📙 The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
Author: Vincent Van Gogh
Full Title: The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
In this way he managed to effect a reconciliation or, as he put it under the influence of Puvis de Chavannes’s picture Inter Artes et Naturam, to arrange ‘a strange and happy meeting of far distant antiquities and crude modernity
even when he believed that he might lay claim to a very modest portion of happiness, as with Sien Hoornik or Margot Begemann, the social gulf between them seemed so great that the relationships were doomed to failure. Brothels and the use of tobacco and alcohol, dubbed ‘anti-aphrodisiacs’ by Van Gogh, remained his only stimulants, sublimation by art his only solace.
Vincent gave reports of his visits to Amsterdam museums and galleries,
Meanwhile, he advised his younger brother to smoke a pipe if he felt downcast, an idea he had taken from Dickens, who recommended tobacco as a remedy for suicide.
How I wish I could have another talk with you about art, but we’ll just have to keep writing to each other about it. Admire as much as you can, most people don’t admire enough
That a woman is a ‘quite different being’ from a man, & a being we do not yet know, or at best only superficially, as you put it, yes, that I am sure of. And that a woman & a man can become one, that is, one whole & not two halves, I believe that too.
We have only one letter from Vincent himself mentioning Eugenie. In it he describes her as ‘a girl with whom I have agreed that we should be as brother and sister to each other
I advised you to dispose of your books, and advise it still. Be sure to do it, it will give you peace of mind. But at the same time be careful not to become narrow-minded, or afraid of reading what is well written, quite the contrary, such writings are a source of comfort in life
Seek only light and freedom and do not immerse yourself too deeply in the worldly mire
You may often feel that neither Anna nor I are what we hope to become and that we still lag a long way behind Father and other people, that we lack soundness and simplicity and sincerity. One does not become simple and true overnight.
Many a worker in a factory or shop has had a strange, beautiful and pious youth. But city life sometimes removes “the early dew of morning”. Even so, the longing for “the old, old story” remains. What is at the bottom of the heart stays at the bottom of the heart.
When I stood in the pulpit I felt like someone emerging from a dark vault underground into the friendly light of day, and it is a wonderful thought that wherever I shall go from this day forward I shall be preaching the Gospel.
It is an old faith and it is a good faith that our life is a pilgrims progress – that we are strangers in the earth, but that though this be so, yet we are not alone for our Father is with us. We are pilgrims, our life is a long walk or journey from earth to heaven.
The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too.
What is it we ask of God – is it a great thing? Yes it is a great thing: Peace for the ground of our heart, rest for our soul – give us that one thing and then we want not much more, then we can do without many things, then can we suffer great things for Thy name’s sake.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Beyond that, he delighted in the ‘golden glow’ of the town, birthplace of Aelbert Cuyp, whose paintings captured the special quality of the light there.
today. It is such lovely weather here and one has the feeling that spring is on its way. The lark can probably already be heard in the country, but that’s unlikely to happen in the city, unless one can detect its call in the voice of some old clergyman, whose words come from a heart that’s in tune with the lark
There once was a man who went to church and asked, ‘Can it be that my ardour has deceived me, that I have taken a wrong turning and managed things badly? Oh, if only I could be rid of this doubt and know for certain I shall come out victorious and succeed in the end.’ And then a voice answered him, ‘And if you were certain, what would you do then? Act now as if you were certain and you will not be disappointed.’ Then the man went on his way, not unbelieving but believing, and returned to his work no longer doubting or wavering.
As for being an ‘homme interieur et spirituel’ might one not be able to develop into one through knowledge of history in general and of certain individuals from all ages in particular, from the history of the Bible to that of the Revolution and from the Odyssey to the books of Dickens and Michelet?
It is good to love as many things as one can, for therein lies true strength, and those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well.
going. Even in the politest circles and the best surroundings and circumstances one should retain something of the original character of a Robinson Crusoe or of primitive man, for otherwise one cannot be rooted in oneself, and one must never let the fire in one’s soul die, for the time will inevitably come when it will be needed.
God. That we should think of him as a workman, with lines of sorrow and suffering and fatigue on his countenance, without pomp or glory but with an immortal soul and needing the food that does not perish, namely God’s word, because man liveth not by bread alone, but by all the words that flow from God’s mouth.
