To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Saturday, 5 or Sunday, 6 August 1882.
My dear Theo,
In my last letter you’ll have found a little scratch of that perspective frame. I’ve just come back from the blacksmith, who has put iron spikes on the legs and iron corners on the frame.
It consists of two long legs:
The frame is fixed to them by means of strong wooden pegs [sketch B], either horizontally or vertically.
The result is that on the beach or in a meadow or a field you have a view as if through a window. The perpendicular and horizontal lines of the frame, together with the diagonals and the cross — or otherwise a grid of squares — provide a clear guide to some of the principal features, so that one can make a drawing with a firm hand, setting out the broad outlines and proportions. Assuming, that is, that one has a feeling for perspective and an understanding of why and how perspective appears to change the direction of lines and the size of masses and planes. Without that, the frame is little or no help, and makes your head spin when you look through it.
I expect you can imagine how delightful it is to train this view-finder on the sea, on the green fields — or in the winter on snow-covered land or in the autumn on the fantastic network of thin and thick trunks and branches, or on a stormy sky. With CONSIDERABLE practice and with lengthy practice, it enables one to draw at lightning speed and, once the lines are fixed, to paint at lightning speed.
It’s in fact especially good for painting, because a brush must be used for sky, ground, sea. Or, rather, to render them through drawing alone, it’s necessary to know
and feel how to work with the brush. I also firmly believe my drawing would be strongly influenced if I were to paint for a while. I tried it back in January but that came
to a halt — the reason for stopping, apart from a few other things, was that I was still too hesitant when drawing. Now six months have passed, devoted entirely to drawing.
So now I’m beginning anew with fresh heart. The frame really has become an excellent piece of equipment — it’s a pity you still haven’t seen it. It has cost me a pretty penny,
too, but I had it made so solidly that I shan’t wear it out in a hurry. On Monday I’ll start doing large charcoal drawings with it, as well as painting small studies — if
those two things come off, I hope that better painted work will soon follow.
So by the time you next come to see me I would like the studio to have become a real painter’s studio. The fact that I couldn’t get going in January — you know that there were various reasons for that, but in the end it can be seen as a fault in the machine, a screw or a rod that wasn’t strong enough and had to be replaced by a stronger one.
Another thing I’ve bought for myself is a tough, warm pair of trousers, and, since I bought a pair of sturdy shoes just before you came, I’m now fully prepared to face the elements. At the same time my aim is to learn a couple of things about technique through this landscape painting which I feel I’m in need of for my FIGURES, namely rendering different fabrics, and the tone and colour. In a word, the expression of the body — the mass — of things. It’s as a result of your visit that I’m moving on to this, but before you came not a day passed without my thinking about it along these lines. But I would have gone on for longer with just black and white and the outline. But there’s no turning back now. Adieu, old chap, again a warm handshake, and believe me