My dear Theo,
Thanks very much for the consignment of canvases, colours, brushes, tobacco and chocolate, which reached me in good order.1
I was very glad of it, for I was pining for work a little. Also, for a few days now I’ve been going outside to work in the neighbourhood.
Your last letter was dated 21 May, if I remember rightly.2 I’ve had no news of you yet since then, except that Mr Peyron told me he’d received a letter from you.3 I hope that you’re in good health, and your wife too.
Mr Peyron intends to go to Paris to see the exhibition and then pay you a visit.4
What can I tell you that’s new, not much. I have two landscapes on the go (no. 30 canvases) of views taken in the hills.5
One is the countryside that I glimpse from the window of my bedroom. In the foreground a field of wheat, ravaged and knocked to the ground after a storm. A boundary wall and beyond, grey foliage of a few olive trees, huts and hills. Finally, at the top of the painting a large white and grey cloud swamped by the azure.6 It’s a landscape of extreme simplicity — in terms of coloration as well. It would be suitable as a pendant to that study of the bedroom that’s damaged.7
When the thing depicted is stylistically absolutely in agreement and at one with the manner of depiction, isn’t that what creates the quality of a piece of art?
That’s why, as regards painting, a household loaf is above all good when it’s painted by Chardin.8
Now Egyptian art, for example, what makes it extraordinary, is it not that those calm, serene kings,
1v:3 wise and gentle, patient, good, seem unable to be other than they are; eternally farmers who worship the sun. How I’d have liked to see an Egyptian house in the exhibition, built by the architect Jules Garnier – painted in red, yellow and blue with a garden divided regularly into beds by rows of bricks – the dwelling of the people we know only in the state of mummies or in granite.9
But there you are, to get back to the point, since the Egyptian artists thus have a faith, working from feeling and instinct, they express all these intangible things: goodness, infinite patience, wisdom, serenity, with a few masterly curves and marvellous proportions. That’s to say once more, when the thing depicted and the manner of depicting it are in accord, the thing has style and quality.
Thus also the servant girl in Leys’s great fresco, when she’s engraved by Braquemond, becomes a new work of art10 – or Meissonier’s little reader when it’s Jacquemart who engraves him11 – since the manner of engraving and the thing depicted are as one.
As I want to keep this study of the bedroom, if you would send it back to me when I’m sent canvas, rolled up, I’ll repaint it. Initially I’d wanted to have it lined because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it again. However, as my mind has grown calmer since, I can indeed redo it now.12
The thing is, among the number of things that one makes there are always some that one has felt or wanted more and which one wants to keep all the same.
When I see a painting that intrigues me, I can never help asking myself, ‘in what house, room, corner of the room, in whose home would it do well, would it be in its rightful place’.
Thus the paintings of Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer are only at home in the old Dutch house.
Now the Impressionists – once again, if an interior isn’t complete without a work of art, neither is a painting if it isn’t at one with original surroundings, resulting from the era in which it was produced. And I don’t know if the Impressionists are worth more than their time, or rather aren’t yet worth as much.
In a word, are there souls and interiors of houses that are more important than what has been expressed by painting, I’m inclined to believe so.
I’ve seen an advertisement for a forthcoming exhibition of Impressionists called Gauguin, Bernard, Anquetin and other names.13 Am therefore inclined to believe that another new sect has been formed, no less infallible than the others that already exist. Was this the exhibition you were talking to me about? What storms in teacups.
I’m in good health – so-so, I feel happier with my work here than I could outside. By staying here a fairly long time, I’ll have acquired controlled behaviour, and in the long run the result will be more order in my life and less impressionability. And that would be something gained. Besides, I wouldn’t have the courage to begin again outside. I once went into the village — accompanied, at that. The mere sight of the people and things had an effect on me as if I was going to faint, and I felt very ill. In the face of nature it’s the feeling for work that keeps me going. But anyway, that’s to tell you that there must have been some over-strong emotion inside me that brought that about, and I have no idea what could have caused it.
I’m bored to death at times after work, and yet I have no desire to begin again.
The doctor who has just come by says that he won’t be going to Paris for a few weeks yet, so don’t expect his visit for the time being.
I hope that you’ll write to me soon.
This month I’ll again really be in need of
|| red ,,
It’s funny that every time I try to reason with myself in order to get a clear picture of things – why I came here, and that after all it’s only an accident like any other – a terrible terror and horror seizes me and prevents me from thinking. It’s true that it tends vaguely to diminish, but it also seems to me to prove that there is indeed something, I don’t know what, disturbed in my brain.
2v:7 But it’s astounding to be afraid of nothing like this, and not to be able to remember.
Only you can count on the fact that I’m doing everything I can to become active and perhaps useful again, in this sense at least, that I want to do better paintings than before.
Many things in the landscape here often recall Ruisdael, but the figure of the ploughman is lacking. In our country one sees men, women, children, animals at work everywhere and at all times of the year, and here not a third of that, and in addition they’re not the honest workers of the north. They seem to work the land in an awkward, lax way, without energy. Perhaps I’ve got hold of the wrong idea here, I hope so at least, since I’m not from round here. But it makes things colder than one would dare think from reading Tartarin,15 who had perhaps been expelled many years ago with his entire family.
Above all write to me soon, for your letter is very slow in coming, I hope that you’re well. It’s a great consolation for me to know that you’re no longer living alone.
If one month or another it should be too difficult for you to send me colours, canvas &c., then don’t send them, for believe me it’s better to live than to do art in an absent-minded way.
2r:8 And before everything else, your house must be neither sad nor dismal. That first and painting next.
Then I feel tempted to begin again with the simpler colours, the ochres for example.
Is a Van Goyen ugly because it’s painted all in oils with very little neutral colour, or a Michel?
My undergrowth with ivy is completely finished,16 I want very much to send it to you immediately, as soon as it’s dry enough to be rolled up.
With a really strong handshake to you and your wife.