To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Tuesday, 19 September 1882.
My dear friend Rappard,
Your letter, very welcome, has just arrived, and I’m answering at once because I’m longing to talk to you again.
You ask: do you have many German things? As it happens, on the subject of Vautier and other Germans in a letter to my brother about some figure studies I had drawn, I wrote almost exactly the same as what you say. I told him that I’d been to an exhibition of watercolours where there was a great deal by the Italians. Clever, very clever, and yet they left me with an empty feeling, and I said to my brother, old chap, what a pleasant time it was in art when that group of artists from Alsace began, Vautier, Knaus, Jundt, Georg Saal, Van Muyden, Brion above all, Anker, T. Schuler, who mainly made drawings, who were, so to speak, explained and supported by other artists, namely writers like Erckmann-Chatrian and Auerbach. Yes, the Italians are most definitely clever, but where is their sentiment, their human feeling? I’d rather see a grey scratch by Lançon — a few rag-pickers eating their soup while it’s snowing and raining outside — than the dazzling peacock’s feathers of the Italians, who seem to multiply daily, while the more sober artists are no less rare than they always were.
I mean it, Rappard. I would rather be a waiter in a hotel, for example, than the sort of watercolour manufacturer some Italians are.
I don’t say that this applies to all of them, but you get my drift as regards the direction and tenor of that school. What I say doesn’t detract from the fact that I also know many whom I find beautiful, namely the artists who have something Goya-like, such as Fortuny sometimes, and Morelli, and sometimes even Tapiró &c., Heilbuth, Duez. When I first saw some of this work 10 or 12 years ago, I was with Goupil at the time, I thought it was splendid, and even found it much more beautiful than the well-wrought things by either the Germans or, for example, the English draughtsmen or, for example, Rochussen or Mauve. I’ve long since changed my mind, because I believe those artists are rather like birds with only one note in their song, whereas I feel more sympathy for larks or nightingales that have more to say with less noise and more passion. However, I don’t have a great deal by the Germans — the beautiful ones from the time of Brion are hard to find now. I once put together a collection of woodcuts, mainly after the above artists, which I gave away to a friend in England when I left Goupil. I regret that so much now. If you want to have something really beautiful by them, put in an order at the offices of L’Illustration for L’Album des Vosges, drawings by T. Schuler, Brion, Valentin, Jundt, &c. I believe it costs 5 francs. But I fear that it’s sold out. It’s worth asking, though. Perhaps, indeed probably, the price has gone up — they won’t send it on approval, that’s why I didn’t dare ask for it myself.
I can give few details about English artists, in the sense that I couldn’t provide biographies of them. Having spent 3 full years in England, however, and having seen the work of many of them, I’ve learned quite a lot in broad outline about them and their work. It’s hardly possible to appreciate them fully without having spent a long time in England.
It’s a different way of feeling, conceiving, expressing, which one has to get used to first. Studying them more than repays the effort, for they are great artists, the English. Israëls, Mauve and Rochussen come closest, but in appearance a painting by Thomas Faed, for example, is very different from an Israëls, and a drawing by Pinwell, Morris or Small looks different from one by Mauve, and a Gilbert or Du Maurier different from Rochussen.
Speaking of Rochussen, I saw a splendid drawing by him: French generals demanding information and papers from the mayor and councillors in a room in an old Dutch town hall. I thought it was just as beautiful as, say, the scene at Dr Wagner’s in Madame Thérèse by Erckmann-Chatrian. I know that you didn’t greatly appreciate Rochussen at the time, but I’m sure that when you see his important drawings you’ll like him very much indeed.
For me the English draughtsmen are what Dickens is in the sphere of literature. It’s one and the same sentiment, noble and healthy, and something one always comes back to. I would very much like it if sooner or later you had an opportunity to quietly look through my whole collection. It’s through seeing a lot together that one gets an overall view and it begins to speak for itself, and one sees clearly what a splendid entity this school of draughtsmen forms. Just as one must read Dickens or Balzac or Zola in their entirety to know them separately.
Thus, for example, I now have as many as 50 prints about Ireland — one might well overlook them seen individually, but they are striking when seen all together.
The portrait of Shakespeare by Menzel is unknown to me; I’d very much like to see how the one lion interpreted the other. For Menzel’s work has some resemblance to Shakespeare’s in that it LIVES, so. I have the small edition of Menzel’s Frederick the Great. Bring it with you if you would, if you come to The Hague again. I don’t have the prints you write about (except for the Régamey), I do not have Heilbuth, Marchetti, Jacquet.
I have nothing by Whistler, but in the past I’ve seen beautiful etchings by him, figures and landscape.
I was also struck by the seascapes by Wyllie from The Graphic which you write about.
I know The widow’s field by Boughton; it’s very beautiful.17 Yes, I’m so taken by all of it that my whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes and these artists draw. Millet says – in art one must give one’s heart and soul. I’m already wrestling, I know what I want, and nonsense about the illustrative won’t divert me from my path. Contact with artists has, so to speak, completely ceased for me, without my being able to explain exactly how or why. I’m made out to be everything peculiar and bad. This means that I sometimes have a certain sense of being abandoned, but on the other hand it concentrates my attention on the things that aren’t changeable, namely the eternal beauty of nature. I often think of the old story of Robinson Crusoe, who didn’t lose heart because of his solitariness but organized things so that he created work for himself and had a very active and very stimulating life through his own searching and toiling.