When I saw you again and walked with you, I had a feeling I used to have more often than I do now, namely that life is something good and precious which one should value, and I felt more cheerful and alive than I have been feeling for a long time, because in spite of myself my life has gradually become much less precious, much less important and more a matter of indifference to me, or so it has seemed.
It is sometimes so bitterly cold in the winter that one says, ‘The cold is too awful for me to care whether summer is coming or not; the harm outdoes the good.’ But with or without our approval, the severe weather does come to an end eventually and one fine morning the wind changes and there is a thaw. When I compare the state of the weather to our state of mind and our circumstances, subject to change and fluctuation like the weather, then I still have some hope that things may get better.
To the Family, I have, willy-nilly, become a more or less objectionable and shady sort of character, at any rate a bad lot.
So instead of succumbing to my homesickness I told myself: your land, your fatherland, is all around. So instead of giving in to despair I chose active melancholy, in so far as I was capable of activity, in other words I chose the kind of melancholy that hopes, that strives and that seeks, in preference to the melancholy that despairs numbly and in distress.
But what is your final goal, you may ask. That goal will become clearer, will emerge slowly but surely, much as the draft turns into the sketch and the sketch into the painting through the serious work done on it, through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of the first fleeting and passing thought.
Now, one of the reasons why I have no regular job, and why I have not had a regular job for years, is quite simply that my ideas differ from those of the gentlemen who hand out the jobs to individuals who think as they do. It is not just a question of my appearance, which is what they have sanctimoniously reproached me with. It goes deeper, I do assure you.
But, you will say, what a dreadful person you are, with your impossible religious notions and idiotic scruples. If my ideas are impossible or idiotic then I would like nothing better than to be rid of them. But this is roughly the way I actually see things.
I am writing somewhat at random, writing whatever flows from my pen.
Such a one does not always know what he can do, but he nevertheless instinctively feels, I am good for something! My existence is not without.reason! I know that I could be a quite different person! How can I be of use, how can I be of service? There is something inside me, but what can it be? He is quite another ne’er-do-well. If you like you may take me for one of those.
Do you know what makes the prison disappear? Every deep, genuine affection. Being friends, being brothers, loving, that is what opens the prison, with supreme power, by some magic force.
Even when he draws bricks, granite, iron bars or the railing of a bridge, Meryon puts into his etchings something of the human soul, moved by I know not what inner sorrow.
I no longer stand as helpless before nature as I used to do.
I have come to feel more and more that figure drawing is an especially good thing to do, and that indirectly it also has a good effect on landscape drawing. If one draws a pollard willow as if it were a living being, which after all is what it is, then the surroundings follow almost by themselves, provided only that one has focused all one’s attention on that particular tree and not rested until there was some life in it.
Imagine what a real woman would think if she found that someone was courting her with reservations; wouldn’t she say something worse to him than ’never, no, never!’? Oh, Theo, don’t let’s talk about it, if you and I are in love then we are in love, voilà tout.
And when I read, and actually I don’t read all that much and then only a few writers, men whom I have discovered by accident, then I do so because they look at things more broadly and generously and with more love than I do and are acquainted better with reality, and because I can learn from them.
It was not the first time that I was unable to resist that feeling of affection, that special affection and love for those women who are so damned and condemned and despised by clergymen from the lofty heights of their pulpits. I do not damn them, I do not condemn them, I do not despise them.
The clergymen call us sinners, conceived and born in sin. Bah! What confounded nonsense that is. Is it a sin to love, to feel the need for love, not to be able to live without love? I consider a life without love a sinful and immoral state.
If there is anything I regret then it is that period when I allowed mystical and theological profundities to mislead me into withdrawing too much into myself. I have gradually come to change my mind. When you wake up in the morning and find you are not alone but can see a fellow creature there in the half-light, it makes the world look so much more welcoming.
Now call that God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is a certain something I cannot define systematically, although it is very much alive and real, and you see, for me that something is God or as good as God.
I am telling you all this so that you won’t again think that I am in a melancholy or abstracted, brooding mood. On the contrary, most of the time I am fiddling around with and thinking about paints, making watercolours, looking for a studio, &c, &
I am anything but a man of learning, and I am so amazingly ignorant, oh, just like so many others and even more so than others, but I am unable to judge that myself and can judge others even less than myself, and am often mistaken.
You say, ‘I don’t understand you.’ Well, I readily believe that, for writing is really a wretched way of explaining things to each other.
