Konrad Mägi’s letters to his Finnish friend August Vesanto were sent in 1907 and 1908. The two men had become acquainted during Mägi’s stay in Finland (from 1906 to 1907), when Mägi had met August’s sister Anni, who owned a well-stocked tobacco shop in down-town Helsinki. Anni Vesanto and Konrad Mägi became friends, Mägi often visited the home of the Vesantos, where he came in contact for the first time in his life with haute bourgeoisie. The family highly valued conversations on intellectual topics and art. Soon afterwards, Konrad Mägi began giving art lessons to his young friend August, while Anni Vesanto put some of Mägi’s paintings up for sale in her tobacco shop and also provided assistance to Mägi in later years.
The following letters were written in clumsy Russian and posted from Paris, Copenhagen and Oslo. The letters were found only a few years ago and comprise the first extensive written legacy left by Konrad Mägi in which he, among other things, discusses the purpose of art. It is worth recalling that at that time Mägi was not yet a mature and fully-developed artist, so his generalisations are based on observation and convictions rather than on personal experience.
The letters are housed in Finland, in the Vesanto family archive.
Translated into Estonian from Russian by Ilona Martson, from Estonian to English by Kadi Sutter.
Published in: Konrad Mägi, catalogue. Tallinn: Art Museum of Estonia, 2018.
Not long has passed, although it seems like forever. I recall the last days in Helsingfors, where you once walked with me along dark streets. We were silent. Something was pressing hard on my chest and I was feeling indescribably sad. Something strange was going on inside me at that time. I have retained many of the memories of my time in Finland. I wrote in a postcard that I would have a lot to say to you and your sister, but it is not true, as I don’t really have anything to say. Your sister must be very cross with me, and for a good reason, most likely, although I’m not really interested in the reason. I also think that you, poor thing, must have suff ered because of me, so forgive me. I did not want to do this to you. There is only one thing I can say (and you can pass this on to your sister if you wish). I have always kept my distance from all sorts of abominations and the thought of deceiving her or anyone else in your family never crossed my mind. That is all. I wanted to give you some suggestions, but changed my mind, as not all advice from strangers is of use. Now about Paris. Paris is a fascinating city but it takes a lot of time to get to know it well. I have seen many interesting things, especially in relation to art. They have a very well-equipped museum of antiquities, and also a lot of interesting contemporary art. They opened a salon (you and I used to discuss these Parisian salons a lot) to which the whole aristocracy of Paris went at fi rst. The French, especially their nobility, are beautiful people. I expected a lot, but received very little, because not everything that is so much talked about and praised is good. There were approximately 3,000 paintings at the exhibition. It was boring to walk through those halls and look at all the hideousness and repulsiveness. There were, of course, some good pieces here and there, but only a few, and mainly by Russian artists. Perhaps I simply do not understand this new art yet, but I have realised that I do not particularly like contemporary French art (there are exceptions). After looking at old portraits, it is especially painful to look at all this dabbled rubbish. But all in all, there is so much interesting and good in art in Paris that it cannot be described in words. I wrote you a letter on my fi rst days here and it might have been very interesting for you to read it, but for various reasons
I never mailed it.
I live in an artists’ colony. My room is so humid I could fish in here. The colony (living in one building) is home to nearly 200 artists. Most of the people here are starving, me included, and me even more than some others. I haven’t met anyone else besides artists. Some of them are exciting characters: both talented as well as unpleasant and untalented. Sometimes you even forget the hunger among these people. However, people do starve a lot here. On top of that, these horrid humid flats (without furniture or heating) ruin many a person’s health. Yet, these people (all of us) here believe in a bright future. Everyone walks around terribly thin and wan, and it often seems that they are not of this world. There is so much I would like to write to you, if only my mood allowed it. When better days arrive, I will write a lot. I send greetings and wish you all the best.
