To Anthon van Rappard. The Hague, on or about Thursday, 25 January 1883.
My dear friend Rappard,
Several days have now passed since I began looking through The Graphics.
If I were to write to you about all the beautiful things in them, and if my descriptions weren’t merely superficial, the result really would be a heavy volume.
Nonetheless, I can’t resist mentioning a few prints that are absolutely matchless.
For example, The foundling by Frank Holl. This shows several policemen in waterproof capes who have taken up a child left as a foundling between the beams and planks of a quay beside the Thames. Some curious onlookers watch, and through the fog one sees the grey silhouette of the city in the background.
Then there’s a funeral, also by him, several people going into a churchyard, beautiful in sentiment. He calls that print: I am the Resurrection and the Life.
Then there’s another funeral by Nash, only on board a ship. One sees the corpse by the railing. The sailors stand beside it and the captain reads the liturgy.
One 3rd-class waiting room by Holl is known to you from a little print of it that I sent you this summer, but in The Graphic there’s the large one, infinitely finer.
I noticed the work of C. Green some time ago but didn’t know he could make things as beautiful as, for instance, his ‘bench in the hospital’, patients who are waiting to see the doctor. Also by him a quay in Liverpool, and Land once more, passengers coming ashore from a ship. Here they come, spectators at the Derby (Buckman also did the same thing with the same title excellently). I didn’t know Gordon Thompson before, spectators at the Derby by him too, ‘Clapham road’ (as it happens, close to where I used to live). This print is unbelievably good; it resembles Dürer or Quinten Massys, for example.
You know the work of Percy Macquoid, of Heilbuth, of Tissot, when one sees that it seems as if it’s the non plus ultra of elegance and soft, delicate feeling. In a sense, indeed, this is the non plus ultra. Still, compared with them, Pinwell and Fred Walker are what the nightingale is to the lark. In a sheet in The Graphic called The sisters, for example, Pinwell draws two women in black in a dark room, the simplest possible composition, in which he has put a serious sentiment that I can only compare to the full song of the nightingale on a spring night. There are two other sketches by him, Baby’s home, and a splendid sheet, among others, by Fred Walker, The old gate and The harbour of refuge.
The work by Herkomer in it (I’m not counting the prints I already had) includes Divine service (pews in a church), Treat to the Whitechapel poor. Lodging house St Giles, The workhouse (women), charcoal burners — Wirthshaus — The cardinals walk, Rome, Skittle alley. Carnival time, Anxious times, Arrest of a poacher. Then (apart from the large figures from it) the very first sketch of The last muster entitled Sunday at Chelsea. In a later volume it says of this print that when Herkomer first presented it no one on the board of The Graphic liked it except the manager, who ordered a more detailed drawing from Herkomer and immediately placed the sketch.
That’s how things can change in the world, for later there’s a sheet in The Graphic of the spectators around the final painting of The last muster. You know the head of a miner by Ridley. I now have a boat race spectators by him, and already had a hospital, both thorough, solid prints.
But something new by him is a series of 6 or 7 prints, miners, pits and pitmen, that recall etchings by Whistler or Seymour Haden, Staniland, The rush to the pit’s mouth, also in the mining region.
One print that particularly struck me is Abbey, Xmas in old Virginia engraved by Swain. This drawing was evidently done entirely with the pen — like, for instance, those by Caldecott and Barnard, but large figures.
Small has a superb drawing of Caxton showing specimens of his printing to the king. It recalls Leys. Of course there are many beautiful things by Small, but this and the ploughing match are the finest by him that I know. A queue in Paris during the siege by him is splendid, as are several London sketches and Irish sketches.
Green also has The girl I left behind me, especially good too, it’s a troop of returning soldiers, and the meeting of one of them with his girl, who has remained faithful to him.
Irish churchyard is no less beautiful. Boughton, Waning of the honeymoon.
Nash. Labourers meeting and Life boat and Sunday evening at sea.
Gregory, Hospital and Paris during the siege.
Buckman, Hampstead Heath.