Theo, I am definitely not a landscape painter, when I do landscapes there will always be something of the figure in them
If you became a painter, one of the things that would surprise you is that painting & everything connected with it is quite hard work in physical terms. Leaving aside the mental exertion, the hard thought, it demands considerable physical effort, and that day after day.
‘What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity or an eccentric or an obnoxious person – someone who has no position in society and never will have, in short the lowest of the low. Well, then – even if that were all absolutely true, I should one day like to show by my work what there is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody.
Look, I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling which sometimes forces a sort of sigh or groan from one when one is alone: oh God, where is my wife, oh God, where is my child – is being alone really living?
I believe in a God, and that it is His will that man does not live alone but with a wife and a child, if everything is to be normal.
What I want to express, in both figure and landscape, isn’t anything sentimental or melancholy, but deep anguish. In short, I want to get to the point where people say of my work: that man feels deeply, that man feels keenly. In spite of my so-called coarseness – do you understand? – perhaps for that very reason. It seems pretentious to talk like that now, but that is the reason why I want to put all my energies into it.
All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.
Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.
The feeling for things themselves, for reality, is of greater importance than the feeling for painting; anyway it is more productive and more inspiring.
How beautiful it is outside when everything is wet from the rain – before, in and after the rain. I really shouldn’t let a single shower pass.
All I would have to know is that they are worth the brushes, the paint and the canvas, that it won’t be a waste of money doing a great many of them and that the costs can be recouped.
In principle I am only opposed to wasting paint on things that one could learn just as well in another way and while there is still no chance of selling them.
Anyway, I used to be able to tell better than I can now what something was worth and if it could be sold or not. Now it is daily brought home to me that I no longer know about that sort of thing and I am more interested in studying nature than the price of pictures.
I have only just put into practice things Mauve said to me in January. And I painted that piece of ground, for instance, following a conversation with him about one of his studies.
How strange it is that you & I so often seem to have the same thoughts.
In a way I am glad that I never learned painting.
I don’t know myself how I paint it, I just sit down with a white board in front of the spot that appeals to me, I look at what is in front of my eyes, and I say to myself: that white board has got to turn into something – I come back, dissatisfied, I lay it to one side and when I have rested a bit, I go and look at it with a kind of awe.
Have you any connection with Paillard or someone like that? If so, I think it would be much more economical to get paints, say, wholesale, for instance white, ochre, sienna, and we could then come to some arrangement about the money. Everything would be cheaper, it goes without saying.
Mauve, who paints very frugally in comparison with J. Maris and even more so in comparison with Millet or Jules Dupré, nevertheless has cigar boxes fall of the remnants of tubes in the corners of his studio, as plentiful as the empty bottles in the corners of rooms after a soirée or dinner such as Zola describes, for instance.
‘I had imagined that the painters here formed a sort of circle or association where warmth and cordiality and a certain solidarity prevailed.’ What he had found instead was ‘coolness and discord
A high point from this period was his watercolour of Mooijman’s State Lottery office in Spuistraat.
However, I remember very well being most impressed by a drawing of Daumier’s: an old man under the chestnut trees in the Champs Elysées (an illustration for Balzac), though the drawing was not all that important. What impressed me so much at the time was something so stout and manly in Daumier’s conception, something that made me think it must be good to think and to feel like that and to overlook or ignore a multitude of things and to concentrate on what makes us sit up and think and what touches us as human beings more directly and personally than meadows or clouds.
What is drawing? How does one come to it? It is working through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How is one to get through that wall – since pounding at it is of no use? In my opinion one has to undermine that wall, filing through it steadily and patiently. And there you are – how can one continue such work assidu2 without being distracted or diverted, unless one reflects and orders one’s life by principles? And as it is with art so it is with other things. And great things are not something accidental, they must be distinctly willed
Whether a man’s deeds originate in his principles or his principles in his deeds is something that seems to me as indeterminable (and as little worthy of determination) as the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. But I consider that trying to develop one’s power of thought and will is something positive and of much moment.
On the other hand, Van Gogh nourished the conviction that the artist’s exceptional calling and position in society sometimes caused him to overstep the bounds of sanity.
‘I love my studio in the same way that a sailor loves his ship.
We are surrounded by poetry on all sides, but putting it on paper is, alas, not as readily done as looking at it.
Still, the whole of nature is an indescribably beautiful Black & White exhibition2 during such snow effects.
