My dear brother,
Although I have written
you already, there are still a good many things you said to me which I have
not yet answered. First, that you have taken a room in Tanguy's house and
that my canvases are there, that is very interesting-provided you are not
paying much for it-as the expenses go on all the time and the can-vases are
still slow to bring anything in, it often frightens me.
However that may be, I think it is a very good measure, and I thank you for it as for so many other things. It is curious that Maus had the idea of inviting little Bernard and me for the next exhibition of the Vingtistes. I should very much like to exhibit there, though I feel my inferiority beside so many of the Belgians, who have tremendous talent.
This Mellery, now, is a great artist. He has been so for a number of years already, but I should do my best to try to do something good this autumn. I am working in my room at full speed, it does me good and drives away, I think, these abnormal ideas.
So I have gone over
the canvas of my bedroom. That study is certainly one of the best-sooner or
later it must be recanvased good and solid. It was painted so quickly and
has dried in such a way that the essence evaporated at once, and so the paint
is not firmly stuck to the canvas at all. That will be the case with other
studies of mine too, which were painted very quickly and very thickly. Besides,
after some time this thin canvas decays and cannot bear a lot of impasto.
You have got some excellent stretchers, damn, if I had some like them to work
with here, it would be better than these laths you get here which warp in
the sun. They say-and I am very willing to believe it-that it is difficult
to know yourself-but it isn't easy to paint yourself either.
I am working on two portraits of myself at this moment-for want of another model-because it is more than time I did a little figure work. One I began the day I got up; I was thin and pale as a ghost. It is dark violet-blue and the head whitish with yellow hair, so it has a color effect.
But since then I have begun another one, three-quarter length on a light back-ground. Then I am touching up the studies of this summer-altogether I am working from morning till night.
Are you really well ?-damn it all, I so wish that you were two years further on and that these first days of your marriage, however lovely they must be at moments, were behind you. I believe so firmly that marriage is at its best after some time, and that then your constitution will recover.
So take things with a sort of northern equanimity, and both of you take very good care of yourselves. This blasted artistic life is shattering, it seems. My strength is returning from day to day and I feel again that I already have almost too much. For it isn't necessary to be a Hercules to stick assiduously to the easel.
Your telling me of Maus having been to see my canvases made me think a good deal about the Belgian painters just now and during my illness. Then memories overwhelmed me like an avalanche, and I tried to reconstruct that whole school of modern Flemish artists, until I was as homesick as a lost dog.
Which does no good, because our way lies-forward, and retracing one's steps is forbidden and impossible. I mean, we can think about the past without letting ourselves be drowned in too sad a longing.
Well, Henri Conscience is by no means a perfect writer, but here and there, and a little everywhere, what a painter! And what human kindness in what he said and intended. I have a preface of his in my head all the time (that of Le Conscrit), in one of his books where he says that he had been very ill and that during his illness, in spite of his efforts, he felt his affection for men grow faint, and that on long walks in the open fields his feeling of love returned. This fatality in suffering and despair-there, I am wound up again for another spell-I thank him for it.
I am writing this letter little by little in the intervals when I am tired of painting. Work is going pretty well-I am struggling with a canvas begun some days before my indisposition, a "Reaper"; the study is all yellow, terribly thickly painted, but the subject was fine and simple. For I see in this reaper-a vague figure fighting like a devil in the midst of the heat to get to the end of his task-I see in him the image of death, in the sense that humanity might be the wheat he is reaping. So it is-if you like-the opposite of that sower I tried to do before. But there's nothing sad in this death, it goes its way in broad daylight with a sun flooding everything with a light of pure gold.
Look, there I am at it again, but I don't let go my hold, and with a new canvas I shall try again. Ah, I could almost believe that I have a new period of lucidity before me.
And what to do-to go on here these months or to move-I don't know. The point is that when they occur, the crises are no joke, and risking an attack like that in your or somebody else's house is a serious business.
My dear brother-it is
always in between my work that I write to you-I am working like one actually
possessed, more than ever I am in a dumb fury of work. And I think that this
will help cure me. Perhaps something will happen to me like what Eug. Delacroix
spoke of' "I discovered painting when I no longer had any teeth or breath
left," in the sense that my distressing illness makes me work with a dumb
fury-very slowly-but from morning till night without slackening-and-the secret
is probably this-work long and slowly. How can I tell, but I think I have
one or two canvases going that are not so bad, first the reaper in the yellow
wheat and the portrait against a light background, that will do for the Vingtistes,
if indeed they remember me at the right moment, but then I am absolutely indifferent
to it all, perhaps it is even preferable if they should forget me.
