To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Tuesday, 6 March 1883.
I hadn’t intended to write again so soon, but I’m trying to make drawings of various kinds, as you know. And now today I did another sketch with the rest of that piece of natural chalk, and then I gave it a sepia wash. I believe the natural chalk has various characteristics that make it an outstanding means of depicting some things from nature. This morning I went for a walk outside the city in the meadows beyond Zuid Buitensingel, where Maris first lived and where the rubbish dump is. For a long time I stood looking there, in front of a row of the most gnarled, twisted and disoriented pollard willows I’ve ever seen. They lined the edge of a vegetable garden — freshly dug — and were reflected in a small, dirty ditch — very dirty — but where blades of spring foliage were already glittering. But that brown, rough bark — the turned-over earth — in which one could see the fertility, so to speak — all that had something peculiarly warm in the dark, strong tones that again made me think of natural chalk. So that when I have some again I hope to tackle landscape with it.
Although the accompanying sketch is very unfinished, it seemed to me that there could be things in it that corresponded with your intention — and again it’s a sketch from life. Don’t think that I count it a quality if there isn’t enough fullness of detail. Far from it. But the fullness of detail that both you and I would like to see doesn’t consist in details added later, I believe, but should be more present at once than it is now. Because the freshness mustn’t be lost and, provided the impression is correct, there’s sometimes expression in what is relatively unfinished. However, I’ll naturally work at getting more variation in the tones.
I’m relatively indifferent to putting in details, but removing more of the rough edges is definitely my aim. That’s to say, keeping closer to the form.
Although there isn’t enough of that in it yet, there’s still so much difference in the general effect through that little bit of sepia that I thought that, in combination with the one from yesterday, you’d be able to see how that natural chalk can be used in several ways. I wrote to Rappard about natural chalk yesterday, because I had to write to him anyway about things to do with lithography. And since I wanted to send him some croquis done with it, I used it to draw our infant in various poses. Well, I discovered that it’s also very suitable for croquis. One can also get half-tones in it by using breadcrumbs. Only the very deepest shadows are perhaps less easy to get, but then, certainly in many cases, one can use lithographic crayon — which is also warm.
I believe that you can already see from the figures that the studio is better now as regards the light. Isn’t everything outside beautiful at the moment, don’t you agree? I
have many plans — you will understand that. You know that I’m busy with lots of different things. But I’d also like so much to learn different methods, because that’s a
stimulus to work hard, and one gets more ideas as a result.
I wish I’d thought of this natural chalk before, because it’s preferable to many other things. It’s also not as hard as conté, that’s to say that it doesn’t scratch as much.
It’s not that I would like you to send me some more because I wouldn’t be able to work otherwise; but I’ve written about it because I’d then be able to do many things with it in addition to the normal work.
Have I already written to you about those two large etchings by Israëls, a man lighting his pipe and an interior of a labourer’s dwelling? How beautiful they are. I think it mightily good of Israëls that he carries on etching, the more so since all the others, so to speak, have given it up, despite the enthusiasm with which the etching club was started at the time. At any rate, most haven’t made any progress in etching, and when they make one now it’s no better or more complete than what they made years ago. Yet old Israëls is still young enough to make progress despite his grey hairs, and huge progress at that — and I think that is true youth and evergreen energy.
By Jove, if the others had done the same, what beautiful Dutch etchings would have come into the world. I have 2 small etchings by Israëls, perhaps even his very first, a girl with a spade in a small garden and a woman with a basket on her back. Do you know them? I believe they were published by the Belgian etchers’ society.
So with that one piece of chalk I’ve already done 2 sketches and still have some left, and small croquis as well. In future I may use little else for ordinary work. Adieu, with a handshake.