To Theo van Gogh. Brussels, Tuesday, 12 April 1881.
My dear Theo,
Having heard from Pa that there’s a chance you’ll be coming to Etten this Sunday, and Pa having written to me that it would be good if I were there as well, I set out for there today.
So I hope to meet you soon, which I look forward to with great eagerness, also because I sketched two drawings at Rappard’s, ‘The lamp-bearers’ and ‘The bearers of the burden’, the further execution of which I wanted to discuss with you. To finish them I must, one way or another, have the necessary models, and then I’m confident that something good will come of them, namely a couple of compositions that I can show to Smeeton Tilly or the people from L’Illustration or suchlike.
So I’m leaving today and am telling you this lest you should perhaps look for me in Brussels. In Etten I’d like to make a few sketches on the heath, which is why I’m going a couple of days earlier.
So I hope we see each other soon, and shake your hand in thought.
To Theo van Gogh. Etten, on or about Saturday, 30 April or Sunday, 1 May 1881.
My dear Theo,
My sincere congratulations on your birthday. I think of your visit time and again, I’m glad we spoke to each other again in this way, and hope it turns out that you’ll come again in the summer.
I’ve been here for a few days and it’s beautiful outdoors, but the weather doesn’t yet permit of drawing outdoors every day.
Meanwhile I’ve started on the Millets, The sower is finished and the 4 times of the day sketched. And now still to come are The labours of the field.
As you know, there was an exhibition of watercolours in Brussels and it was quite interesting. There were 4 or 5 Mauves, woodcutters, 1 J. Maris, dunes, just like a painting by Ruisdael or Van de Velde. Then J.H. Weissenbruch, superb, 5 large drawings, Roelofs ditto, also 5 large pieces. Then Gabriël and Van de Sande Bakhuyzen and Valkenburg and Van Trigt and P. Stortenbeker, and Vogel &c. of the Dutchmen.
Then there was a Mesdag that one had to imagine wasn’t there in order to see any of the other drawings, at least that’s how it was with me.
The beach at twilight, stormy weather, sky with grey clouds with a ruddy glow from the sun, which had set.
In the foreground a fisherman on a horse, a tall, singular, dark silhouette standing out against the white, foaming waves. This figure is speaking with people on board a pink floating in the middle ground. On deck people are busy with a lantern, and they’re evidently speaking to the man on horseback about the anchor, which he must come and fetch. It was a large, important drawing, broadly done and so powerful that, as I said, nothing else could hold a candle to it.
What also struck me were 2 drawings by Ter Meulen, sheep in the dunes and ditto in the snow, he’s becoming really good.
If I remember rightly, I saw that man struggling and swotting in Bakhuyzen’s studio, and now he’s succeeded all the same, those two drawings, at any rate, were excellent.
Then there were drawings by Meunier, Farm-hand in a barn, distinguished in colour and treatment, and in conception reminiscent of Millet, for instance, as regards simplicity and faithfulness to nature. Also by him a stoker and a factory worker.
There were also various drawings by Rochussen. And many others, but Meunier was the only one of the Belgians who actually moved me. Rappard is going to Holland in 3 weeks, and will probably carry on working in the countryside this summer and then possibly go to Paris next winter, but as yet he won’t go there with the intention of staying. I believe that he really received a cold shower when he was there earlier, but that’s no reason to think that he won’t have more luck during his next stay. He’s certainly progressed a good deal since then.
I’m very glad indeed that it’s been arranged for me to work here quietly for a while, I hope to make as many studies as I possibly can, for that’s the seed from which later drawings will grow.
Do write to me from time to time and keep me informed, if possible, of one thing and another that strikes you, and think of me if you happen to hear of a position for a draughtsman somewhere or other.
And now it’s time for the post, I’ll keep you informed of what I’m doing, and you must also tell me from time to time what you would advise me, by preference, to draw and to look out for. Sometimes I’ll find it useful, sometimes perhaps not, but don’t hesitate to tell me one thing and another, I’ll do the same to you, and then we must both try to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Adieu, with a handshake in thought.