It may well seem to you that the sun is shining more brightly and that everything has taken on a new charm. That, at any rate, is the inevitable consequence of true love, I believe, and it is a wonderful thing. And I also believe that those who hold that no one thinks clearly when in love are wrong, for it is at just that time that one thinks very clearly indeed and is more energetic than one was before.
And there is the same difference between someone who is in love and what he was like before as there is between a lamp that is lit and one that is not. The lamp was there all the time and it was a good lamp, but now it is giving light as well and that is its true function. And one has more peace of mind about many things and so is more likely to do better work.
I learned a lesson today thanks to that visit, namely that one is fortunate indeed if in present-day society one can live in fairly normal surroundings and has no need to resort to a coffee-house existence – from which one starts to see things through a growing fog of confusion.
One sees many individuals who have something wrong with them – I think it can’t be very healthy here, perhaps because of foul drinking water.
How much sadness there is in life. Still, it won’t do to become depressed, one should turn to other things, and the right thing is work, but there are times when one can only find Peace of mind in the realization: I, too, shall not be spared by unhappiness.
In the evening this heath often has the kind of effect the English call ‘weird’1 and ‘
The fantastic silhouettes of Don Quixote-like mills or curious monsters of drawbridges are profiled against the vibrant evening sky.
So leave me to carry on by myself – I am only sorry that a complete reconciliation has not proved possible, and wish it might still come about, but you people do not understand me, and I am afraid you never will.
The shaggy sheepdog I tried to portray for you in yesterday’s letter is my character, and the animal’s life is my life, if, that is, one omits the details and merely states the essentials.
I tell you, I am choosing the said dog’s path, I am remaining a dog, I shall be poor, I shall be a painter, I want to remain human, in nature.
Something better than the days of the Rijswijk mill – namely the same thing but for good and all – two poor brother artists -bound up in one and the same feeling, for one and the same nature and art – will it ever come to that?
Apart from a few years which I can scarcely comprehend myself, when I was confused by religious ideas, by some kind of mysticism – that period aside, I have always lived with a certain warmth. Now everything is getting grimmer and colder and more dreary around me.
Just consider whether it is sensible to talk a great deal about technique nowadays. You will say that I myself am doing just that – as a matter of fact, I regret it. But as far as I am concerned, I am determined, even when I shall be much more master of my brush than I am now – to go on telling people methodically that I cannot paint
That thought, I can’t find the right words, is based not on something negative but on something positive. On the positive awareness that art is something greater and higher than our own skill or knowledge or learning. That art is something which, though produced by human hands, is not wrought by hands alone, but wells up from a deeper source, from man’s soul, while much of the proficiency and technical expertise associated with art reminds me of what would be called self-righteousness in religion.
Let us try to grasp the secrets of technique so well that people will be taken in and swear by all that is holy that we have no technique. Let our work be so savant3 that it seems naive and does not reek of our cleverness. I do not believe that I have reached this desirable point, and I do not believe that even you, who are more advanced than I, have reached it yet.
Perhaps, if you like – but aren’t the wise ones, those who never do anything foolish, even more foolish in my eyes than I am in theirs?
Oh, I am no friend of present-day Christianity, though its founder was sublime – I have seen through present-day Christianity only too well. That icy coldness mesmerized even me, in my youth – but I have taken my revenge since then. How? By worshipping the love which they, the theologians, call sin, by respecting a whore, etc., and not too many would be3 respectable, pious ladies.
The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerises some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of you can’t’ once and for all.
Life itself, too, is forever turning an infinitely vacant, disheartening, dispiriting blank side towards man on which nothing appears, any more than it does on a blank canvas. But no matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily.
When I say that I am a painter of peasant life, that is a fact, and it will become increasingly apparent to you in the future that I feel at ease as one.
Once again, it must be set off by putting something coloured a deep gold or copper round it. Please bear that in mind if you want to see it as it should be seen.
The point is that I’ve tried to bring out the idea that these people eating potatoes by the light of their lamp have dug the earth with the self-same hands they are now putting into the dish, and it thus suggests manual labour and – a meal honestly earned
I very often think that peasants are a world apart, in many respects one so much better than the civilized world. Not in all respects, for what do they know of art and many other things?
And so many other Moorish and Spanish things, cardinals, and then all those historical paintings they keep on doing yards high and yards wide! What is the use of it all and what are they doing it for? Within a few years most of it looks dull and dreary and more & more boring. But still, perhaps they are well painted, they could be that.
