rich here.
Yes, I would wish the same for you. I’m really longing to hear something more from you about the woman. Perhaps I understand some things a little, but this one thing above all: I trust and know that you’ve done right by her. As to doing right, our circumstances sometimes make us something other than we would be if there was nothing obstructing our will. As for myself, I would rather have stayed with the woman, although it would have been twice as hard, but as far as I could tell it was impossible in the circumstances.
And the way things are, each time I still see her in my imagination as a phantom, it’s not as a reproachful one, but I’m only sad that I didn’t have the means to behave towards her as I’d have wished. Times are hard, and you will have your share of it.
When I came here I had a number of half-used tubes of paint with me and a few new ones, enough for 6 studies or so, but certainly no more. So I’ll immediately send for something or other with the next money, again for some studies.8 Otherwise I’m drawing, but you know very well that painting must be the main thing as far as possible. I don’t know what it’s like changing money here. If necessary, if I can’t do it here, I could get it changed in Assen or somewhere, but should you be in a position, for the first two occasions, say — until I know more about how things are here and also have found an office in Assen, where I haven’t yet been — so for the first two occasions could you send, for example, Dutch money or a postal order, that would be good, because otherwise I might not be able to get by. I hope you’ll be able to send something by the 20th — no later — because I paid the people for a week as soon as I got here, so that will be up then and I’ll have to pay again.
You’ll find the croquis of the little churchyard on the back. The colour there is quite singular. It’s a beautiful sight to see the real heather on the graves, the scent of turpentine9 has something mystical about it. The dark band of pines that encloses it separates a shimmering sky from the rough ground, which is generally a reddish colour — tawny — brownish — yellowish, but with lilac tints everywhere. It wasn’t easy to paint; I’ll carry on looking for other effects in it. In the snow, for example, it must be very singular.
I had already heard something about Liebermann, but your description of his brushwork, in particular, is more enlightening.10 His colour must be infinitely better than Henkes’s (you put it very well, ‘the colour of slate with transitions to grey-yellow and grey-brown’). I understand it perfectly. That, that manner of painting, is wonderful once one has got the hang of it. And the fact that I want to paint a great deal is precisely because I very much want to have something constant and systematic in my brushwork — although I’ve heard many people say that you mustn’t have a system — which he and several others have. I see from your description that he, Liebermann, must work much in Herkomer’s manner, mainly because of consistently carrying through, and analyzing that, those patches of light and shade caused by sunbeams through the foliage, which dazzles many an eye. I recently saw the large engraving after Herkomer, The last muster — you must have seen it too — what virility!11 I’d very much like to see the Jules Breton, A miner’s daughter12 — there’s still a coal-mine in Courrières; when I went there on a rainy day13 the labourers were just going back through the mud, like a caravan of chimney-sweeps, one with an old capote on, I remember; the women, though (at least those that I saw) didn’t wear men’s clothes like they do in the Borinage, where the ‘pit rags’ are the same for all.
Well, old chap, your letter will be welcome again. Write just a word to C.M. in any event, at least if you haven’t already done so, that I’m now here in Drenthe alone14, and tell him something of the plans. But if he doesn’t reply to that, then I think it has to be abandoned.
Thanks for all your efforts. It’s fine, grey weather this morning; no sun for the first time since I got here, and that will surely be just as beautiful, so I’m going to set out. The people I’m lodging with are very good. The man works on the freight railway, a fellow with something Degroux-like about him, a face that sometimes takes on the colour of red cabbage, a real workhorse. The woman very industrious and tidy. 3 children.15 I’ll probably get a back attic as a studio. Adieu, brother, my best wishes, with a handshake.
You know the address is