«I see that nature has told me something»

In a letter to his brother Theo, dated September 1882, found in Ever Yours: The Essential Letters, Vincent van Gogh describes the advantages of never learning to paint.

«While making it I said to myself: let me not leave before there’s something of an autumn evening in it, something mysterious, something with seriousness in it.
However, because this effect doesn’t last, I had to paint quickly.

The figures were done with a few vigorous strokes with a firm brush — in one go. I was struck by how firmly the slender trunks stood in the ground — I began them using a brush, but because of the ground, which was already impasted, one brushstroke simply disappeared.

Then I squeezed roots and trunks into it from the tube and modelled them a little with the brush. Yes, now they stand in it — shoot up out of it — stand firmly rooted in it.

In a sense I’m glad that I’ve never learned how to paint. Probably then I would have learned to ignore effects like this.

Now I say, no, that’s exactly what I want
— if it’s not possible then it’s not possible —

I want to try it even though I don’t know how it’s supposed to be done.

I don’t know myself how I paint

I sit with a white board before the spot that strikes me
— I look at what’s before my eyes —

I say to myself, this white board must become something
— I come back, dissatisfied —

I put it aside, and after I’ve rested a little, feeling a kind of fear…

I take a look at it
— then I’m still dissatisfied —

because I have that marvellous nature too much in mind for me to be satisfied
— but still, I see in my work an echo of what struck me,

I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand.

In my shorthand there may be words that are indecipherable
— errors or gaps — yet something remains of what the wood or the beach, or the figure said, and it isn’t a tame or conventional language which doesn’t stem from nature itself but from a studied manner or a system.

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