Yours truly, Mägi
If you wish – [insertion] perhaps you might wish, that is why I turn to you like this – write me a few lines.
Address: Passage de Dantzig 2, Paris
1) Mägi (chez Koort)
Give my best to your family (to all who wish it and to some who might not wish it, ha-ha!).
16 December 1907, Paris
I have received your letter and it made me really glad that you haven’t forgotten about me.
I would not have written to you today but there is something that forces me to do so. I will explain at the end of the letter. I have seen so many fascinating things in Paris that I simply cannot describe it all to you. Nowhere on earth can you fi nd such a magnifi cent museum as the Louvre. There is so much material in the Louvre that one needs a lot of time to see it all, and even more time to deeply understand it. I have seen Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and several other fascinating works by old masters. Initially, I did not understand the new art at all, but now I have slowly begun to comprehend it. The French are extremely delicate drawers, truly better than anyone else.
The museum of contemporary art has little of interest, as the selection depends on the artists’ connections with all kinds of ministers and so on. I had a private opportunity to see the most interesting French artists. Unfortunately, there are no postcards available; otherwise, I could send you a few at some point. One can get reproductions, but these cost a lot. There are artists who do not understand Nordic artists, but the same could be said about many French and other artists.
I am a son of the North, and everything I am is but a fraction of its population and wilderness. Wherever I am, the North will always be my homeland (in a broad sense). I like the sombre, rough Nordic wilderness and the bright flashes of sunlight often conveyed by Nordic artists. Parisian artists do not consider us Europeans, you see, and often remind us that they are Europeans, while we are “Russians”, meaning that we have… [illegible – I. M.] and the soul of the Russian nation, only as old [old-fashioned (?) – I. M.] as everything is in Russia. Not all artists should be made to fit the same mould. Enkel is a fascinating artist, although not as close to me as some. Gallen has lost some of my respect. Now I think that Eeriefeld and Enkel are not below Gallen but are comparable to him. He, Gallen that is, is naturally a force to be reckoned with, but now, having seen who has influenced his oeuvre, I understand him better. You might not understand all that I’m writing and it doesn’t matter; what matters is that you ponder this on your own. Perhaps more on this in the future. I have one suggestion for you: draw as much as you can, and always from real life, and try to do it accurately and originally. The use of colour is not important, as when your drawing is good, the colours appear on their own. This letter will be hard to understand as I am in a rush to send it off today.
There are many interesting churches here. When you enter Notre Dame, you forget the whole fi lthiness of life for a while. It is impossible to describe the charm of these old churches. I will write more when I’m in a better mood. I did not understand everything in your letter but I got the gist.
You are gravely mistaken in writing that one has to forgive, because if anyone is at fault, it is me, and no one else. If I had wanted to deceive you and your [dear ones (?) – I. M.], I could have very well done so, but I did not wish to and the reason why I behaved like that with You [crossed out in the original] you all was something completely diff erent. However it is, I am a just man, and I did not contradict my own principles. But this is a personal matter. Each and every one of us is responsible for everything we do. When I look at the well-lit boulevards and the cheerful faces of the truly beautiful French women, I become even sadder, and the futility of life becomes even more evident. It is fascinating to observe life as there is a certain beauty in the life on the boulevards and in depravity, the beauty of complete human tragedy. Paris is a horrible city where you can find anything. There are very few fair people here. Finland is a paradise compared to Paris. I have always felt lonely, but never as much as here. The lack of bread is not the worst thing – something else completely different is – although the lack of bread is sufficiently unpleasant as it takes away the ability to work, to work in the name of showing humanity and life in its full insignificance, and to spit in the faces of certain people, because they are loathsome. Happiness is not [the author’s name is illegible – I. M.] an artist in his novel, for us, for the poor sons of the land. For us, art is the only way out: at the moment when the soul is filled with life’s eternal suffering, art provides us with that which life cannot offer. There, in art, in one’s own creation, one can find peace. I keep starting over and keep forgetting what exactly I wanted to write about to you today. It is not very interesting but at the same time it is very important. Sadly, at the moment I live with a man who could easily be called a scoundrel, an idiot, a rogue and much more. Had I praised him and agreed with him, he could have been very useful to me, but I haven’t yet fallen so low as to praise all sorts of depravity and I still love truth, so he is particularly nasty to me. He has spread lies about me and many others. There are many reasons for this, which I will not mention. So, this is the kind of man I am forced to live with due to circumstances. To escape this dump, I need money, which I do not have. There are other things (which I will discuss further some other time). I need to do something for an exhibition, to get to know people who can prove useful; I need a flat, a private one. I need money for three months’ rent in advance, which would be 50 Francs, and some more for furniture.