For I do not forget the inspiration it gives me to let my thoughts dwell on some of the Belgians. That is positive, and the rest, very secondary. And here we are in September already, we shall soon be in the middle of autumn and then winter.
I will go on working very hard and then we shall see if the attack returns about Christmas, and that over, I can see nothing to stop my telling the man-agement here to go to blazes, aird~returm.ng to the North for a longer or shorter time. To leave now, when I judge a new attack next winter probable, that is to say in three months, would perhaps be too risky. It is six weeks since I put a foot outside, even in the garden; next week, however, when I have finished the canvases I'm on, I'm going to try.
Only a few more months and I shall be so flabby and stupid that a change will probably do me a lot of good.
That is provisionally my idea of this business, but of course it isn't hard and fast. But I'm of the opinion that one must not spare the feelings of the people of this establishment any more than of the proprietors of a hotel. We have rented a room from them for so long, and they get well paid for what they give, and that is all there is to it. Not to mention that perhaps they would like nothing better than for the thing to become chronic, and we should be culpably stupid to give in to that. They inquire a great deal too much to my liking about what not only I but also what you earn, and so on.
So give them the go-by-without quarreling.
I am continuing this letter again between times. Yesterday I began the portrait of the head attendant, and perhaps I shall do his wife too, for he is married and lives in a little house a few steps away from the establishment.
A very interesting face, there is a fine etching by Legros, representing an old Spanish grandee, if you remember it, that will give you an idea of the type. He was at the hospital in Marseilles through two periods of cholera, altogether he is a man who has seen an enormous amount of suffering and death, and there is a sort of contemplative calm in his face, so that I can't help being reminded of Guizot's face-for there is something of that in this head, but different. But he is of the people and simpler. Anyway, you will see it if I succeed with it and if I make a duplicate.
I am struggling with
all my energy to master my work, thinking that if I succeed, that will be
the best lightning-conductor for my illness. I take a lot of care of myself'
shutting myself up carefully; it is selfish, if you like, not to get used
to my companions in misfortune and go to see them, but I find myself none
the worse for it) for my work is progressing and we have need of that, for
it is more than necessary that I should do better than before, for that was
Will it not be better if' provided I leave here sooner or later, I come back definitely capable of doing a portrait that has some character, than if I come back as I started? That is clumsily expressed, for I know well one cannot say-"I know how to make a portrait"-without telling a lie, because that is infinite. But then, you will understand what I mean, that I must do better than before.
Now my brain is working in an orderly fashion, and I feel perfectly normal, and if I think over my condition now with the hope of usually having between the attacks-if unfortunately it is to be feared that they will always return from time to time-of having at times periods of lucidity and activity, if I think over my condition now, then really I tell myself that I must not get too used to the ideaof being an invalid. But that I must firmly continue my poor career as a painter. And so remaining in an asylum forever would probably serve as an aggravation.
Some days ago I was reading in the Figaro the story of a Russian writer who suffered all his life from a nervous disease which he finally died of' and which brought on terrible attacks from time to time. And what's to be done? There is no cure, or if there is one, it is working zealously.
I dwell on this more than I should. And altogether I would rather have a downnght illness like this than be the way I was in Paris while this was brewing.
And you will see this when you put the portrait with the light background that I have just finished next to the self-portraits in Paris, and that I look saner now then I did then, even much more so.
I am even inclined to think that the portrait will tell you how I am better than my letter, and that it will reassure you-it cost me some trouble to do. And then the "Reaper" is getting on, too, I think it is very, very simple. I think I can promise you twelve size 30 canvases by the end of the month, but they will nearly all be the same picture twice over, the study and the final picture. And then later on-perhaps my sojourn in the South will yet bear fruit, for the difference in the stronger light and in the blue sky teaches you to see, and especially, or even only, when you see it for a long time.
The North will certainly look quite new to me, but I have been looking at things so long that I am strongly attached to them, and I shall regret them for a long time.
I am thinking of an odd thing. In Manette Solomon they are discussing modern art, and some artist or other, speaking of "what will last," says, "What will last is the landscape painters"-that has been rather true, for Corot, Daubigny, Dupre', Rousseau, and Millet remain alive as landscape painters, and when Corot on his deathbed said-"I saw in a dream landscapes with skies all pink," it was charming. Well then-in Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir, we see those skies all pink, so it is the landscape painters who last. Very good, it was damn true.
Let's leave aside the figure painting of Delacroix and Millet. Now what really is it that we are now beginning to catch a timid glimpse of' original and enduring ?-portraitlire. You may say that is an old story, but it is also new. We shall talk of this again-but let's keep looking out for portraits, especially by artists such as Guillaumin, and the portrait of the girl by Guillaumin, and carefully keep my portrait by Russell that I am so fond 0£ Have you framed the portrait of Laval? I don't think you've told me what you thought of it. I thought it amazing, the look of the eyes through the glasses, such a frank look.
