To Theo van Gogh. Etten, mid-September 1881.
My dear Theo,
Even though I wrote to you only a short while ago, this time I have something more to say to you.
Namely that a change has come about in my drawing, both in my manner of doing it and in the result.
Prompted as well by a thing or two that Mauve said to me, I’ve started working again from a live model. I’ve been able to get various people here to do it, fortunately, one being Piet Kaufmann the labourer.
The careful study, the constant and repeated drawing of Bargue’s Exercices au fusain has given me more insight into figure drawing. I’ve learned to measure and to see and to attempt the broad outlines &c. So that what used to seem to me to be desperately impossible is now gradually becoming possible, thank God. I’ve drawn a peasant with a spade no fewer than 5 times, ‘a digger’ in fact, in all kinds of poses, twice a sower, twice a girl with a broom. Also a woman with a white cap who’s peeling potatoes, and a shepherd leaning on his crook, and finally an old, sick peasant sitting on a chair by the fireplace with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees.
And it won’t stop there, of course, once a couple of sheep have crossed the bridge the whole flock follows.
Diggers, sowers, ploughers, men and women I must now draw constantly. Examine and draw everything that’s part of a peasant’s life. Just as many others have done and are doing. I’m no longer so powerless in the face of nature as I used to be.
I brought Conté in wood (and pencils as well) from The Hague, and am now working a lot with it.
I’m also starting to work with the brush and the stump. With a little sepia or indian ink, and now and then with a bit of colour.
It’s quite certain that the drawings I’ve been making lately don’t much resemble anything I’ve made up till now.
The size of the figures is more or less that of one of the Exercices au fusain.
As regards landscape, I maintain that that should by no means have to suffer on account of it. On the contrary, it will gain by it. Herewith a couple of little sketches to give you an idea of them.
Of course I have to pay the people who pose. Not very much, but because it’s an everyday occurrence it will be one more expense as long as I fail to sell any drawings.
But because it’s only rarely that a figure is a total failure, it seems to me that the cost of models will be completely recouped fairly soon already.
For there’s also something to be earned in this day and age for someone who has learned to seize a figure and hold on to it until it stands firmly on the paper. I needn’t tell you that I’m only sending you these sketches to give you an idea of the pose. I scribbled them today quickly and see that the proportions leave much to be desired, certainly more so than in the actual drawings at any rate. I’ve had a good letter from Rappard who seems to be hard at work, he sent me some very nice sketches of landscapes. I’d really like him to come here again for a few days.
This is a field or stubble field which is being ploughed and sown, I have a rather large sketch of it with a storm brewing.
The other two sketches are poses of diggers. I hope to make several more of these.
The other sower has a basket.
It would give me tremendous pleasure to have a woman pose with a seed basket in order to find that figure that I showed you last spring and which you see in the foreground of the first sketch.
In short, ‘the factory is in full swing’, as Mauve says.
Remember that Ingres paper, if you will, of the colour of unbleached linen, the stronger kind if possible. In any case, write to me soon if you can, and accept a handshake in thought.