You once told me that if something mattered to me a lot, you would be willing to sacrifice for it. Now the moment has come, even though I thought I would not need to bother you with this. When I will be able to pay you back I do not know, but probably not soon. One more thing, and this is most important: do this only if it is not too hard for you. It will be hard, I am sure, but perhaps you could come up with something. The thing is that if I had a studio, I could do something, perhaps earn a grant in the near future and settle down somehow. I will not dwell on this as it is a complicated matter. I only ask you to keep everything that I write to you between the two of us. If I could have 100 Francs, I could get nicely settled and work, as there are some opportunities on the horizon. It would be great, because with a private apartment I could be free and do what I want. So, this means that I would need 50 to 100 marks. Do what you can, but the main thing is: send me money as soon as you have received this letter. I need the money between 1 January and 6 January as this is when the studios are rented out. But do not [crossed out in the original – I. M.] But do this only if it does not cause you any harm. But enough of this, it is a most unpleasant matter.
I want to mail the letter now, so I will write more the next time about the Parisian Impressionists and other things. And once more, let this all stay between us.
All the best to you and I eagerly await your letter.
Yours truly, Mägi
Address: Paris, Passage de Dantzig 2, K. Mägi
That is all.
P.S. The idiot that I am living with opens letters, so no need to write his name. I happened to have a postcard with a Manet. I have added this to the letter. I have not re-read the letter so I don’t know if you will understand it. Do you think I will be able to send greetings to your
sister in the future?
2 January 1908, Paris [postcard]
Herra Aug. Vesanto
Marian katu 19, Helsingfors, Finlande, Russie
I have received your letter. Merci. Something really unpleasant happened to me here, which has totally ruined my mood. I will write more soon. I am moving to a personal studio at the moment and there are many problems in connection with that.
Yours truly, Mägi
I wrote to you that something unpleasant had happened to me, but this thing is now in the past, although my soul is still tormented by it. I will write no more of this: it is not interesting. I have made enemies here, but also some friends. A while ago, a good friend of mine from Norway arrived here. He and his wife are good and fair people. There are five of us altogether. We have established our own small commune and life is pretty nice: no starving, stomachs always full.
I have a personal studio and even a stove. It is awfully cold here, 12 degrees, and it is horrible in Paris, because the houses here are very badly built. On the first day of the cold spell, eight people died in Paris because of it. It is good that I have nice friends here (there are also some not so nice people), so that I have not died from the cold yet. There are also many negatives, for example I have not been accepted to the Academy. I constantly feel that there is so much to learn. The French are excellent drawers and if I want to become like them, I need to work really hard. More about this some other time. I feel really sorry to have taken so much money from you, although I desperately needed it. It is usually the case that if you want to lose a friend, you should borrow money from him and you will no longer have a friend. And it is also true that once you have lent money to a friend, the friend will stop knowing you. I don’t recall exactly what I have said about Gallen before, but perhaps it was also that you misunderstood. I still consider Gallen a great artist, although I used to hold him in higher esteem than I do now. Gallen has not added anything new to art. Gallen is [good?] only because he understands old art and works in the spirit of the Gothic and, besides, he is a pupil of Puvis de Chavannes. There’s something good in that. And something not so good, and so on. How deep his understanding of the Finnish nation is, I could not say. That is more for you to say. Ask yourself this very simple question: if there were no Kalevala (i.e. if Gallen had not had a chance to read it all in a book), but Kalevala were still deep inside the nation, could G. have delved so deeply into his people and created what he has created? (How good his current works are as Finnish art I cannot say, as I know very little about Finns.) Isn’t G. simply a brilliant illustrator? What do you think? I am reminded of the words of a Polish poet, who has sensed his homeland at great depth. I remember a few lines of his song, in which he says about an artist (poet), “Oh, the son of this poor land,
The son who, from rustling fi elds,
Has gathered together the strangely exciting rumble
And taken it to the world of his songs and thoughts.”
