To Anthon van Rappard. Etten, Saturday, 15 October 1881.
My dear friend Rappard,
Your letter, in my opinion, must be answered at once. First of all, let me tell you that it interests me very much — more than any other letter I’ve received from you — I infer more from it than you imagine you put into it.
I take it to mean: ‘my friend Rappard has taken a big step forward or will do so shortly’. In what way? Well, it doesn’t matter now, but I have my reasons for thinking that you’ve arrived at a point of revolution and reform. It’ll go well! The flames of enthusiasm will be burning in you before long! It’ll go well. For the moment, no more mention of it in this letter.
But if you should be amazed at what I said to you, I hope to tell you more in person before too long. Because in any case I hope to see you soon, whether you come by way of Breda or whether you come by way of Roosendaal. First of all, on behalf of my parents, I ask you to try and come one day soon, for a longer or shorter period, and pay us a visit.
So there’s no need for you to ask if it’s convenient, but if you do indeed come, you only have to write, I’m coming then or then on this or that train.
If it’s impossible for you to come, I definitely count on your stopping over till the next train, whether at the station in Breda or the station in Roosendaal, and on your writing a letter or postcard to tell me the time and place of your arrival. In that case I’ll come to the assigned place. And I’ll bring some drawings along, the large one of ‘Worn out’ and several others that you don’t know at all. I needn’t tell you that I hope that for your part you’ll take the opportunity to show me some of your watercolours, which I’m extremely curious to see.
You see, we must definitely arrange to meet each other one way or the other in the coming days. There’s one thing that could prevent me from coming to the station on the day you travel, but it’s very unlikely that it will fall exactly on the same day.
I must tell you that Mauve will be going to Princenhage for a day, and after that coming here for a day. Which will happen one of these days, we hope, though we still don’t know which day. And if Mauve is here, I’ll go where Mauve goes.
Suppose you happened to be staying with us when Mauve was here, would you find that so disagreeable? I think not, whether you already know Mauve personally I don’t know, but a meeting or reunion with him would be good, it seems to me. Mauve gave me encouragement recently when I needed it. He’s a man of genius.
So now you’re thinking seriously of going to Brussels until Christmas to paint the nude.
Well, I find that understandable in your case, and especially in your present mood, I look upon your going very calmly and confidently. Things will go as they should.
Whether you go to Brussels or whether you don’t, something new will ignite in you. It’ll be fine, and your going or not going to Brussels will make little difference one way or the other, but the caterpillar will become a butterfly. I’m speaking as your companion in misfortune.
I mean you don’t have to think that a stay of a few days in Etten would be neglect of duty, on the contrary, you can easily take it to be devotion to duty, for neither you nor I would sit about with idle hands. You can also draw figures here if you will. I don’t know if I told you that my uncle at Princenhage saw the sketches in your letter and thought them very good, and was pleased that you’re making progress with both figures and landscape.
It’s my view, Rappard, that you must nevertheless work especially from a clothed model.
One must have a thorough understanding of the nude, that’s indispensable, and yet in reality we’re always confronted with clothed figures.
Unless you were intending to follow in the tracks of Baudry, Lefebvre, Henner and so many others who are specialized in the nude. In that case you must study the nude almost exclusively; in that case, the more you focus almost exclusively on it and concentrate on it, the better. But I really don’t think that you’ll take that path. You have too much feeling for other things, a woman gathering potatoes in the field, a digger, a sower, a lady in the street or at home, you find them all too beautiful not to get around to attacking them, in a completely different way than you have up to now. You have too much feeling for colour, too much sentiment for tone, you’re too much of a landscapist to follow in the footsteps of Baudry. The more so because I believe that you, Rappard, will end up settling in Holland. You’re too much of a Dutchman to become a Baudry. But that you paint such beautiful studies of nudes as the two large ones that I know of yours, that recumbent pose and that brown, seated figure, this I think excellent, and I wish that I’d done them.
I’m telling you my thoughts frankly, and for your part you, too, must always tell me yours frankly.
Your comment on that figure of the sower — of which you said, it’s not a man sowing but a man posing as a sower — is very true.
I consider my current studies, however, to be studies from a model, they have no pretension of being anything else.
Only in a year or two will I get down to making a sower who is sowing, I agree with you there.
You say, Rappard, that you’ve done next to nothing for a fortnight. I know those fortnights well, I also had them this summer. At the time I did nothing with drawing directly — what I did, I did indirectly, those are periods of transformation.
I saw the Mesdag Panorama, I was there with the painter De Bock who collaborated on it, and he told me about an incident that I found rather amusing that took place after the panorama had been finished.
Perhaps you know the painter Destrée. Just between you and me, he’s the incarnation of mealy-mouthed pedantry. Well — this gentleman went to see De Bock one day and said to him very superciliously, very mealy-mouthed, very pedantically, with a patronizing air, ‘De Bock, they also asked me to help paint that panorama, but because it’s unartistic I refused’. To which De Bock replied: ‘Mr Destrée, what is easier, helping to paint a panorama or refusing to paint a panorama? What is more artistic, doing something or not doing it?’ I found that reply very much to the point. I have good news from my brother Theo, he sends you his regards. Be sure and keep up your acquaintance with him by writing to him occasionally. He’s a clever, energetic chap, it’s a great pity, I think, that he’s not a painter, but it’s good for the painters that there are people like him. You’ll surely discover this if you keep up your acquaintance with him. And now I’ll just say: goodbye for now, isn’t that so? And believe me, with a handshake in thought
I’m looking for a poem, I think it’s by Tom Hood, ‘The song of the shirt’, do you know it perhaps, or could you manage to get hold of it? If you know it, I’d like to ask you to write it down for me. Having sealed this letter, I’m opening it up to tell you that although I can well understand that you’ve conceived this plan, I’d like nonetheless to suggest that you reconsider before going ahead and implementing it.
Speaking from the heart, I say: ‘Rappard, stay here’. Of course there may be reasons I’m unaware of that are important enough to make you resolve upon that plan. That’s why I say it only from an artistic standpoint, that in my opinion you as a Dutchman will be better off with a Dutch viewpoint and will have more satisfaction if you work from nature here in the country (whether it be figures or landscape) than if you were to devote yourself to specializing in the nude.
Even though I like Baudry and others, such as Lefebvre and Henner, in fact I greatly prefer Jules Breton, Feyen-Perrin, Millet, Ulysse Butin, Mauve, Artz, Israëls &c. &c. And it’s expressly because I truly think that this is essentially your own view too that I’m speaking about it like this. Although you’ve seen much, it’s certain that I’ve seen no less, at any rate, of all kinds of art than you have. For this very reason, because even though I’m a comparative beginner as a draughtsman I nevertheless have a broad view of art in general, you mustn’t take it too lightly if I sometimes say a thing or two. And in my opinion you and I could do no better than to work from Dutch nature (figure and landscape). Then we’re ourselves, then we feel at home, then we’re in our element. The more we know about what’s happening abroad the better, but we mustn’t forget that our roots are in Dutch soil. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve progressed a great deal with your uncle, Mr Lantsheer. I’m glad, at any rate, that he spoke as he did about your painting at Arti. He’s a man of discernment in the field of art, and there aren’t many who have as much knowledge and taste as he does.