Anyway, lately I’ve also been painting and watercolouring, and in addition I’m drawing many figures from the model as well as scratches on the street. Lately I’ve quite often had a man from the Old Men’s Home to pose.
Now it’s high time that I sent Karl Robert, Le fusain, back to you. I’ve read it through more than once and tried, and yet I make no progress with charcoal, and I prefer to work with a carpenter’s pencil. I would like to see someone make a charcoal drawing — with me it so quickly becomes flat, and the cause is something that I believe would go if I saw it being done. If you come sometime, I have a few things to ask you about it.
In any case I’m glad that I’ve read it, and I entirely agree with the writer that it’s a delightful medium to work in, and I wish that I could handle it better. Perhaps I’ll discover the secret, along with other things that are still unclear to me. So I’m returning it with thanks. I’m adding a few woodcuts, two German ones by Marchal, as it happens. The Lançons seem beautiful to me, and especially the Green, and The miners.
If you have any duplicates, I would always welcome having one of them.
I would also welcome letters — and if you read something that strikes you let me know, for I’m out of touch with what comes out these days — I know a little more about the literature of a few years ago. When I was ill and afterwards I read Zola’s books with great admiration. I thought that Balzac stood alone, but I see that he had successors. Yet, Rappard, the age of Balzac and Dickens, the age of Gavarni and Millet, is now far behind us. For while it isn’t long since those men passed on, it’s a very long time since they began, and in the meantime there have been many changes that aren’t exactly improvements in my view. I once read in Eliot ‘though it be dead, yet let me think it lives’, so it is with the period I’m writing to you about, in my opinion. And that’s why I’m so especially fond of Rochussen, for example. You mention illustrations of fairy tales — did you know that Rochussen did splendid watercolours of German legends? I know a series called Lenore, splendid in sentiment. But Rochussen’s important drawings aren’t in circulation much, but in the portfolios of wealthy art lovers. If you go about collecting woodcuts energetically, you too will hear rhetoric about ‘the illustrative’. But what happens with woodcuts? The fine ones become rarer as time passes, harder and harder to find — and later people will search for them and not be able to find them any more. The other day I saw the whole of Doré’s work on London — I say, that’s splendidly beautiful and noble in sentiment — for example in the room in the night refuge for beggars, which you have, I believe, and otherwise can still get.
Adieu, with a handshake.
I’m working on a watercolour of orphans — various things started — I have my hands full. When I had finished my letter, I went out and came back with another pile of illustrations, namely old Hollandsche Illustraties, so I can add some duplicates to this batch.
First 3 very beautiful Daumiers.
If you have them already, please return them when you get the chance.
The four ages of the drinker by Daumier has always seemed to me one of his most beautiful things.
There is soul in it as in a Degroux. I’m very glad to be able to send you this print. The Daumiers are becoming rare.
Even if you had nothing else by Daumier, the master would still be well represented in your collection. I saw splendid drawings by Frans Hals once. In this sheet I find something — in fact, everything — of Frans Hals or Rembrandt.
I’m also adding some very beautiful Morins and old Dorés — prints that are becoming rarer and rarer.
Like me, you’ve no doubt heard talk — on the subject of ‘the illustrative’ — against Doré above all, and of course against Morin.
I believe that notwithstanding this you’ve continued admiring the work of these artists all the same. But if one isn’t on one’s guard, things like that can still influence one more or less. That’s why I don’t think it superfluous, now that I’m sending you these prints, to say that for me there’s still the smell of the days of Gavarni and of Balzac and V. Hugo in these grubby woodcuts — something of the Bohème, now almost forgotten — which I respect, and that each time I see them again they encourage me to do my best and tackle things energetically.
Of course, I too see the difference between a drawing by Doré and one by Millet, but the one doesn’t rule out the other.
There may be a difference, but there’s also correspondence. Doré can model a torso and construct the joints better, infinitely better, than many a person who scoffs at him like a conceited know-all — witness, for example, that print of sea bathing, which for him is no more than a scratch.
I’m only saying that if someone like Millet made comments about Doré’s drawing — I doubt if he would, but suppose he did — well, he would have the right to do so. But when those who with their two hands can’t do a tenth of what Doré can do with one finger rail against his work, that’s nothing but arrogance, and they’d be well advised to be silent and to learn to draw better themselves.
It’s so silly that this lack of appreciation of drawing is so widespread these days.
You saw the drawings by Lynen in Brussels – how witty and amusing and clever they were. If you talked to anyone about them, they answered loftily with a certain contempt that yes, they were ‘quite nice’. Lynen himself, for example, will always remain fairly poor even though he’s probably very active and very productive and likely to become more so. Well, for my part, provided I stay active and become more and more productive, I have nothing against being fairly poor all my life, provided I have my daily bread.
Well, regards again, I hope you like the woodcuts, and that I’ll soon hear from you again. Adieu.