He is talking about a true poet, a sincere son of his Fatherland, who gathers “rumbling” from the fields. Good, isn’t it?
Manet is an interesting artist. You have understood him pretty well (in my opinion). But this picture contains a lot of the mysterious besides the explanation provided to us by our brains. It cannot be described in words. Perhaps it is a secret of love and secrecy, when a person [illegible word – I. M.] looks into his surroundings. Perhaps it is the tragedy of a young maiden (or a woman in general) who has danced the dance of love and death and now looks, wide-eyed, into something bottomless. I think it exemplifies the life in Paris, this insane dance of love and death, which destroys thousands. This will be the topic of a separate letter. There is not enough space currently.
I read an interesting book by Ola Hansson. He’s a Swede. Get a copy if you can. It’s Sensitiva amorosa. This is what a renowned critic has said about him:
“He depicts the world as something continuous. He does not highlight separate points in the flow of phenomena, does not fixate on them; some people do this, describing such things as ‘issues’, ‘limits’ and ‘contradictions’, but his flood never stops. For the new mind there are no contradictions, no discrepancies, because for his mind everything is presented as an endless chain of constantly changing emotions, which shimmer in all kinds of hues and colours but in their depth are inseparably connected, as there are no doubts which could become fluctuations and conscious vibrations of brain nerves.” Ola Hansson has written many interesting things.
Do you understand my letters? I think this might be rather diffi cult for you, for I do not express myself very clearly. I understand your letters very well. You wanted to send me a Finnish-Russian dictionary, right? If you have one to spare, do be so kind! Please give my regards to whomever you feel necessary.
All the best.
Yours truly, Mägi
Address: Paris, Passage de Dantzig 2
P.S. Do not believe everything that I write: perhaps all of it is nonsense; I myself do not believe a lot of what I say. I also wanted to send a card to your sister but could not remember her name:
I have a lousy memory for things like that. I ask only one thing: please [illegible because of copying – I. M.] all my letters. I do not want you to keep them.
I would like to send you a few words on contemporary art and artists. Here’s what a Swedish critic has written: “People are part of eternity and an artist’s roots are intertwined with people. From his homeland, the artist gets his life force. The artist’s roots are within his people, but not within his politicians, not within public statements, but only within what is eternal in the people, what makes his people distinct from other nations, within the never changing and [one word illegible – I. M.) race. And therefore, it is pointless to blame an artist for the lack of a national approach, because through him the nation’s inherent spirit, the mystical ‘king of spirits’ is manifested.”
A nation’s fame and elevation.
There are two paths for art to embrace life. One path is wide, open, safe and convenient, and the other is steep, leads over abysses, and is full of peril. The convenient path is that of the mind, of fi ve [illegible word – I. M.] emotions which embrace life only in its randomness, in its sad and foolish routineness. The steep path leading over abysses is the path of a soul for whom life is a deep sleep and a tormenting premonition of diff erent relationships, and different depths than the ones our pathetic minds are capable of penetrating. These paths are different because the mind is the everyday reality: work and overwhelming heat, mathematics and logic. But the soul is a rare feast: it can be embraced with neither consciousness nor logic; it is praise for humanity and its resurrection. For the mind, two times two equals four, but for the soul it may well be a million, since the soul knows no intervals in time or space. For the soul, there exists a nature of things that is object-less, dimensionless and stretches beyond time.
