To Anthon van Rappard. Nuenen, on or about Monday, 13 July 1885.
My dear friend Rappard,
All that has passed means that when I come to write to you it’s more in order to be clear than because I do it for my pleasure. As to my having returned your last letter to you forthwith, there were two reasons for it, each in its own right, to my mind, providing a motive. Firstly — suppose that your comments on the lithograph I sent you were correct, suppose I had nothing to say against them — even then, you wouldn’t have been justified in condemning my work in such an insulting manner, or rather in ignoring it as you did. And secondly — whereas you have had more friendship than you have given, not just from me but from my family too, you certainly cannot claim that on an occasion such as my father’s death we were obliged to send something other than a printed notice.
Particularly not me, since before that time you hadn’t replied to a letter from me. Particularly not me, since on the occasion of my father’s death you did send an expression of sympathy in a letter addressed to my mother — but such a one that when it arrived there was comment at home about what reason there might be for not writing to me then — which I didn’t want, however, nor do I.
You know — I haven’t been on the best of terms with them at home for years. In the first few days after my father died, I had to correspond with the immediate family. But otherwise, as soon as family arrived, I withdrew from it all completely. And regarding any omissions, not me but the family. And I have to tell you that in so far as it goes, you’re an exception, that I asked them at home if they’d sent you word and it appeared that it had been forgotten. Much more than enough about that.
The reason I’m writing to you again is in no way to respond to your comment in that regard. Nor to repeat what I said about your remarks about painting. You’ve been able to re-read your own letter. If you still believe that was justified, if you still really think that ‘if you put your mind to it, you can deuced well express yourself correctly’ — well — then it’s best simply to leave you to your delusions.
To get to the point — the reason why I’m writing to you is simply that — although it was you who insulted me in the first place, not I you — I’ve known you too long for me to consider this a reason to break off all acquaintance. What I have to say to you is as a painter to a painter and — so long as you and I paint — it will remain so — whether we know each other, whether we don’t. There was mention of Millet.
Very well — I’ll answer you, my dear friend.
You wrote, ‘you dare to invoke Millet and Breton’.
My reply to that is that I seriously invite you to consider — simply not to fight with me. For my part — I go my own way — you see — but I don’t seek a quarrel with anyone — not with you now either. I’d also let you say anything that you wanted — if you had any more such expressions — and it would just be like water off a duck’s back. So much for the present, though. That I don’t care about the form of the figure, which you’ve said before — it’s beneath me to take any notice of it and — old chap — it’s beneath you to say something so unfounded. You’ve known me for years now — have you ever seen me do anything other than work from the model and resign myself to the sometimes great expense of it, even though I’m poor enough as it is?
What you didn’t write in your last, but did repeatedly and ad nauseam in previous letters, and was the reason for the letter to which you didn’t reply, is about ‘technique’. What I replied to you then and reply once more is — the conventional meaning that people increasingly give to the word technique, and the actual meaning, knowledge. Well then. Meissonier himself says, ‘the knowledge — nobody has it’.
Well, ‘the knowledge’ isn’t the same as ‘knowledge’, that first of all, and that you won’t deny. But even that still isn’t it.
Take Haverman, for instance; people — you too — say of him that he has so much technique. But not only Haverman, how many others — have something that’s equivalent to the sort of knowledge that H. has of art — among the French painters — Jacquet, say, and he’s better.
My assertion is simply this — that drawing a figure academically correctly — that an even, reasoned brushstroke have little — at least less than is generally thought — to do with the needs — the urgent needs — of the present day in the field of painting.
If, instead of saying H. has a lot of ‘technique’, you were to say H. has a lot of ‘craftsmanship’, I would have agreed with you for once. You will perhaps understand what I mean when I say that when Haverman sits in front of the head of a beautiful girl/woman, he’ll make it more beautiful than almost anyone, but put him in front of a peasant — and — he won’t even make a start on it. His art — as far as I know — proves chiefly applicable to subjects which aren’t the ones that are needed — is above all applicable to subjects that are pretty much completely and utterly opposite to Millet or Lhermitte — and sooner run parallel to Cabanel — who for all his what I call — craftsmanship — has said little that lasted — or contributed to progress. And — this I beg of you — don’t confuse this with the way a Millet or Lhermitte paints.
What I said and still say — the word — technique — is all too often used in a conventional sense — and — it’s all too often not used in good faith. People praise the technique of all those Italians and Spaniards, and they’re fellows who are more conventional, have more sheer routine — than anyone else. And with such as Haverman, I fear, ‘craftsmanship’ so soon becomes — ‘routine’. And then — what’s it worth then?
What I want to ask now — what’s the real reason that you’ve broken with me —? The reason I’m writing to you again is just out of love for Millet, for Breton and for everyone who paints the peasants and the people, among whom I count you. I don’t say it because I got a lot from you as a friend – my dear friend – because — I got precious little from you — and don’t take it amiss of me for saying this to you straight out for the first and last time — I know of no drier friendship than yours. But — firstly that’s not why I’m doing it — secondly, that might have improved too — but having created my own opportunities to find models &c., I’m not so petty as to keep it quiet. On the contrary — were any painter, no matter who, to come to this district, I would be glad both to invite him home and to show him the way. Precisely because it’s not always easy to find models who are willing to pose — and having a pied-à-terre somewhere isn’t a matter of indifference to everyone.
And this is why I say to you that, if you want to paint here, you mustn’t be embarrassed because we had a disagreement. And — although I’m living on my own in my studio now — you can even stay too. It may be, though, that — superciliously — you’ll say that this is of no consequence to you. Well, that’s all right. I’m so accustomed to insults that they really are so like water off a duck’s back — that — someone like you — probably finds it hard to understand just how cold a letter like yours, say, leaves me. And being indifferent to it — I have no more resentment than a post. But I do have — enough clarity and serenity to reply as I do now.
If you want to break with me — very well.
If you want to go on painting here — you don’t have to take any notice of this little bit of bickering in our correspondence.
What you did the last time you were here — had and has my full sympathy — and — my dear friend Rappard — it’s because you worked so damned well that last time, and I think to myself that you might perhaps want things here to remain as they were, that I’m writing to you. Make up your own mind — I say frankly — from one point of view — in spite of all my appreciation of your painting — I have some concerns about whether you’ll be able to keep it up like this later — I sometimes fear that, because of the influences to which you cannot but be exposed given your social position and standing, you may not remain as good in the long run as you are at the moment — just as a painter in your painting — I don’t concern myself with the rest.
So I say to you, as a painter to a painter, that if you want to look for paintings here, it will stay just the same as before. You can come here and, although I live on my own, stay just the same as before. You see — I thought that perhaps you had got and could get something out of it, and I just wanted to tell you this. If you can get on as well elsewhere — well then — I’ll have no reason to grieve about it, and then, adieu.
You’ve told me nothing about your work, so I likewise say nothing about mine.
Believe me — don’t argue with me about Millet — Millet is someone I won’t argue about, although I don’t refuse to talk about him.