My dear Theo,
Thanks for your last letter,1 I hope that Wil has recovered from her indisposition and that it was no more serious than you say. Thanks very much, too, for the consignment of canvases and colours, which has just arrived. I have enough subjects for paintings in my head for when the weather permits me to work outside.
What you say about the copy after Millet, The evening,2 pleases me. The more I think about it the more I find that there’s justification for trying to reproduce things by Millet that he didn’t have the time to paint in oils. So working either on his drawings or the wood engravings, it’s not copying pure and simple that one would be doing. It is rather translating into another language, the one of colours, the impressions of chiaroscuro and white and black. In this way I’ve just finished the three other ‘times of the day’ after the wood engravings by Lavieille.3 It took me
1v:2 a lot of time and a lot of trouble. For you know that this summer I’ve already done The labours of the fields.4 Now these reproductions – you’ll see them one day – I haven’t sent, because more than the former ones they were gropings, but they have, however, served me well for The times of the day. Later, who knows, perhaps I could do lithographs of them. I’m curious as to what Mr Lauzet will say about them. They’ll take a good month more to dry, the last three, but once you have them you’ll clearly see that they were done through a most profound and sincere admiration for Millet. Then, even if they’re criticized one day or despised as copies, it will remain no less true that it’s justifiable to try to make Millet’s work more accessible to the ordinary general public.
Now I’m going to talk to you again about what I think we could do for the future so as to have fewer expenses. At Montevergues there’s an asylum5 where one of the employees here used to be a warder. He tells me that there they only pay 22 sous
1v:3 a day, and that then the patients are even dressed by the establishment. Then they’re put to work on the lands that belong to the house, and there’s also a forge, a carpenter’s workshop &c. Once they’d got to know me a little I don’t think I’d be forbidden to paint, then for one thing there’s still the fact that it’s less expensive, and second, that one can work at something. So with good will one isn’t unfortunate there, nor is one to be pitied too much. Now, even leaving Montevergues aside, returning to Holland, aren’t there establishments in our native country where people work too and where it isn’t expensive, and which one has the right to benefit from, while I’m not too sure if there might not be a slightly higher rate at Montevergues for foreigners, and above all admission difficulties which it’s better to avoid. I must tell you that it reassures me a little to tell myself that we can simplify things if we need to. For at present it costs too much, and the idea of going to Paris then to the country, having no other resource to combat the expenses than painting, means manufacturing paintings that come quite expensive.
You must talk about it one day with C.M., should you see him, and tell him frankly that I’ll willingly try to do what’s for the best, that I have no preference whatsoever.
I saw Mr Peyron again this morning, he says that he’s allowing me complete freedom to distract myself, and that I must react against the melancholy as much as I can, which I’m gladly doing. Now, it’s a good reaction to ponder resolutely, and it’s also a duty. Now, you understand that in an establishment where the patients work in the fields I would find hosts of subjects for paintings and drawings, and that I wouldn’t be at all unhappy there. Anyway, it’s necessary to ponder while we have the time to ponder.
I think that if I came to Paris I wouldn’t do anything but draw Greek casts again at first,6 because I must always keep on studying.
For the moment I feel very well, and I hope that it’ll remain like that.
And I even have hopes that it will be dispelled even more if I return to the north. Just mustn’t forget that a broken pitcher is a broken pitcher, and so I have no right at all to entertain pretensions.
I tell myself that at home in Holland people always value painting more or less, that in an establishment they’d hardly make difficulties about letting me do it. Now, it would still be a lot, however, to have the opportunity to occupy oneself over and above painting, and it would cost less. Hasn’t the countryside and working there always been to our taste? And aren’t we a little indifferent, you as much as I, to the life of a big city?
I must tell you that at moments I still feel too well to be idle, and in Paris I fear I wouldn’t do anything good.
So when you see C.M., and it seems very likely to me that he will indeed drop by in February to see the little one you’re expecting, let’s try a little to act firmly.
I can and I indeed want to earn some money with my painting, and we ought to ensure that my expenses don’t exceed its value, and even that the money spent comes back little by little. Well, that can be done with energy, and it’s a duty. With good behaviour I think that one can arrive at some relative freedom, even in an establishment for the insane. And it seems to me that the attacks have been too frequent, too decisive, to cease considering myself as ill.
To talk of something else – I can’t manage to see the south like the good Italians, Fortuny, Jiménez, Tapiró7 and others – how on the contrary it makes me see more with my northern eyes!
It isn’t, believe me, that I wouldn’t wish to be able to live like before, without this preoccupation with health. Anyway, we’ll make the attempt once but probably not twice in the spring if it goes away completely.
Today I took the ten francs that were still with Mr Peyron. When I go to Arles I’ll have to pay 3 months’ rent on the room where my furniture is.8 That’ll be in February. This furniture, it seems to me, will be of use, if not to me then to another painter wanting to settle in the country.
Wouldn’t it be wiser, in the event of leaving here, to send it to Gauguin, who’ll probably spend more time in Brittany, than to you, who’ll have nowhere to put it. This is another thing we need to consider in time.
I think that in giving up two very old, heavy chests of drawers to someone, I could exempt myself from paying the remainder of the rent and perhaps the packing costs. They cost me around thirty francs. I’ll drop a line to Gauguin and De Haan to ask if they’re planning to stay in Brittany and if they’d like me to send the furniture, and then if they want
2v:7 me to come too. I won’t commit myself to anything, only say that I’m very probably not staying here.
This week I’m going to start on Millet’s ‘Snow-covered field’9 and ‘First steps’10 in the same format as the others. Then there’ll be 6 canvases forming a series, and I assure you that I’ve worked on them, these last three of the ‘Times of the day’, with much thought to calculate the colour.
You see, these days there are so many people who don’t feel made for the public but who support and consolidate what others do. Those who translate books, for example. The engravers, the lithographers. Take Vernier, for example, and Lerat.11 So that’s to say that I don’t hesitate to make copies. If I had the leisure to travel, how I’d like to copy the works of Giotto, this painter who would be as modern as Delacroix if he weren’t primitive, and who’s so different from the other primitives. I haven’t seen much of his work, though. But there’s one who is consolatory.12
So what I’m pondering doing in painting is Daumier’s Drinkers13
2r:8 and Régamey’s Penitentiary.14 You’ll find them in among the wood engravings. I’m busy with the Millets for the moment, but this is to say that I’ll find no lack of things to work on. Thus even half locked up I’ll be able to occupy myself for a long time.
What the Impressionists have found in colour will develop even more, but there’s a link that many forget which links this to the past, and I’ll make efforts to show that I have little belief in a rigorous separation between the Impressionists and the others. I find it a very happy thing that in this century there have been painters like Millet, Delacroix, Meissonier, who cannot be surpassed. For although we don’t like Meissonier as much as certain individuals do, there’s no getting away from it, when one sees his Readers,15 his Halt16 and so many other paintings – that really is something. And then one’s leaving aside his strongest point, i.e. military painting, because we like that less than the fields. Nevertheless, to be fair we must say that what he’s done cannot be surpassed or changed. Once again I hope that our sister has recovered.
Warm regards to all.