22 January 1908, Paris
I could not understand your letter very well; at least I did not understand everything. I did get the gist, though. The portrait of Gorky seems interesting but it is diffi cult to assess based on such a bad-quality photo. I wonder when the exhibition of Finnish artists might take place in Paris. I will write to you afterwards and tell you what the French said about them. I also have a reason for turning to you.
My friend would like to display some pictures in Helsingfors (he currently has an exhibition here) in spring or in autumn. This is rather inconvenient as the pictures must not be left there; there is no place to leave them, because they might not be accepted but they cannot be sent back either as my friend is leaving in spring. Please find out when the exhibitions take place. You can ask Lagerstam at Ateneum. Please tell Lagerstam that you know a young (Estonian) artist in Paris who would like to put up a show. That is all. Then some other things: I) Would it be all right with you if the pictures were sent in your name? Would it be possible for you to pick them up and take them to the exhibition? II) Could you keep the pictures after the exhibition, possibly for a rather long time? I know some Estonians there but I do not trust them very much.
Please let me know if you can handle this or not. If it might be inconvenient for you (for whatever reason), tell me straight away. The thing is that my friend does not wish to leave his pictures with just anybody but he does not know anyone there. Please discuss this with your family; they might possibly be opposed. Although that would change nothing. The most important thing is that it not be difficult for you or inconvenience you in any way. Now this is all. I am already weary of Paris and things don’t seem to be working out. Life here has affected me in a way that I can no longer sleep at night. My nerves, damn them, are misbehaving.
I can almost do no work at all. I need to leave Paris for a while, to process what I have seen and experienced here. If I can manage, I will be travelling to Norway in spring with friends; there I can work by myself in peace. So far, this is all only a dream. There is so much unpleasantness all the time, so I would like to give it all up and hide away from people. But where would I hide? Sometimes, all this life among people is so loathsome I could lose my mind. I hope you are doing better than I am.
Greetings to all of your sisters. Mägi [addition] Waiting for your reply.
20 February 1908, Paris [postcard]
Puvis De Chavannes – Rencontre de Saint-Germain
Herra Aug. Vesanto
Marian katu 19, Helsingfors, Finlande, Russie
Merci for your interesting letter. I will write more one of these days. I am glad that you enjoy such authors as Chekhov, Oscar Wilde and others. I am not quite well; my nerves are shot. How is your creative work going? I expect a lot of you and believe you are working seriously.
So, all the best, Mägi
March 1908, Paris
I have received your letter. I am very glad that you are willing to inconvenience yourself. In spring, my friend cannot hold a show in Helsinki as the salon here (where he is exhibiting) will be open until 2 May. Perhaps he could put up a display in Helsinki in autumn. I also think that I might be able to exhibit in Helsinki in the future, but currently I do not have anything to show.
You think I have been working a lot, but the truth is that I have worked only a little. I lost a whole year in Helsinki and I have forgotten a lot. Here, I worked very diligently for the first two months but then winter, cold, hunger and many more unpleasant things happened. I did not have my own apartment or money and thus I could not work. After I rented a studio, I still could not work because I had to prepare dinners at my place (I think I mentioned that we have a small commune here: one month one of us prepares dinners, the next month the next one, and so on). The commune is generally a good thing, the only minus being that I never have any money. All the money that I had, which was very little of course, I spent on tobacco and paper (the tobacco here is awfully expensive and of poor quality), and there was none left for painting materials. Thus, a month was spent on dinners. At first, drawing was also not going well; I did not draw for a long time, but when things were starting to improve, something unpleasant happened once again.
