My dear Theo,
You must excuse me for writing again — it’s to tell you that I take so much pleasure in painting. Last Saturday evening I tackled something I’ve already dreamed of often.
It’s a view in the flat green meadows with haystacks. A cinder road with a ditch runs straight through it.
And the sun goes down fiery red on the horizon in the middle of the painting.1
I can’t possibly draw the effect quickly here, but this shows the composition.
Yet it was all a question of colour and tone, the gradations of the range of colours in the sky, first a lilac haze — inside it the red sun, half covered by a dark purple cloud with a delicate edge of gleaming red; beside the sun vermilion reflections, but above a yellow band that turned green and higher up bluish, the so-called Cerulean blue, and here and there lilac and greyish clouds catching reflections from the sun.
The ground was a sort of tapestry of green — grey — brown, but full of different shades and movement — the water of the ditch gleams in that tonal ground.
It’s the sort of thing Emile Breton, for instance, would paint.
I’ve also painted a big piece of dune ground2 — impasted — and densely painted.
In the case of these two, and of the small seascape3 and the potato field,4 I know for certain that people wouldn’t say, all things considered, that these were my first painted studies.
To tell you the truth, it surprises me a little. I thought that the first things would look like nothing at all, although they would improve later, I thought, though I say so myself, that they do look like something, and that rather amazes me. I believe that this is because, before I began painting, I spent so long drawing and studying perspective so that I could put together a thing I saw.
Well, since I bought my paint and materials, I have toiled and laboured, so that at the moment I’m dead tired, having done 7 painted studies. There’s also one with a figure — a mother with a child in the shadow of a big tree, in tone against a dune on which the summer sun is shining.
An almost Italian effect.5
I literally couldn’t hold myself back — I couldn’t leave it alone or take a break from it.
As you may know, there’s an exhibition by the Drawing Society.6 There’s one Mauve — a woman at a sort of loom, no doubt from Drenthe — that I think is superb.7
You’ve probably seen some of them at Tersteeg’s. There are wonderful works by Israëls — among them the portrait of Weissenbruch, with a pipe in his mouth and his palette in his hand.8 And some beautiful things by Weissenbruch himself, landscapes, and a seascape as well.9
There’s a very large drawing by J. Maris, townscape10 — amazing. And a fine W. Maris, Sow with piglets,11 among others, and cows.12
Neuhuys,13 Du Chattel,14 Mesdag.
By the last, apart from a splendid large seascape, two Swiss things that I find rather inane and heavy-handed.15 But the large seascape is splendid.
Israëls has another 4 large drawings, a girl at the window16 — children at the pig-sty17 — the drawing of the small Salon painting — a little old woman stoking the fire in the twilight, which was etched for the Kunstkronijk at the time.18
It’s stimulating to see something like this, because then I see how much I still have to learn.
I just wanted to tell you — I feel that things with colour are becoming apparent in my painting that I didn’t use to have, things to do with breadth and strengths. I shan’t send you anything immediately — let it first ripen a little — but you should know that I’m full of enthusiasm, and believe that it’s going well at the moment.b (Before 3 months have passed, however, I’ll send you something to keep you informed and give you an idea.)
But for me that’s precisely a reason to push on — and to learn what I still need.
So don’t take what I say about my own work as meaning that I’m already content with it — the opposite is true, but I believe that this much has been gained, that if something in nature strikes me I now have more means at my disposal with which to express it more forcefully.
And I don’t find it disagreeable that from now on what I make will look more appealing.
I also don’t think that it would be a hindrance if my health let me down on occasion. As far as I can make out, it isn’t the worst painters who can’t work for a week or a fortnight now and then. Sometimes the reason for this is that they’re the very ones who ‘put their heart and soul into it’, as Millet says.19 That doesn’t matter, and in my view one shouldn’t spare oneself when it comes to the point. One may be exhausted for a while, but one recovers, and the advantage is that one has gathered in one’s studies, just like the farmer does his corn or hay.20
Now for my part I’m not yet thinking about ‘having a rest’. But yesterday, Sunday, I didn’t do much, at least I didn’t go out of doors. I want to make sure that even if you come as early as this winter you’ll find the studio full of painted studies.
I received a letter from Rappard yesterday.21 He has been to Drenthe, and judging by two sketches he sent me he hasn’t been idle. He seems to be working very hard, and well too, both on figures and landscape.
Well, adieu, I must go out, with a handshake.
It’s now almost exactly two years ago that I began drawing in the Borinage.