from a letter to Theo, 20 May 1888:
“…That mental exhaustion of mine is disappearing, I no longer feel so much need for diversion, I am less plagued by passions, and am able to work more calmly. I could be alone without getting bored. I have come out of this feeling a little older, but no sadder.
I shall not believe you if you tell me in your next letter that there’s nothing wrong with you any longer. There may well be a radical change, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you were a little despondent during the time it takes for you to recover. At the height of artistic life there is, and remains, and returns time and again, a hankering after real life – ideal and unattainable.
And sometimes one lacks the will to throw oneself back wholeheartedly into art, and to regain one’s capacity for it. One knows one is a cab horse, and that one is going to be hitched up to the same old cab again – and that one would rather not, and would prefer to live in a meadow, with sunshine, a river, other horses for company as free as oneself, and the act of procreation.
And perhaps, in the end, the heart complaint is caused by that. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if it is to some extent. One no loner rebels against things, but neither is one resigned – one is ill and does not get better – and one cannot find a precise cure.
I’m not sure who called this condition ‘being stricken by death and immortality’. The cab one is pulling along must be of some use to people one doesn’t know. And so, if we believe in the new art, in the artists of the future, our presentiment will not play us false.
When good old Corot said a few days before his death, ‘Last night in a dream, I saw landscapes with skies all pink’, well, they’ve arrived, haven’t they, those pink skies, and yellow and green ones into the bargain, in the impressionist landscape? Which means that some things one can foresee in the future do indeed come about.
And those of us who are, as I am led to believe, still fairly far from death, nevertheless feel that these things are bigger than we are and will outlive us.
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 coach load of people out enjoying themselves in spring.
Anyway – what I wish you, as well as myself, is success in regaining our health, because we are going to need it. That Esperance by Puvis de Chavannes is so very true. There is an art of the future, and it will be so lovely and so young that even if we do give up our youth for it, we can only gain in serenity by it.
It may be very silly to write all this down, but that is how I feel. It seemed to me that you were suffering, like me, from seeing our youth go up in smoke – but if it throws out new growth in one’s work then nothing is lost, for the capacity to work is another form of youth. So take a bit of trouble over getting better, because we shall need our health. A warm handshake for you, and for Koning,