The main problem is, of course, money: if I had money, everything would be all right; I could work and my mood would be better. I would be doing better if I were nice to wealthy [illegible – I. M.], but I cannot put on an act. People like this are most likely crooks, scoundrels or extremely dumb.
To hell with them.
I have naturally learnt a lot because I have seen a lot. I have made dozens of sketches from real life, I have painted studies from my window, I have made a small woodcut portrait, and initially I also tried some fantasies, but that is all.
Had I been able to work more, my success would be greater. I have such a lousy nature that any small matter connected with money ruins my mood and will to work. If I could work seriously for another year (I would travel to a small village or maybe to Norway), then in the coming year, I believe, I could have a show here.
Here, in Paris, they are showing all kinds of drivel and it is possible to exhibit anything, but I cannot have a display before I have something of weight to show. My whole life here is so colourful that it is impossible to put in words. As I understand, you suggest I save some money. It is a great idea, but difficult to put into action. I worked for an interior decorator (painter) here for two and a half days and received 16 Francs for it (the work ran out). That is a lot of money, but very little at the same time. I might be able to get some more work, but the darned French language eludes me. Once again it has happened that this letter got too long. I have heard about what’s happening in Finland: it is very, very sad. We must wait and see what the future will bring. I wish you all the best and also greetings to your family.
Yours truly, Konrad Mägi [signed]
[Addition] When the salon opens, I might write some more.
8 April 1908, Paris
I will still write to you partially in Russian. Life is rather good. I went to the Olympia, where I met two young Russian artists: we drank a lot and saw the wildest dance ever in Paris. It was really interesting but unfortunately indescribable. There is nothing special happening in my life to write about. Just recently, I sent you a long letter. Have you received it? Letters go missing a lot these days. A large art exhibition is happening here (Salon des Indépendants). There are also works by Mr. Gallen, but they are rather weak. The most interesting one is by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. He is a bit similar to Ola Hansson. There are 6,700 pieces at the exhibition. Quite a few!
There are all kinds of pieces: cannibals, black and white men, etc. There is a lot that is interesting, but nothing great. Not all Parisian salons are good. There are many interesting artists indeed, but they are strange to me. I have worked rather a lot recently. But this will soon come to an end. Three months have passed and I need money for the studio; my friends will be travelling to Norway in three or four months. It is really important for me to also go there, to work there in summer, but I have no money to get there and buying paints also takes a lot. And I need to live there for four or five months.
It is so very silly that a man needs so much.
If I stayed in Paris, the summer would be lost for me because it is very hard to manage on your own among strangers. In Norway, I could survive the summer with friends. I would work a lot and could sell something afterwards, or at least exhibit something. I might be able to get some money, but it would be so little, only enough for Paris. Could you perhaps send me some? It is very important right now (although it is always important), because I have lost so much time. In the coming year, when I have many works of art, I will send some to you. Maybe you could show them there (in Helsinki) or somehow sell them. Naturally, that would be most unpleasant for you, but if you could and want to help me, then perhaps we will live better in the future than we do now. Send me a postcard; perhaps you can think of something that could help me. Or maybe not. I think that you might also be in a crisis, but I suppose you can imagine that my affairs are rather lousy (when I think of my boots, I feel really sad). In a word, a lot of bad things are happening. Have I maybe tired you with all my letters? I still send you greetings and wish you all the best.
Yours truly, Konrad
Address: 2 Passage de Dantzig, Paris
25 April 1908, Paris [postcard]
Velazquez – Portrait de la Reine Marie-Anne
Herra Aug. Vesanto
Marian katu 19, Helsingfors, Finlande, Russie
Merci for the postcard. Another salon has opened here, but there’s very little good stuff . 2,700 paintings – what a waste of paint! I have always envied those with so much paint and canvas. In large part, such art is alien to me. I am weary of Paris and would dearly like to be somewhere else.
