I haven’t written to you for a long time. First I waited for your reply to my last letter, but assumed it didn’t come because you’d probably gone to Drenthe.1 Then I got very busy so that I didn’t get round to writing these last few weeks. However, do try to find a moment now to let me know a little of what you’ve been doing, and above all to tell me how it’s going with your big painting of the fish market.2
I’ll now continue about myself. This summer I saw a house in Eindhoven that belongs to a former goldsmith3 who is now rich, and has already amassed and sold a collection of antiques several times. This man paints a bit himself, and has a room in his house (which is full yet again of beautiful and ugly antiques) that he wants to paint himself. He had a plan for it. When I went there, there were 6 panels, each 1 1/2 metres long by 60 cm high, which he still had to fill with something and on which he was planning to make, among other things, a Last Supper after a preliminary drawing that was in something like a modern Gothic style.
Then I said to him that in my view — since it’s a dining room — it would do considerably more to whet the appetites of those who would have to sit at table there if scenes from the peasant life of the region were to be painted on the walls rather than mystical last suppers. The good fellow didn’t contradict me. And after a visit to the studio, I made provisional scratches for him of 6 motifs from peasant life, Sower,4 Ploughman,5 Wheat harvest,6 Planting potatoes,7 Shepherd,8 Winter with ox-cart.9 And they’re what I’m doing now. But in such a way that I’m making these 6 canvases for myself, but that I’m making them, in terms of format, for instance, with a view to his room anyway, and he’s paying me my expenses for models and paint, while the canvases remain my property, however, and I get them back when he’s copied them. This lets me make things that would be rather too expensive for me if I were faced with the whole cost. And it’s a job I’m enjoying very much and working hard on. I’ll have to go to quite a bit of trouble, though, to point out things to him when he’s copying.
I’ve already got painted sketches in the finished size of something like 1 1/2 metres by 60 cm of Ploughman10 and Sower11 and Shepherd.12 Smaller ones of Wheat harvest13 and Ox-cart in winter.14 So you can imagine that I’m not exactly sitting on my hands these days.
Did I already tell you that I’ve also made a woman spinning and another weaver?15
I’ve been given a magnificent book, J.F. Millet by Sensier,16 and I myself bought a book by Blanc, Grammaire des arts du dessin, because of a passage from it quoted in Artistes de mon temps.17 This book deals with something like the same questions as the little book by Vosmaer,18 but for my part I would much rather read Blanc. You can read Blanc’s book and the Millet too, if you like.