Thanks for your letter and the enclosure. I think the news
about your patient is very favourable. Congratulations, the
recovery from that anemia is decidedly a result of renewed hope
and vitality, brought about by sympathy and kindness.
The heart that is fainting
May grow full to o'erflowing
And they who behold it
Shall wonder and know not
That God at its fountains
Far off has been raining.
Now you will already have received - at least I sent it
yesterday afternoon - a very rough sketch of a watercolour.
This, in answer to your question about that.
It was not done recently, however. I started it a few months
ago, and have occasionally given it a few touches since then.
But it is still crude. Since then, I have made a large number
of studies - that is, drawings of the figure, and especially of
heads - with just such a scene in mind as this sketch
represents; it must be finished by adding character and relief,
especially to the beads, hands and feet. I am sending them to
you because you will see in them more clearly than in many
other watercolours I have done till now that I have a keen eye
for striking colours - that I see them fresh, through a grey
haze. However unfinished and imperfect it may be, this is part
of a street chosen at random and done in the way in which I
want to represent the Geest or the Jewish quarter. This sketch
was no accident: I can take all kinds of scenes I see this far,
getting the same relatively strong effects of colour and tone.
Now if you compare this drawing with the lithographs and
drawings of heads I sent you this winter, you can see my
intentions clearly from those various failures.
The large studies of heads, for instance, of which I have
still many others - for instance, with sou'westers, with shawls
and white bonnets and top hats and caps - must serve for
compositions such as the one I am sending you this time.
But I shall have to put up with many more failures, for I
believe that in watercolour much depends on a great dexterity
and quickness of touch. One must work in it before it is dry to
get harmony, and one hasn't much time for reflection then. So
the principal thing is not finishing each one separately, no,
one must put down those twenty or thirty heads rapidly, one
after the other.
Here follow a few curious sayings about water colours:
“L'aquarelle est quelque chose de diabolique”; and
the other is by Whistler, who said, “Yes, I did that in
two hours, but I studied for years to be able to accomplish
this in two hours.”
Enough of this; I love watercolour too much ever to give it
up entirely, I come back to it again and again. But the
foundation of everything is the knowledge of the figure, so
that one can readily draw men and women and children whatever
they are doing. So this is my chief aim, which cannot be
realized in any other way, I think.
And I try to work myself up to a higher level of knowledge
and ability in general, rather than to care very much about
finishing off some particular sketch. After having drawn for a
month, I now and then make a few watercolours, for instance, by
way of casting the plummet to fathom my depth. Each time I see
that I have overcome some obstacles, but that new difficulties
have arisen. Then I start drudging again to conquer those.
As for the colours, they are really all used up - and not
only that, but because of some relatively heavy expenses, I am
not only hard up, but absolutely penniless.
Spring is coming, and I should like to take up painting
again, too. So that is partly the reason why I am not working
in watercolour right now.
But indirectly I am always working at it, and now that I can
study the effects of chiaroscuro better because of the
alterations in the studio, I shall work more and more with the
brush, even in Black and White drawings, and wash the shadows
in with neutral tint, sepia, India ink, Cassel earth, and
accentuate the lights with Chinese white.
Well, boy - it is difficult to write it all, and I wanted to
answer your question about watercolour in more than words. I
should not want anybody to see just this one sketch of mine,
because I myself think nothing is right in this sketch except
the general aspect, and I will wrestle with the figures till I
get in watercolour what they are beginning to get in
lithography - that is, more character and effect.
It is not pleasant to make sketches like the one I sent you,
and then not to be able to finish them; I hate this so much
that I rarely make them, except as a trial to see if I have
made any progress. But now I have new courage and interest,
just because I have been making a great many studies again.
I think the change in the studio will help me on, not the
first day, but after a few months' struggling.
I can now do part of my work perfectly well at home, studying
with models, such effects as the watercolour I sent you.
Here the windows are closed at the bottom so that the light
on the group of figures falls from above. In this way I can
group them in the studio, and then I get, for instance, the
highlights on the heads of the figures.
Like in this watercolour.
I have tried it already with the old man, the woman and the
children - it gives splendid effects. The desire to make
them is not wanting, but I expect new failures - which I hope,
however will have something in them to encourage rather
than to make one lose courage though they are failures.
I had to pay for so many things at once out of the money you
sent that I wish you could send some more but arrange it as
best you can - I have so much work now that I can vary it just
as I like. I long very much for your coming, just to show you
the studies and to talk about the work.
Adieu, thanks again. With a handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
[Sketch JH 323 on reverse of the envelope]
At this time, Vincent was 29 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 2 March 1883 in The Hague. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 270.
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