My dear Theo,
Since I wrote to you I’m feeling better, and whilst I don’t know if it’ll last I don’t want to wait any longer to write to you again.
Thanks once again for that beautiful etching after Rembrandt. I’d very much like to get to know the painting and know in which period of his life he painted it.1 All this goes with the Rotterdam portrait of Fabritius,2 the traveller in the La Caze gallery,3 into a special category in which the portrait of a human being is transformed into something luminous and consoling.
And how very different this is from Michelangelo or Giotto, although the latter however comes close to it, and Giotto thus forms a sort of possible hyphen between the school of Rembrandt and the Italians.
Yesterday I started working again a little – a thing I see from my window – a field of yellow stubble which is being ploughed, the opposition of the purplish ploughed earth with the strips of yellow stubble, background of hills.4
Work distracts me infinitely better than anything else, and if I could once really throw myself into it with all my energy that might possibly be the best remedy.
The impossibility of having models, a heap of other things, prevent me from managing it however. Anyway, I really must try to take things a little passively and be patient.
I often think of our pals in Brittany,5 who are certainly doing better work than I am. If, with the experience I’m having at present, it was possible for me to begin again, I wouldn’t go and look around the south.
Were I independent and free, I would nevertheless have retained my enthusiasm, for there are some really beautiful things to do.
Such as the vineyards, the fields of olive trees. If I had confidence in the management here, nothing would be better and simpler than to put all my furniture here at the hospital and quietly continue.6 If I were to recover, or in the intervals, I could sooner or later come back to Paris or Brittany for a time. But first they’re very expensive here, and then I’m afraid of the other patients at the moment.7 Anyway, a heap of reasons mean that I don’t think I’ve been lucky here either.
I’m perhaps exaggerating in the sadness I feel at being knocked down by illness again – but I feel a kind of fear. You’ll tell me what I tell myself too, that the fault must be inside me and not in the circumstances or other people. Anyway, it isn’t fun.
Mr Peyron has been kind to me and he has long experience, I shan’t scorn what he says or considers good.
But will he have a firm opinion, has he written anything definite to you?? And possible?
You can see that I’m still in a very bad mood, it’s because things aren’t going well. Then I consider myself imbecilic to go and ask doctors for permission to make paintings. Besides, it’s to be hoped that if I recover sooner or later, up to a certain point it’ll be because I’ve cured myself by working, which fortifies the will and consequently allows these mental weaknesses less hold.
My dear brother, I wanted to write to you better than this, but things aren’t going very well. I have a great desire to go into the mountains to paint for whole days, I hope they’ll allow me to in the coming days.
You’ll soon see a canvas of a hut in the mountains8 which I did under the influence of that book by Rod.9 It would be good for me to stay on a farm for a while, at least I might do some good work there.
I must write to Mother and to Wil in the next few days. Wil asked to be sent a painting, and I’d very much like to give one to Lies as well on the same occasion, who doesn’t have any yet as far as I know.10
What do you say about Mother going to live in Leiden? I think she’s right in this sense, that I can understand that she’s pining for her grandchildren.11 And then there’ll be none of us left in Brabant.
Speaking of that – not very long ago in Arles I was reading a book, I can’t remember which one, by Henri Conscience. It’s excessively sentimental if you like, what with his peasants, but speaking of Impressionism do you know that it
1r:4 contains descriptions of landscape with colour notes of accuracy, feeling and primitiveness of the first order. And it’s always like that. Ah my dear brother, those heaths in the Kempen12 were something though. But anyway, that won’t come back, and onward we go.
He – Conscience – described a brand-new little house with a bright red slate roof in the full sunshine, a garden with dock and onions, potatoes with dark foliage, a beech hedge, a vineyard, and further on the pine trees, the broom all yellow.13 Don’t be afraid, it wasn’t like a Cazin,14 it was like a Claude Monet. Then there’s originality even in the excess of sentimentality.
