To Theo van Gogh. Nieuw-Amsterdam, Friday, 12 or Saturday, 13 October 1883.
I’m sending you the enclosed scratches to give you some idea of so many diverse things that the seemingly monotonous countryside has to offer. You see, I just take what’s there, I grab this and that by the neck; it will arrange itself and ripen of its own accord later. But I don’t want to begin here with a preconceived plan; on the contrary, I want my plan to ripen out of my studies. I don’t know the real character of the countryside as yet — now I’m doing everything I come across, and then later, when I have some experience, I want to try to convey it in what is fundamentally its most characteristic aspect. The one so much part of the other that one has to seize everything; however much one would like to concentrate, one may miss nothing.
There’s plenty of work, in other words. I now have a reasonably large room where a stove has been placed, where there happens to be a small balcony. From which I can even see the heath with the huts. I also look out on a very curious drawbridge. Well, downstairs is an inn and a peasant kitchen with an open peat fire, very cosy in the evenings. One can think best by one of those peasant hearths with a cradle beside it. If I feel melancholy or can’t work something out, I just go downstairs.
I can tell you that I’ve heard something indirectly about the woman. After all, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she hadn’t even written to me. Well then, I wrote to the carpenter next door to us asking whether the woman hadn’t been to him for the address. Well then, the blackguard writes back to me: Oh yes sir, but I thought that you certainly wouldn’t want her to know your address, so I just made out that I didn’t know it. Bastards.
Then I wrote to her directly, although this wasn’t as good as my agreement, which was expressly made with him and with her, but I do not want now or ever to conceal or to have to conceal myself, and I’d rather write to her at her family’s address than have even the semblance of hiding. That’s what I think about it.
And I sent her some money too — if this may have wretched consequences, I’m not responsible for them, I will not play false. I found the letter from that scoundrel in Hoogeveen on my last trip there.
Friend Rappard also wrote to me again from Terschelling and — now today — from Utrecht — he’s back again! Has brought studies with him, mostly of the old folks’ home. I don’t quite understand this. He told me that the doctor had advised sea air for him during the winter for his health, that moreover he had such a desire to spend a winter in the country, but it seems to have turned out differently. Anyway.
You wrote to me about Liebermann: his coloration consists of slate-grey tones with transitions chiefly to brown, to yellow-grey. I’ve never seen anything by him, but now that I see nature here I understand perfectly how reasonable it is that he arrives at it. As to colour, things often remind me of Michel too. You know, he also has a grey sky (slate-grey sometimes), a brown earth with yellow-greys. It’s completely true and faithful to nature. There are Jules Dupré effects — yes, there are certainly those, but in autumn like this, it’s exactly that — as you wrote about Liebermann.
And if I find that which I seek — and why shouldn’t I find it? — I’ll certainly often do it thus, in that same spectrum.
That’s to say, in order to see it like this one mustn’t look at the local colour in itself, but consider that local colour in relation to the tone of the sky.
That sky is grey — however so luminous that even our pure white might perhaps not capture it in terms of light and brilliance. But if one starts by painting the sky grey, thus remaining far below the intensity of nature, then all the more, in order to remain consistent, will one have to set the browns and yellow-greys of the earth several tones lower. It seems to me that this is something which, once one analyzes it like this, is so self-evident that one finds it hard to understand that one hasn’t always seen it thus.
But it’s the local colour of a green field or a reddish-brown heath which, viewed in isolation, can easily confuse someone. Write to me again soon because, as letters go, your last missive was remarkably brief — all too brief, but was also evidently written in the office.
How’s the Triennial Exhibition going? There’ll be a lot of beautiful things. I’m really interested to hear something about it, because these too are certainly the characteristic things of the moment, not of much earlier years. So if you have a moment, do write something about it.
According to a current rumour, it appears that Liebermann is somewhere here in the neighbourhood. I’d like to meet him sometime.
Well, I’m very pleased that I’ve found a more suitable studio, precisely because it’s rather rainy and the bad weather can be expected any time, so as not to have to sit idle at home. I wish you could just see the countryside; it’s so inexpressibly beautiful in the evening. And it seems to me the snow will be gripping too.
I read a very good book by Carlyle, Heroes and hero-worship, full of nice things, like for instance, We have the duty to be brave, although this is usually wrongly regarded as something exceptional. It’s also true in life that the good is such a high light that it goes without saying that we can’t reach that. If we set our spectrum lower and nonetheless try to remain bright and not lapse into lifelessness, this is the most reasonable thing to do, and makes life less impossible. There are amazing characters here — nonconformist ministers with pig faces and cocked hats. Also many veritable Jews who look extraordinarily ugly amidst Milletesque types or on this unsophisticated, sad heath. On the other hand, they are genuine. I travelled with a party of Jews who were having theological discussions with a couple of peasants. How are such absurdities possible, one would say, in countryside like this? Why can’t they look out of the window or smoke pipes or something, and at any rate behave as reasonably as their pigs, say, which aren’t a nuisance at all, even though they’re pigs, and remain in harmony with their surroundings and are in place there?
But before the ministers like the ones I saw here achieve the height of civilization and reason of common pigs, they have to improve a good deal more, and it will take centuries before they’re in that position. At the moment, any pig at all is much better, to my mind.
Well, I’m going out again, do write if you get a moment, and look particularly to see whether Liebermann has anything in the exhibition.
Regards — so my address just remains here for the time being — wishing you the best, with a handshake