Tell him that, to my mind, Millet and Lhermitte are the true artists, because they do not paint things as they are, examined in a dry analytical manner, but as they, Millet, Lhermitte, Michelangelo, feel them to be. Tell him that I long most of all to learn how to produce those very inaccuracies, those very aberrations, reworkings, transformations of reality, as may turn it into, well – a lie if you like – but truer than the literal truth.
‘Still, I would sooner paint people’s eyes than cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is lacking in a cathedral – however solemn and impressive it may be. To my mind a man’s soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a streetwalker, is more interesting.
The female figures I see among the people here impress me enormously – far more for the purpose of painting them than of having them, though if the truth be told I should like both.
As for me – I feel the desire for marriage and children dwindling and now and then I’m rather depressed that I should be like that as I approach 35, when I ought to be feeling quite the opposite. And sometimes I blame it all on this rotten painting. It was Richepin who said somewhere: the love of art is the undoing of true love. I think that’s absolutely right, but on the other hand true love makes one weary of art.
To compare human beings with grains of corn, now – in every human being who is healthy and natural there is a germinating force, just as there is in a grain of corn. And so natural life is germination. What the germinating force is to the grain, love is to us.
And the diseases from which we civilized people suffer most are melancholy and pessimism. So I, for instance, who can count so many years of my life during which I lost any inclination to laugh – leaving aside whether or not this was my own fault – I, for one, feel the need for a really good laugh above all else.
If the spoken or written word is to remain the light of the world, then we have the right and duty to acknowledge that we live in an age when it should be written and spoken in such a way that, if it is to be just as great and just as good and just as original and just as potent as ever to transform the whole of society, then its effect must be comparable to that of the revolution wrought by the old Christians.
And above all I find it alarming that you believe you must study in order to write. No, my dear little sister, learn how to dance, or fall in love with one or more notary’s clerks, officers, in short, any within your reach – rather, much rather commit any number of follies than study in Holland. It serves absolutely no purpose than to make people slow-witted, so I won’t hear of it.
Why are religion or justice or art so sacred? People who do nothing but fall in love are perhaps more serious and saintly than those who sacrifice their love and their hearts to an idea.
One cannot be at the pole and the equator at the same time. One has to choose, which I hope I do, and it will probably be colour.
‘My friend, though our neurosis, &c, is certainly due to our rather too artistic way of life, it is also part of an inescapable heritage, since in our civilization people grow weaker from one generation to the next.
For what is really wretched is loneliness, worries, problems, and the unfulfilled need for kindness and sympathy.
We do not feel we are dying, but we do feel that in reality we count for little, and that to be a link in the chain of artists we are paying a high price in health, in youth, in liberty, none of which we enjoy, any more than does the cab horse pulling a coachload of people out enjoying themselves in spring.
To be honest with you, I have absolutely no objection to the countryside, since I grew up in it – I am still enchanted by snatches of the past, have a hankering after the eternal, of which the sower and the sheaf of corn are the symbols. But when shall I ever get round to doing the starry sky, that picture which is always in my mind?
the most beautiful paintings are those which you dream about when you lie in bed smoking a pipe, but which you never paint
Yet you have to make a start, no matter how incompetent you feel in the face of inexpressible perfection, of the overwhelming beauty of nature.
My easel was fixed in the ground with iron pegs, a method I recommend to you. You push the legs of the easel deep into the ground, then drive iron pegs fifty centimetres long into the ground beside them. You tie the whole lot together with rope. This way you can work in the wind.
The reason why I love this country is that I have less to fear from the cold, which, because it stops my blood circulating properly, makes it impossible for me to think or even do anything at all.
Painting and fucking a lot don’t go together, it softens the brain. Which is a bloody nuisance.
You do very well to be reading the Bible. I begin with that, because I have always refrained from advising you to do so. As I read the many sayings of Moses, Luke, etc., I couldn’t help thinking, you know, that’s all he needs – and now it has come to pass … the artistic neurosis. For that is what the study of Christ inevitably leads to, especially in my case, where it is aggravated by the smoking of innumerable pipes.
But the consolation of that deeply saddening Bible, which arouses our despair and indignation, which seriously offends us and thoroughly confuses us with its pettiness and infectious foolishness – the consolation it contains like a stone inside a hard rind and bitter pulp, is Christ.