And as for me, who feels it and can’t damned well do anything, isn’t that sickening.
If you get opportunities for lithographs of Delacroix, Rousseau, Diaz &c., ancient and modern artists, Galeries modernes &c., I can’t advise you too strongly to hold onto them, for you’ll see that they’ll become rare. Yet it was really the way to popularize beautiful things, those 1-franc sheets of those days, those etchings &c. back then. Very interesting the Rodin – Claude Monet brochure. How I’d have liked to see that. Pointless to say that nevertheless I don’t agree when he says that Meissonier is nothing and that T. Rousseau isn’t much.15 Meissoniers and Rousseaus are something highly interesting for those who like them and try to discover what the artist was feeling. It isn’t possible for everyone to be of that opinion, because one has to have seen and looked at them, and you don’t find that on every corner. Now a Meissonier, if you look at it for a year there’s still enough in it to look at the next year, never fear. Not to mention that he’s a man who had his days of happiness, of perfect finds. Certainly I know, Daumier, Millet, Delacroix have another way of drawing – but Meissonier’s execution,
2r:5 that something essentially French above all, although the old Dutchmen would find nothing to fault in it, and yet it’s something other than them and it’s modern; one has to be blind to believe that Meissonier isn’t an artist and – one of the first rank.
Have many things been done that give the note of the 19th century better than the portrait of Hetzel?16 When Besnard did those two very beautiful panels, primitive man and modern man, which we saw at Petit’s, in making the modern man a reader he had the same idea.17
And I’ll always regret that in our times people believe in the incompatibility of the generation of, say, 48 and the present one. I myself believe that the two hold their own all the same, though I can’t prove it.
Let’s take good Bodmer for example. Was he not able to study nature as a hunter, a savage, did he not love it and know it with experience of an entire long manly life – and do you think that the first Parisian to come along who goes to the suburbs knows as much or more about it because he’ll do a landscape with harsher tones? Not that it’s bad to use pure and clashing tones, not that from the point of view of colour I’m always an admirer of Bodmer, but I admire and I like the man who knew all the forest of Fontainebleau, from the insect to the wild boar and from the stag to the lark. From the tall oak and the lump of rock to the fern and the blade of grass.
Now a thing like that, not anyone who wants to can feel it or find it.
And Brion – oh a maker of Alsatian genre paintings people will tell me. That’s fine, he has indeed done the Engagement meal, the Protestant wedding &c.18 which are indeed Alsatian. When no one is up to illustrating Les Misérables, he however does it in a manner unsurpassed up to now, and he isn’t mistaken in his types.19 Is it a small thing to know people so well, the humanity of that period, so well that one scarcely makes a mistake in expression and type?
Ah – the rest of us would have to get old working hard, and that’s why we then get despondent when things don’t go right.
I think that if you see the Bruyas museum in Montpellier one day, I think that then nothing will move you more than Bruyas himself, when one realizes from his purchases what he sought to be for artists. It’s a little disheartening when one sees from certain portraits of him how heartbroken and obviously frustrated his face is.20 If one doesn’t succeed in the south there still remains he who suffered all his life for that cause.
The only serene portraits are the Delacroix21 and the Ricard.22
For example, by a great chance the one by Cabanel is accurate and most interesting as an observation, at least it gives an idea of the man.23
I’m pleased that Jo’s mother has come to Paris. Next year it will perhaps be a little different and you’ll have a child, and that brings a fair few petty vexations of human life24 – but as certain great miseries of spleen etc. will disappear for ever, that’s certainly how it should go.
I’ll write to you again soon, I’m not writing to you as I would have wished, I hope that all is well at your place and will continue to go well. Am very, very pleased that Rivet has rid you of the cough, which really worried me a bit too.
What I had in my throat is starting to disappear,25 I’m still eating with some difficulty, but anyway it has got better.
Good handshake to you and to Jo.