Fildes has a scene in the courtyard of a prison where policemen are holding onto a thief or murderer so that his photograph can be taken. The chap refuses to submit to this and puts up a struggle. In the other corner of the composition the photographer and onlookers. There are many fine ones by Boyd Houghton, most of them smaller compositions from America that one would think were etchings, but also large prints, Paris under the red flag, Mormon tabernacle, Cabin of emigrant ship, that don’t resemble anything else. The details are amazingly worked up, and the appearance is something like an etching by — well, by whom — by Fortuny perhaps, or Whistler. Most curious.
Edwin Edwards, The foundling, Sea bathing, The meet &c.
Two sheets — I don’t know by whom — from the Russo-Turkish War, Osman Pasha and an old battleground, which are remarkable for their reality.
Stocks Sermon time and Last sacrament
Hodgson Navvies and Fishing
Gow No surrender
Lawson Imprisoned spring
Small Swan upping, Game of polo, Boatrace. Queens ladies, R. Academy, Walking match
Green An artist on stone, Outsiders betting
Well, it’s easy to start on a list, but leaving off is a different matter; that’s difficult. There’s so much more, there’s really no end to it. For I’m speaking now almost
exclusively of the large prints. Just to mention one, among the smaller is 93 by Victor Hugo illustrated by Herkomer, Green, Small — rarely has a book been illustrated in such
a way — how fortunate that it’s that book, so fully worthy of it.
But 1 year is missing from the collection, namely the first. However, I already had some fine sheets from it, among them Fildes, Applicants at a casual ward (Home and the homeless) and Fildes, The empty chair (Dickens’s studio).
Write to me soon — now that you’re better.
To top it all, this week I got another two volumes (1876) — I took them because there are outstanding prints in them which, though I already have them, I want to have as many times as I can find — including the old wives by Herkomer, that’s a masterpiece. Have you got that??? A fine female figure by Percy Macquoid, During the reign of terror.
Small sketches too, cats — Chinese — mackerel fishing.
At last a large print, a corner of a studio — a manikin that has fallen over, draperies which two dogs are playing with. Precious but it satisfies me less, I find it a little pedantic and too refined. There’s one more splendid illustration by Fildes (for a novel), two men in a churchyard at twilight.
You’ll understand that I’m in two minds about the following question. If I cut the prints out and mount them, they look better like that and can be arranged by the draughtsmen who made them. But then I damage the text, which is useful in many ways if one wants to look up something, about exhibitions say, although the reviews of them are very superficial.
One also damages, for example, the novels, like Hugo’s 93.
And it costs a good deal in mounting paper. It’s quite certain, though, the large prints in particular look infinitely better mounted than with a fold through the middle. And that one has a better overall view when they’re arranged by draughtsman.
But actually isn’t it ridiculous that here in an artistic city like The Hague someone like me should be the highest bidder at a public book auction? One would expect other bidders to come forward, but no. I myself didn’t think I would get them. The Jew had talked to me about them before the auction. I said that I would like to but couldn’t think of buying something like that. Then later he told me he’d bought them at his own risk because almost no one was bidding, and if I wanted them he had them. Then it became a different matter and my brother helped me to buy them dirt cheap — one guilder a volume.
Pleased as I am to have them, at the same time I feel sad that there’s so little demand for them. It’s wonderful for me to find such a treasure, but I would rather that demand was such that I couldn’t obtain them for the time being.
Oh Rappard — it’s the same as with other things — much that is of great value is paid no attention nowadays, and looked down upon as ballast, rubbish or scrap paper.
Don’t you find something very dull about these times? Or is it my imagination? A certain lack of passion and warmth and open-heartedness. The ‘dealers’ and their cronies may claim that ‘it’s in the nature of things that the desired change will come’ (isn’t this explanation very satisfactory?), but for my part I don’t see that ‘in the nature of things’ so clearly. Be that as it may, it isn’t unpleasant to look through a Graphic, and while doing so one can’t help thinking very egotistically, What do I care? I don’t plan to be bored even if it is a dull age. But one isn’t always egotistic, and one sometimes bitterly regrets it when one isn’t.