To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, on or about Saturday, 7 July 1883.
My dear Theo.
If you’re like me you sometimes have a sudden desire to look up someone you haven’t seen in a long time. This is what happened to me with De Bock, and I wanted to write to you about what I saw at his place. Because you also know him from the past, even better than I do. The first thing I saw there in the hall was a large sketch — an enormous windmill, entirely covered in snow, beside a kind of canal or waterway. Half romantic, half realistic — a combination of styles I find not unsympathetic. But it was far from finished — but energetically tackled, and there was a fine, forceful effect in it. Anyway, something that one always sees with pleasure, and it doesn’t bother me that it isn’t finished — I’d like to have that piece by him hanging in my studio just as it is, because it’s so expressive. Another sketch, that of the painting in the Salon, was also beautiful, I thought, but even more romantic. There were also a few paintings with blonder accents, various pleasing studies.
The impression I got of him himself was just about the same as last year, perhaps a shade more positive and more serious. I thought some sketches maturer and more correct in tone and colour than last year, and the grounds firmer. But in my view too much of the relative proportions of the planes and masses is still left vague; keeping an eye on this sort of proportion is the hallmark of Corot and Rousseau and Diaz, Daubigny, Dupré. What they all have in common, in my view, is that they pay careful attention to that, and with them the backgrounds are always expressive and not so disengaged.
There are very spirited things in De Bock’s work, though, and one would view it with more pleasure if the way things stand in their place was less visionary. He ought to be rather more of a realist and then his work would be more brilliant.
I also can’t understand why he doesn’t have some more variety. To give an example, this week I did a few landscape studies as well, one yesterday at De Bock’s, a potato field
in the dunes; the day before a spot under the chestnut trees; another, a yard with heaps of coal. Now it’s relatively rare for me to get round to drawing landscape, but when I
get round to it I immediately have 3 very different subjects. Why doesn’t he, a specialized landscape painter, do that much, much more instead of it always being a dune with
a tree and a bit of marram grass? All very fine in itself, but there’s so much that is just as fine and ought to attract him, one would imagine.
Anyway, you know all about that, again my impression of him is that he has most certainly not gone downhill. Well, I wrote to you recently that I had been thinking about moving, mainly in order to be closer to the sea. I talked to Bock about houses in Scheveningen, but I must stop saying the rent for my studio is high when I compare it with the costs that others have; for instance, the house where Blommers used to live is to let — the rent is 400 guilders and I pay 170 guilders a year. Moreover, the studio is no bigger than mine, and as for the suitability of the house I would stick to what I have now. De Bock himself pays the same as Blommers. And this is in line with what I heard last year about average rents. If it was a question of going to live by the sea, Scheveningen wouldn’t be possible and one would have to go further away, Hook of Holland, say, or Marken.
Now, though, I’m thinking of asking De Bock to let me have a corner of his attic as a pied-à-terre and then leaving my equipment there so that I don’t need to lug it around. If one arrives tired (if one didn’t need to work immediately that slight fatigue wouldn’t matter, of course), the work is sometimes weak and the hand is none too steady. One is just hot and tired enough to be bothered by it if one walks and has to lug everything around.
So that pied-à-terre at De Bock’s and taking the tram more often might perhaps be enough to be able to do something with the sea and Scheveningen after all, more seriously than I’ve done so far. De Bock is to come to my place this week and we’re to discuss it further. He’s thinking of moving himself and has rented until May, and said that his house might stand empty for several months after all. We’ll see. He asked after you warmly, and I said you’d probably visit him this summer. His big painting in the Salon not sold of course. What did you think of that? The reviews were rather mixed. I think it will work out, to be at Scheveningen often this autumn with a pied-à-terre at his place. We’ll see — but I yearn very much to do something with the beach.
Did a study this week of a barge puller and a peat carrier and I’m still working on the potato grubbers. I hope that, taking a turn now with Bock, I’ll be able to get on with him; it could do both of us no harm, and perhaps we can learn from each other.
He’s bought a lot of antiques and his place looks very attractive, but I imagine it must have cost him a great deal.
Will you write soon? Now I’ve written to you about Bock as I did recently about Rappard, that way you hear something about our acquaintances. Rappard is travelling, still he wrote to me that he had got round after all to using printer’s ink as I told him, and that it worked much better that way, namely with turpentine.
You know that I’ve always said my present studio was good, especially after the alterations. Really, if I think now of changing — I would much rather arrange things so that I don’t need to move, because compared with others I’m very well off. Well, one is always attached to something one has furnished oneself and one feels at home there.
See that you send me something soon, old chap, for I need it badly.
De Bock has also taken to reading Zola and had read Le Nabab by Daudet as well. Do you know Germinie Lacerteux by Jules and E. de Goncourt? That’s supposed to be very good, in the manner of Zola. I’m going to get hold of it.
I’ve ordered an instrument that’s known as a fixer which enables one to fix a charcoal drawing out of doors while one works, then one can work it up. Am looking forward to it. With Bock I’ve found splendid potato fields in the dunes behind the lighthouse.
Regards, old chap, I wish you well, and write soon. Adieu, with a handshake.
Of late I’ve been absorbed in a drawing by Régamey of a diamond mine. At first sight it’s no different from one of those superficial drawings the illustrated magazines are full of — one is inclined to skip it — but if one looks at it for a moment everything becomes so beautiful and so curious that one is entirely won over. Régamey is clever. This print is by Félix, who often does the Japanese things.