He lived serenely, as an artist greater than all other artists, scorning marble and clay and paint, working in the living flesh. In other words, this peerless artist, scarcely conceivable with the blunt instrument of our modern, nervous and obtuse brains, made neither statues nor paintings nor books. He maintained in no uncertain terms that he made … living men, immortals.
‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ These spoken words – which, like a prodigal grand seigneur, he did not even deign to write down – form one of the pinnacles, the highest pinnacle, reached by art, which at that point becomes creative force, pure creative force.
Science – scientific reasoning – strikes me as being an instrument that will go a very long way in the future.
But life, too, is probably round, and much greater in scope and possibilities than the hemisphere we now know.
The passage about John the Baptist you tracked down in the Gospel means exactly what you have read in it … people crowding round a man: ‘Are you the Christ? Are you Elias?’ As would happen today if you were to ask of impressionism or of one of its questing representatives, ‘Have you found it yet?’ Exactly the same.
You must try to acquire an iron constitution, a constitution that will allow you to grow old, you ought to live like a monk who goes to the brothel every two weeks – that’s what I do myself, it isn’t very poetic, but I feel it’s my duty to subordinate my life to painting.
Those Dutch painters had hardly any imagination or fantasy, but an enormous amount of taste and a feeling for composition.
Consider, if you will, the times in which we live to be a true and great renaissance of art, the worm-ridden official tradition still holding sway yet ultimately impotent and idle, the new painters still isolated, poor, treated as madmen, and because of this treatment actually going insane, at least as far as their social life is concerned
Now, for those of us who work with our brains, our one and only hope of not running out of steam too soon is to prolong our lives artificially by observing an up-to-date health regime as rigorously as we can.
Why am I so little an artist that I keep regretting that the statue and the picture are not alive?
Behind the head – instead of painting the ordinary wall of the shabby apartment, I shall paint infinity,
But the needs of painting are like those of a ruinously expensive mistress, one can do nothing without money, and one never has enough of it. Painting should thus be done at public expense instead of overburdening the artist.
When you are in good health you should be able to live on a piece of bread while doing a full day’s work and have enough strength left over to smoke and have a drink, because you need that under those conditions. And yet be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.
And if, deprived of the physical power, one tries to create thoughts instead of children, one is still very much part of humanity. And in my pictures I want to say something consoling, as music does. I want to paint men and women with a touch of the eternal, whose Symbol was once the halo, which we try to convey by the very radiance and vibrancy of our colouring.
In my picture of the Night Café, I have tried to express the idea that the cafe is a place where one can destroy oneself, go mad or commit a crime.
But what would Mr Tersteeg say about this picture, a man who, faced with a Sisley, Sisley mind you, the most unassuming and sensitive of the impressionists, said, ‘I can’t help thinking that the artist who painted this was a bit tipsy.’ Faced with my picture he’d say it was a raging case of delirium tremens.
That is why I am staying with the impressionists, because it means nothing, and commits you to nothing, and as one of them I do not have to take up any position. My God, you have to play the fool in this life.
A weaver or a basket maker often spends whole seasons alone, or almost alone, with his craft as his only distraction. And what makes these people stay in one place is precisely the feeling of being at home, the reassuring and familiar look of things
In the end, we shall have had enough of cynicism, scepticism and humbug, and will want to live – more musically. How will this come about, and what will we discover? It would be nice to be able to prophesy, but it is even better to be forewarned, instead of seeing absolutely nothing in the future other than the disasters that are bound to strike the modern world and civilization like so many thunderbolts, through revolution, or war, or the bankruptcy of worm-eaten states.
If we study Japanese art, we discover a man who is undeniably wise, philosophical and intelligent, who spends his time – doing what? Studying the distance from the earth to the moon? No! Studying the politics of Bismarck? No! He studies … a single blade of grass. But this blade of grass leads him to draw all the plants – then the seasons, the grand spectacle of landscapes, finally animals, then the human figure. That is how he spends his life, and life is too short to do everything.
So come, isn’t what we are taught by these simple Japanese, who live in nature as if they themselves were flowers, almost a true religion?
Tust slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring at you like some imbecile. You don’t know how paralysing that is, that stare of a blank canvas, which says to the painter: you can’t do a thing. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerises some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of you can’t’ once and for all. Life itself, too, is forever turning an infinitely vacant, disheartening, dispiriting blank side towards man on which nothing appears, any more than it does on a blank canvas. But no matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily.