My dear Theo,
I’ve set about writing to you several times, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish the letter, because I wanted to write to you about various reasons why I thought it such a natural thing for you to become a painter. But I didn’t like what I’d written, and I couldn’t find any words that were strong enough.
Your objections are indeed serious, but on the other hand there are a great many things that weigh against them. By your 30th year you could have progressed to the extent that people must respect you as a painter and take your work seriously. And in your 30th year you’ll still be young. What you’ve learned at Goupil, your knowledge of many things, means that you have exactly what it takes to catch up with many who ‘started early’. Because those early starters often have a period of staying at the same level fruitlessly for years, and that period isn’t necessary for someone who starts energetically at a later age. Painting is just as good a profession by which to earn a living as, for example, smith or doctor. An artist, in any case, is the exact opposite of someone living a life of leisure, and as I said, if one wants to draw a parallel, then either a smith or a doctor corresponds more closely. Now that you write about it, I remember very well that when you spoke to me back then about my becoming a painter,1 I thought it very inappropriate and wouldn’t hear of it.
What made me stop doubting is that I read a clearly written book on perspective, Cassagne, Guide de l’Abc du dessin,2 and a week later drew an interior of a little kitchen, with stove, chair and table and window in their place and on their legs, whereas it used to seem to me downright witchcraft or coincidence that one had depth and proper perspective in a drawing.
1v:2 If you drew just one thing as it should be drawn, the desire to attack 1,000 other things would be irresistible. But the most difficult part is taking that first step. If a painter took you by the arm and said: Look, Theo, this is how you should draw that field, this is how the lines of the furrows run, for this reason or that they run like this and not otherwise, and must be brought into perspective like this. And that pollard willow being this big, the other one further on is by contrast that small, and that difference in size can be measured this way or that and – look! if you fling that down on paper then the broad outlines are immediately correct, and you have firm ground beneath your feet on which to continue.
Such a talk, provided it’s accompanied by practice, would be more appropriate in the circumstances than a lot of discussion about either abstract or financial matters. And so I won’t venture further into that territory, but you’re on the verge of getting an idea of the practice one day soon – and if you should happen to draw something correctly or, in short, if you learn to see things in perspective, then your art dealership has had it, and you’ll feel, just like Correggio: I, too, am a painter,3 and then you’ll see immediately that you’re in your element and then – then – you’ll be younger and more full of life than ever before, then your second youth will begin, which is better than the first, because the second never ends,
1v:3 thank God – doesn’t end like the other one. But the first youth – has left me and – and – is beginning to leave you.
As regards Cor’s education and Ma’s bread – those two things won’t be lacking, not even if you become a painter. And as far as you’re concerned, your food, drink, sleep, your studio, your model – ..... they aren’t far off – and if the idea to paint should awaken in you, you’d see that it could be done.
Nevertheless, so that you won’t suspect me of overlooking the financial side, I’d just like to say – yet with all due respect for your present position as an art dealer: unless one has a certain handicraft and can make something with his own hands, I doubt the soundness of the means of subsistence.
Meaning that I consider the social position of Jaap Maris, for example, more solid and independent than that of H.G.T. – I have a lot of respect for intellect and intelligence, if those are lacking then one comes to nought in spite of one’s handicraft, because one can’t stand up and defend one’s own work – you see this in Thijs Maris. But it’s precisely those people who have the intellect and intelligence, and it goes without saying that I count you among them and I’d like to count myself among them too, it’s fitting that they’re eminently suited to handiwork.
I repeat: if you take up painting you’ll succeed and, by your 30th year, you as a painter will have worked your way up, no less so in any respect than at present. A mediocrity in the bad sense of the word will certainly not be the case with you if you take up painting.
As regards painting, there are two lines of reasoning, how not to do it4 and how to do it. How to do it: with much drawing and little colour. How not to do it: with much colour and little drawing.
Now I see the opportunity to manage very well if you can arrange it this month as you said, namely that around the 15th you give me another 100 francs to last until the beginning of May. From the 100 francs just sent I haven’t yet been able to pay Tersteeg5 – I have a lot of expenses – and I could wait no longer to buy a pair of trousers and pay the rent, for example. If you send some again around the middle of April, then I could pay him back, and will do so if you really wish it. Though I’d rather pay it back later with a drawing. That’s what I ought to be doing, I mustn’t give any cash back to dealers. My debt to you is something else. We don’t know how things will turn out. If you carry on as an art dealer, then in time you’ll be getting drawings and paintings for it – if you become a painter, then money, and gladly with interest.
Regarding the money owed to Tersteeg, when I first came here, he and Mauve were so friendly and said I didn’t have to worry at all – but in less than a month they’d turned around and were talking completely differently. Perhaps thinking that I’d collapse.
At first that grieved me – and then later it left me rather cold and I thought, I won’t let it upset me any more.
Breitner’s in hospital, I visit him quite often to bring him books or drawing materials.6 C.M. paid me, and a new order, but difficult enough, 6 detailed, specific, townscapes.7 I’ll see that I make them in any case, because if I understand correctly I’ll get for these 6 as much as for the first 12. And then perhaps sketches of Amsterdam.
Blommers was here to talk about a viewing of the woodcuts.8 Sat here looking at them for 3 hours, and was angry because Pulchri’s board had complained about ‘those things one sees now and then in the Zuid-Hollandsch Koffiehuis’.9 If that’s all they know about wood engraving they’re indeed competent to condemn! Still, Pulchri’s board had complained. Blommers wanted to go ahead with it anyway, and told me to have them ready for next Saturday. It’s very strange to hear some painters here discussing what they call ‘illustrators’, Gavarni, for instance, or Herkomer!! This NOT keeping abreast of things is part of what some of them call their ‘general education’. Good luck to them!
Now, with a handshake
Accept my thanks for a wonderful box of Ingres paper and for the studies.10
One fine day when people start to say that I can in fact draw but not paint, perhaps I’ll appear with a painting just when they least expect it, but as long as it looks as though I must do it and may not do anything else, then I certainly won’t do it.