To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Sunday, 4 March 1883.
My dear Theo,
Darkness has just fallen and wanted to send you today’s drawing for the fun of it because I wrote to you about it. This morning I began a watercolour of a boy and a girl at a similar soup distribution with another female figure in the corner.
That watercolour became too unclear, partly due to the paper, which wasn’t right for it. But I saw how the studio is now infinitely more suitable for colour and will of course not give up after this first trial.
That was how the morning passed, though, and I devoted the afternoon to a drawing in natural chalk, the one piece I had left from this summer. I’m sending it herewith. I don’t consider it sufficiently finished yet, but as a sketch from life perhaps there’s something of life in it — and some human sentiment. Better from now on.
This drawing therefore leaves the question of watercolour where it was, but gives a provisional answer to what you wrote after I sent you a small scratch to give you an idea of the effect of the windows on the studio.
If you want to do me a very great favour, send me some pieces of natural chalk by post.
That natural chalk has a soul and life — I find something dead in conté.
Two violins may look more or less the same on the outside — when they’re played one sometimes turns out to have a beautiful sound that the other doesn’t have. Natural chalk has lots of sound or tone. I would almost say that natural chalk understands what one wants, listens with intelligence and obeys, while conté is indifferent and doesn’t cooperate. Natural chalk has a true gypsy soul. Send me some, if it isn’t asking too much of you.
Who knows if now, with better light and natural chalk and lithographic crayon, I shan’t succeed in doing something for illustrated magazines. Current events — that’s what
they wanted. If by that they meant things like illuminations for the king’s birthday, say, that would give me precious little enjoyment. But if it pleased the gentlemen to
include under current events scenes from the everyday life of the people, I’d have nothing against doing my very best for those.
When I have some more natural chalk, I’ll again do a few figures of orphan men with it.
And you’ll get completely different compositions of soup distributions, of which this is now the first.
No doubt you’ll again think this format rather large — but I believe that after a period of working with models I’ll be able to make the figures so forceful that the size makes no difference, and will even be necessary.
That needn’t rule out a smaller size, and I can always reduce them.
There’s much in this rough sketch that bothers me, but I know for sure that I’ll soon make progress.
Can you understand when you see this band of people together that I feel at home with them? Lately I read the following in Felix Holt the Radical by Eliot.
The people I live among have the same follies and vices as the rich — only they have their own forms of folly and vice — and they have not what are called the refinements of the rich to make their faults more bearable. It doesn’t much matter to me — I’m not fond of those refinements but some people are and find it difficult to feel at home with such persons as have them not.
I wouldn’t have put it in those words myself, but I’ve sometimes felt the same.
As a painter I feel completely at home with them and not just content, yet I find a character in them that sometimes makes me think of gypsies — at any rate something as picturesque. Since I’ve been so busy writing letters of late, I’ll probably not write again before the tenth. Send the usual no later if you can, for I’ve promised Leurs to pay something around that time. I must do that before I can get one or two things that I’ll be needing.
The fact is that I plan to buy various things which he’s had for a long time and which he’ll let me have cheap, supposedly at cost price. Above all, there are some sheets of painting paper of a coarse variety that’s no longer in demand but suits me better than the smooth kind.
You’d do me a huge favour with the natural chalk.
Adieu, best wishes with everything, especially with your patient. Believe me