July 18, 1879
My dear Violet:
Sakrametska is nothing like I imagined it would be. As the capital of a Russian Colony, I expected a miniature Moscow or Saint Petersburg. However, it is more like Nashville or Louisville, or one of those other Wild West boom towns, as described in the dime novels I used to find hidden under your sofa cushions. If only your editors knew your true taste and preferences in literature. They would be appalled!
You would love it here. I saw two native women mucking out a stable today, wearing very manly canvas trousers. Since the , when all of the able-bodied men ran away to pan for gold, women here have held down men’s jobs, wearing the pants as well.
I have included a black and white sketch of the dock area, done in a kind of woodcut style. I think it is a good example of the primacy of value in communicating your subject. It is the light and dark of things that the mind sees first, not the color. The portrait of the Duke’s wife that I wrote you about last time is a possible exception. I wish you could see it. It is in such a high key that I do not think I progressed more than three fifths the way to black, even in the darkest details. And yet, perhaps the Duchess makes my point as well. When the value range is restricted, the more subtle differences between dark and light take on even more importance. I almost asked the Duke to loan me the painting for the Paris salon next year, but decided it is not quite the right thing.
Mr. Twain has not taken any of my recent hints about painting his portrait, although he did watch me paint the Duchess several times, while we were waiting for the train tracks to be repaired. He and I are sharing a basement room in a dreadful house, so I will have ample time to work on him. For an older man of letters, Mark Twain sometimes acts younger than I. He is carrying on like himself, swaggering about in miner’s boots, shirtsleeves, and a long tan duster. He is talking about buying a pair of “six shooters” like the sports in town have strapped on their hips. He loves their tall tales of panning for gold, claim jumping, gunplay, brawling, and wenching. To me it seems silly braggadocio. My artist’s eye is drawn to the extremes of human behavior, but my practical burgher’s soul likes things settled and civilized.
So I will remain,
Your stodgy admirer,
© Patrick Fanning, 2012