There are many interesting parks and other things in Paris, but I don’t like this kind of nature. I would gladly leave it all behind and travel somewhere in the north. How lovely it would be, to be somewhere in the countryside (in the north, naturally), to paint, to do some farm work, and so on.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? At the moment I’m thinking that it would be best to have a small house in the countryside, to work there with no one bothering me, and I’d be free to fantasise.
How ridiculous to be so poor.
It is possible to live in Paris for a while but staying longer is of no interest to me. I cannot yet say for sure whether I will be leaving Paris or not. Is it boring for you to live in Helsinki? In Helsinki, everything is clean and orderly, but here it is just dirty and disorderly. There is only one interesting thing about the place: the art, old and new. Please write more about how life goes for you and everyone else.
All the best, Konrad Mägi
15 May 1908, Copenhagen
I am so exhausted from my trip that my brain has shut down. I need to rest a bit to start feeling normal again. On the road here, I had to sleep in the streets as I did not have enough money to go to a hotel. Everything is very clean here, not like Paris, which is filthy. Paris was much more interesting, of course, but there are also highlights here. I bought quite a lot of work materials in Paris and with the trip here on top of that, it all cost so much that I have nothing left. I hoped to get to the countryside here, but this plan is doubtful now. It would also be nice to work in the city here, or maybe close to the city, because there are many fascinating places to be explored. Life is generally not very expensive here, although for me, of course, it is. I rented a flat for five krone a month, with morning coffee. When you live in a city, you should have at least 40 krone. I got your letter in Paris just before my departure. I understand that you want all the best for me, but isn’t it too difficult for you? God knows how I have ended up in debt once again. The thing is that my pockets are completely empty, so if it is possible for you, please send me some money. Perhaps I could find work here with an ordinary painter, to make some money, and then travel to the countryside. In the countryside, life is cheaper and then I could do my own work. In Paris, I dreamt of going to Sweden, where Ola Hansen was born and lived. The thing is that I cannot [illegible].
Once I have gotten to know the city and people a bit better, I will write more. The people here seem very likeable.
Wishing you all the best,Mägi
N156 I Ø Conrad Mägi
I need to turn to the Russian language for help. The thing is that I can no longer go to Paris, and this does not matter much, because I cannot work at the Academy, so there would be no point, or at least not much point. It is hard to carry on like this. There was a guy in Paris who earned 250 Francs a month and told everyone that he could not work for lack of money. This was quite a bit of money, but it shows that to be serious you need 150 Francs a month, or at least 100.
There was a society of Russian artists and they promised to assist many people as they were supposed to have money; I also hoped to get some (as I wrote to you from Paris), but they were lying and did not give anything to anyone. I know someone in Russia who has found a very interesting and potentially profitable business opportunity, “an Aff air”. Without me, he cannot carry out his plans, and the main hindrance is that he doesn’t have money for it yet. I know a thing or two about this business, but not everything, so I would need to learn. Naturally, I don’t know if I can learn all the secrets of this affair, but I think it possible. It’s not really interesting, but it would be new in Russia and if we got the business up and running, we could make, say, 25 to 50 thousand roubles, possibly even much more, a year. I am not very fond of such things, but what can you do when you have no money, so I’m willing to sacrifice a year or two of my life to work without care afterwards. I did not used to have such an attitude to starving as now, since I got this damned stomach problem. I came to Kristiania from the countryside because they have a rather well-stocked library here, and I’m hoping to learn about this business I mentioned. I also found out something useful for “the Affair” in Paris. I will write more about it some other time.
What would you think if I sent you some studies (études); perhaps you could sell something or organise a lottery among your acquaintances? Please discuss it with your sister. If you could do something, I can send you about 30 pieces. They are all small because I did not manage to paint anything large. My work here has been lousy, because I have had health problems all the time.
I did not paint pictures, but merely made studies for them, so perhaps they are not so good but they are useful to me.
