My dear Theo,
Today I sent off that little crate, containing 1 other painting, Peasant cemetery,1 besides what I already told you.
I’ve left out some details — I wanted to say how this ruin shows that for centuries the peasants have been laid to rest there in the very fields that they grubbed up in life — I wanted to say how perfectly simply death and burial happen, coolly as the falling of an autumn leaf — no more than a bit of earth turned over — a little wooden cross. The fields around — where the grass of the churchyard ends, beyond the little wall, they make a last fine line against the horizon — like the horizon of a sea. And now this ruin says to me how a faith and religion mouldered away, although it was solidly founded — how, though, the life and death of the peasants is and will always be the same, springing up and withering regularly like the grass and the flowers that grow there in that churchyard. Victor Hugo, whom they’ve also just buried, said Religions pass, God remains.2
I don’t know whether you’ll see anything in these two things — the cottage with the mossy roof3 reminded me of a wren’s nest. Anyway, you must just look at them.
Now I must take this opportunity of explaining to you again — which I found new, clear words for — why I wrote and write to you that I’m still far from sure whether your present view is your definite conviction.4 The firm of G&Cie isn’t a good school for getting to know paintings, let alone painters. I tell you this as my opinion — that one doesn’t even learn how to look independently there.
Who did they greatly honour? Paul Delaroche.
I don’t have to tell you how Delaroche was one of the people who really didn’t stand up to scrutiny — there’s simply no one left who takes his part.
Someone else who won’t stand up to scrutiny — even though he’s better — although he did make something very fine once or twice — who will also fail — that is — Gérôme.5
His Prisoner,6 though, his Syrian shepherd7 are felt, and I think them as fine as anybody, and readily and willingly.
But by far the most often he’s a Delaroche II. Each of them, taking into account the context of their age, is of equal worth. What I’m now asserting is — that I consider it highly likely that the whole situation will bore you more by the year.
What I further assert is that one does both others and especially oneself too a disservice by being bored. In spite of many wise lessons, I’ve never seriously granted that being bored ‘for one’s own good’ can have its good, practical side. Now a MASS of people have reformed themselves at the age of about 30 and changed very considerably.
Just think calmly about this — I tell you that nothing of what I learnt and heard about art at G&Cie stood up to scrutiny. How if one reverses the generalities that count there as the conversation killers in judging art —
1r:4 namely praising the old or present-day Delaroche to the skies and discrediting the unorthodox — if, I say, one reverses certain maxims, then — one takes a breath of fresh air. In short — old chap — such curious turns in situations and affairs are possible — not only that — but even the rule. It’s funny, isn’t it — that, after all, I still doubt whether you’ll stay in the trade.
You don’t have to take any notice of this or reply to it — I say it to you just to express my idea frankly, not to start futile exchanges of words.
But it’s — an enchanted land8 — where one isn’t free.
Anyway — I’ll hear sometime whether you’ve received the little crate and whether you find anything in it.
Tomorrow I’m going to paint a thing in another village — also a cottage — in a smaller size. I found it last Sunday on a long trip I made in the company of a peasant boy9 — in order to get hold of a wren’s nest.10 We found 6; without doubt it was a place that Bodmer would have adored.11 And they were all nests from which the young had already flown, so that one could take them without too many pangs of conscience. It was so real; I also have some other splendid nests. Regards, write soon, with a handshake.
I’d like you to give both the paintings a varnish before you show them to Portier or Serret.12
The peasant cemetery has sunk in particularly badly, because it was very different on the canvas at first and I scraped the first thing off completely.13 It was a total failure at first — then I gave it short shrift and started from the beginning, went and sat on another side and painted early in the morning instead of in the evening. Well, and the other — the one of the cottage — was originally a shepherd.14 The sheep were shorn last week; I saw it — on a table in a barn.
I’m glad that this time I can show Portier something very different again. I’m busy drawing, by the way, so as to send a few full-length figures in a little while. But working on the cottages — perhaps you’ll say imitations of Michel,15 although they aren’t — and searching for subjects, I’ve found such splendid cottages that
2v:6 I now really must go bird’s nesting with a number of variations of these ‘people’s nests’, which remind me so much of the nests of wrens — that’s to say, paint them.
Oh — one mustn’t doubt — anyone who paints the peasants nowadays and has his heart in his work, he wins — at least a part, and not the worst although it’s not the largest — of the public.
This doesn’t alter the fact that my end or second half of the month — can still work out remarkably meagre. But the same happens to the peasant lads too, and — they still have fun.
I wish you’d been here on Sunday when we went on that trip. I came back covered in mud because we had to spend a good half hour wading through a stream. But for me painting is now becoming as stimulating and enticing as hunting — it is a hunt, after all, for models, and beautiful places too. Regards again, and best wishes to you. It’s already late and I have to be at the place16 at 5 o’clock, so — adieu.