To Anthon van Rappard. Nuenen, on or about Wednesday, 15 July 1885.
My dear friend Rappard,
I just received your letter — it’s drier and more long-winded than ever.
However, when you say in it, ‘I want to answer your missive at once so as not to encourage you in the idea that there’s any question of a breach, at least not on my part,’ I need to repeat yet again that you must know once and for all that in the house where I have my studio there’s a spare room at your disposal, as it is for any painter whatsoever who wants to come and make studies here. That’s clear, isn’t it, and it’s up to you whether or not you make use of it.
And for my part I’d advise you and Wenckebach, whom I’ll probably see tomorrow, just to come now and then, since there are beautiful things enough here. If you have a mind to appreciate this, very well. If not, that’s all right too. If you do come, though — each goes his own way.
As far as the lithograph is concerned, here’s my explanation — I made it — entirely from memory and in 1 day when, going crazy searching for a composition, working with a very different process, I was looking for a new idea for putting it together. Besides, this is a trial and nothing more, biting it out on the stone later. Originally — although faults in an arm or nose that caused you to fly off the handle obviously remain unchanged — the chiaroscuro was much better and it also is in the later composition that I painted. And as to that, there are certainly faults in it too, but also things which lead me not to regret having painted it.
I can’t tell you that your letter of today is at all useful or necessary to me. Be assured, though, that your saying that your faith in me was shaken and so forth is a matter of relative indifference to me. I let people (you and certain others are no exception) say, think of me, act towards me precisely — as they wish — that’s their business — I’m not obliged to listen to that eternal nagging.
My parents, teachers, Messrs Goupil & Co., besides all sorts of friends and acquaintances, have said so many unpleasant things to me for my own good, with the best intentions, that in the end the burden got too heavy for me. Since I’ve been letting them get on with it without worrying about it, I haven’t got worse, my dear friend — I believe I know this for sure. In reply, though, this — it’s true that you do good work, but that doesn’t mean to say that you’re always in the right, my dear friend, that there are no other manners and ways but yours to achieve something good and sound. I’d very much like to talk to you about many things — although you must definitely not take this to mean that I’m asking for advice — but there’s less and less point in it. Speaking of self-knowledge — who has it? Here again ‘the knowledge — no one has it’. Some knowledge — concerning oneself, concerning one’s own bad or good tendencies, everyone — and I begin with myself — is certainly in the utmost need of it. But — don’t think that you never deceive yourself for lack of it – don’t think that you never hurt others cruelly and undeservedly with superficial judgements.
I know — everyone does that — and people have to manage to get on together all the same. But you — to speak of self-knowledge — no, my dear friend — it distresses me that you broach this subject, because I’m afraid that this is where your very weakest side is, at least as a human being. But anyway — I’ll try to tell you clearly what I think about when I think about you.
And regarding your work — look — I find the present things excellent — but look, here’s a thought just as it is in my mind — without concealing any part of it — I’ve known you for a long time now. There was a time — just before and just after your illness — when you were much less dry as a person than usual — more rounded, milder, broader, more generous — more sincere and more open.
Now you speak to me and you behave towards me just like a former certain horribly priggish Rappard at a certain academy.
I’m sorry to have that acquaintance back, and I’m even sorrier to have lost you as a friend, as you were in that exceptional period when I found you changed and improved. Since I observed this — now I think — and his work?? Will that also be broader, more rounded, nobler only for a short while?? Do you know the answer to this?
It’s taken me less than half a page of writing to express this idea, but you can see from it that I sometimes fear that your work, too, will perhaps lose its nobler quality. I’m telling you this idea, it seems to me, clearly and simply.
Whatever my faults may be — I have genuine good will in my endeavours as a painter, I also have genuine good will to be good to other people — I have too much heart to be as frivolous in my work as you always accuse me of being. I don’t have to take your letter to heart, and I won’t. And what you say about my needing somebody to get things into my head — maybe — but at the same time it could be that I myself am the person to get things into my own head — and can well do without other people — at least if they nag as much as you do. Regards — but your letter as a whole wasn’t fair, although there are details in it that have a certain accuracy.
You tell me nothing about your work, I likewise tell you nothing about mine. Look here — to make short work of it.
Do you believe that you’ve behaved fairly towards me? The fact that you say that you’ve done it for I don’t know what far-fetched scruples towards my parents, because you doubted me — but old chap, it’s just too boring, just too nonsensical.
In short, YOU HAVE been unfair and — you are that on more than one occasion.
Now I’m someone who has enough understanding of human nature, when someone of your position and standing does something like that, to observe it with a smile and — forget it. Do you want to persist, though? Carry on with this sort of priggishness?
Oh — then you have my warning — an unfair person isn’t like Millet — and see my explanation about certain changes in you, which makes clear to you what I think as a whole about my perception of you. I’ll speak to Wenckebach tomorrow — I’ll tell him — without details — that I’m sorry you haven’t been here for a long while — and would like to see both you and W. himself here from time to time.
So it’s up to you to make it up properly and magnanimously. And write about it further briefly and practically. Just between ourselves, I tell you that I don’t disagree with you that your work is noble (perhaps as a reaction from a nobler time than usual in your life as a human being), but be generous, broad and noble as a human being, too, if you want to be like Millet — and otherwise? Don’t ask me — or if you want to ask — what one is as a human being affects what one is as a painter.
The little difference between us — I count as nothing — but — I wouldn’t want you to repeat something like that. And I don’t say it for myself alone — if you have other friends, be simpler and better. Think about Corot as far as character is concerned — and, as far as I’ve been able to make out, those French fellows — Millet, Dupré, Corot, Daubigny, tend to have that in common with one another.