I think that the best ones could be sold and the rest could be put up for a lottery. I don’t know if this is something that could be done, or if you even want to handle all this and more. If it is too difficult for you and you really can’t, do not hesitate to write and tell me. Please write at once after you have received my letter. I would really like to see you in person; there is so many interesting things to tell you. I often recall the days in Helsinki when we used to improve our mood [drink? – I. M.]. My interests are now different but those days were very interesting. If we are successful with “the Affair”, I will be travelling to Russia and will stop by Helsinki. Do not tell Elef. anything about all of this, but please find him and tell him to send me my passport because I need to travel to Russia.
Please tell Elef. that my address is Poste-restorante Sallinen.
Do not explain anything, just tell him that you have no idea about what I’m doing and that I just need to go to Russia. Please find him and tell him everything I’ve asked you to tell him.
I am so sorry to trouble you with all these things again. I will write more some other time.
I send you greetings and wish you and your dear ones all the best,
Address: Kristiania, Kirkeveien nr 56 V
I am sending You 35 studies; they are not real paintings, just practice pieces. Seven pcs are framed and something should be paid for the frames. I thought that I could sell them here, but the public here is not fond of this style of painting. They do not contain any interesting motifs because I only wanted to practice. In Copenhagen, I could already work much better for I was healthy, the weather stayed nice, with loads of sunshine, etc. Here, I am always ill and even now I am feeling very lousy. I could not paint anything large because I did not have money for that kind of work and with my current (living) arrangements, I do not own a lot of furniture. I painted using different techniques and learnt a lot. They were all painted really quickly, in just one to two hours, so they are unfinished. I have quite a few more, but I need them as material to make some sort of copies of them in the future. All in all, many of them are not good, but I thought that if you could organise a lottery then it wouldn’t matter so much. Choose about 10 of them for sale, and the other 25 put up for a drawing. I really do not believe that you’ll make much from them.
Today, I am feeling especially bad and cannot paint. The devil knows how long this illness will continue; the only way out is a noose or a bullet. I cannot do anything and it has been like this for three months.
The doctor, an idiot, tells me that I’ll be better in two weeks, and perhaps I will, but how could I possibly eat what they prescribe?
To be honest, I haven’t been to a proper doctor as that would be very expensive. To hell with him.
I cannot live in Paris because one needs a lot of money. It would be great if I could live here and get better. I could still work here, as I did in Paris, but in Paris I would need to enter the Academy because it is very important to me to study properly for even a single year. But this is out of the question, and thus I am forced to tarry here.
Health is the most important issue at the moment. Many people have contracted this illness, but I am affected more strongly because years of hunger have destroyed my stomach and it has to be treated carefully. I have some acquaintances from Russia here and I can paint small portraits, which is useful for me. The state of my resources is lousy and this hinders me a lot. I have some krone left but not many, even if I live very cheaply; I still need to pay for the flat and everything costs. It seems that “the Affair” will not work out as this person has stopped writing anything in relation to it. The studies marked “K.” were made in Copenhagen and the ones marked “N.” were made here. If you can sell anything, ask as much as you can. You will see for yourself what is possible. Please write to me when you have received them and tell me how you like them. My work has changed somewhat from earlier years. Life here is rather cheap so there is hope for my health improving. Something that is really costly here is cigarettes, and tobacco in general. 10 “Femins” cost 45 øre. Scandalous! The tobacco is awful and expensive. I do smoke quite a lot as it improves my mood a little. If I could survive the winter here and get healthy, in summer I could travel somewhere interesting, farther north. It is said that life there is very cheap in places and then I could work throughout the summer.
If you or your sister happen to like any of the pictures, take whichever ones you want. If you could send me some money, it would be great, but do not try too hard because I know that you do not have a lot and I am already embarrassed that I owe you so much.
I wish you all the best and greetings to your friends, Mägi
Address: K. Mägi
Kirkeveien nr 56 V, Kristiania