The desire I have to make portraits just now is terribly intense; indeed, Gauguin and I talked about this and other a~logous questions until our nerves were so strained there wasn't a spark of vital warmth left in us. But some good pictures must come out of that, I think, and we will look for them. And I think they must be doing good work in Brittany. I got a letter from Gauguin, I think I already told you, and I am very curious to see what they are doing someday.
I must ask for the following things for painting.
10 meters of canvas
Large tubes 6 tubes zinc white
2 tubes emerald green
2 tubes cobolt
1 large tube crimson lake
6 marten brushes, black hair
Then I promised the attendant
here an issue of Le Monde Illustré; No. 1684, July 6, 1889, in which there
is a very pretty engraving after Dumont Breton. There! The "Reaper" is finished,
I think it will be one of those you keep at home-it is an image of death as
the great book of nature speaks of it-but what I have sought is the "almost
smiling." It is all yellow, except a line of violet hills, a pale fair yellow.
I find it queer that I saw it like this from between the iron bars of a cell.
Well, do you know what I hope for, once I let myself begin to hope? It is that a family will be for you what nature, the clods of earth, the grass, the yellow wheat, the peasant, are for me, that is to say, that you may find in your love for people something not only to work for, but to comfort and restore you when there is need for it.
So I beg you, don't let yourself get too exhausted by business, but both of you take good care of yourselves-perhaps in a not too far distant future there will still be some good.
I have a great desire to do the "Reaper" once again for Mother, if not, I will paint her another picture for her birthday; that will come later, for I will send it with the rest.
For I am persuaded that Mother would understand it-for it is in fact as simple as one of those coarse wood engravings that you find in country almanacs.
Send me the canvas as soon as you can, for if I want to make other duplicates for our sister too, and when I undertake the new autumn effects, I shall have enough to fill my time from one end of this month to the other. Jam eating and drinking like a hog now, I must say that the doctor is very kind to me. Yes, I think it is a good idea to go and do some pictures for Holland, for Mother and our sister; that will make three, that is to say the reaper, the bedrooni, the olives, wheatfield and cypresses, that will make four even, for then I have still another person for whom I will do one too. Of course I shall work at this with as much pleasure as for the Vingtistes, and with more calm; since I have the strength, you may be sure that I am going to try to polish off some work. I am choosing the best from the twelve subjects so that the things they are going to get will be really a little studied and well chosen. And then it does one good to work for people who do not know what a picture is.
A good handshake for you and Jo.
I open this letter again
to tell you that I have just seen M. Peyron. I had not seen him for six days.
He tells me that this month he expects to go to Paris and that he will see you then.
That pleased me, for
he has-undeniably-much experience, and I think he will tell you what he thinks
fairly and frankly.
To me he said only-"Let us hope it will not return"-but for my own part I expect that it will keep returning for a good long time, at least for several years. But I also expect that work, far from being impossible for me in the intervals, can go on as usual, and is even my cure.
And then I say once more-putting M. Peyron the doctor completely out of the question-that with regard to the management here we must probably be polite, but we must limit ourselves to that, and not bind ourselves to anything.
It is a very serious thought -frat wherever I should live here for any length of time, I should perhaps have to deal with popular prejudices-I do not even know what these prejudices are-which would make my life with them insupportable.
But after all I will wait for what M. Peyron says to you, I have no idea of what his opinion may be. This afternoon I have been working on the portrait of the attendant, which is getting on. If it were not a good deal softened-completely softened-by an intelligent look and an expression of kindliness, it would be a veritable bird of prey. It is very much a Southern type.
I wonder whether M. Peyron's
intended journey will come off this time. I am very curious to know what may
come of it.
After another year of work I shall perhaps attain command of myself from the artistic point of view.
And that is always a thing worth seeking. But for that I must have some luck.
What I dream of in my best moments is not so much striking color effects as once more the half tones. And certainly the visit to the Montpellier gallery contributed to turning my ideas this way. For what touched me there even more than the magnificent Courbets, which are marvels-the "Village Girls," the "Sleeping Spinner "-were the portraits of Brias by Delacroix and by Ricard, then the "Daniel" and "Odalisques" by Delacroix, all in halftones. For these "Odalisques" are quite a different thing from those in the Louvre, mostly in violet tones. But in these half tones, what choice and what quality! It is time I sent off this letter at last-I could tell you in two pages what it contains, that is to say, nothing new, but then I haven't time to do it again. A good handshake once more and if it is not too much trouble, let me have the canvas as soon as possible.