To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Monday, 22 June 1885.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and the enclosure, which is exactly what I meant and enables me to work at the end of the month just as at the beginning of the month.
I was very pleased to hear that Serret is the painter about whom you had previously written things that I had really remembered, but the name had escaped me. I’d like to write much more to you than I will in this letter, but when I get home nowadays I’m really not in the mood for writing when I’ve been sitting in the sun all day. As to what Serret says, I think so too — I’ll drop him a line, because I’d like to become friends with him. As I already told you, these days I’m hard at work on figure drawings — I’ll send them specifically with an eye to Serret, to show him that I’m far from indifferent to the unity of a figure and the form.
Do you ever see Wallis? Might the watercolour of the auction be something for him? If it were something for Wisselingh, then better he should take it. I once gave Wisselingh a couple of heads and also just sent him the lithograph. But because he didn’t send so much as a word in reply, I think that all I’d get would be an insult if I sent something. It just happened to me that, having not heard anything from him in 3 months or so, I suddenly got a letter from Rappard, with whom I’ve been on good terms for years, so supercilious and so full of insults and, it seemed to me, so obviously written after he’d been in The Hague that I’m as good as certain that I’ve lost him as a friend for good.
It’s precisely because I tried it first in The Hague, that’s to say my own country, that I have every right and reason to forget all that unpleasantness and to think of something else outside my own country.
You know Wallis well, so perhaps you could bring it up sometime apropos of that watercolour, but act as the opportunity arises. If I could earn something with my work, if we had some firm ground, even a little — under our feet, to be able to go on living — and if ever the desire to become an artisan took shape in you — let me say to make it clear — in the manner of, say, discounting all the differences in age &c. — Hennebeau in Germinal — what you would be able to paint then! Still, the future’s always other than one thinks, so one can never know for sure. The drawback to painting is that if one doesn’t sell one’s paintings one still has to have money for paints and models to make progress. And that drawback is ugly. But otherwise — painting and, to my mind, particularly painting peasant life, gives peace of mind, even though one has a lot of scraping along and wretchedness on the outside of life. I mean painting is a home, and one doesn’t have that homesickness, that peculiar thing that Hennebeau had.
The passage I copied out then struck me very much because, almost literally at that time, I had just such a longing to be something like a grass-mower or polder worker. And I was sick of the boredom of civilization. It is better, one is happier if one puts it into effect — but pretty much literally — at least one feels really alive. And it is something to be deep in the snow in winter, to be deep in the yellow leaves in the autumn, to be deep in the ripe wheat in the summer, to be deep in the grass in the spring. It is something to always be with the mowers and the peasant girls, in summer with the big sky above, in the winter by the black fireplace. And to feel -– this has always been so and always will be. One may sleep on straw, eat rye bread — well then, in the long run one is the healthier for it.
I’d like to write more but — as I said — I’m not really in the mood for writing, and I wanted to enclose a note for Serret, which you must just read, since I write in it about what I wanted to send before long, especially because I want to let Serret see my particular figure studies. Regards,
Serret may agree with you that making good things and selling are quite separate. But there’s no truth in that. When the public saw Millet at last, his work collected together — then the public in both Paris and London was enthusiastic. And who was it who had stood in the way and rejected Millet? — the dealers — the so-called experts &c. I ask you, would a Mouret have said something like that, to keep talking about business?