Hesse about painting

Hesses Farbkasten

Foto: Isa Hesse

© Silver Hesse

"From all this desolation, which often became insufferable, I found my own form of escape through something I had never done before - by beginning to draw and paint. Whether this is of any objective value is immaterial; for me, it is a new way of immersing myself in the solace of art, one that writing was barely able to afford me any more. Devotion without desire, love without a wish." From a letter to Felix Braun, 1917


"My little watercolours are kinds of poems or dreams, which provide but a distant memory of "reality," and change it according to personal feelings or needs (…); the fact that I am (…) a mere amateur is something I never forget." From a letter to Helene Welti, 1919

"For me, producing with drawing pen and brush is the wine whose inebriating effect makes life warm and pleasant to an extent that it becomes bearable." From a letter to Franz Karl Ginzkey, 1920


"I stick to very simple landscape-style motifs and seem unable to progress beyond this. How beautiful all the other things are, the skies and animals, the pageant of life and - most beautiful of all - people, all which I certainly see, often deeply moved and almost awestruck, yet I am unable to paint any of it."

From a letter to Cuno Amiet, 1922


"In these years since I first started painting, I have gradually developed a distance to literature. (…) that I would have known no other way of attaining. Whether what I paint is of any actual value or merit is, incidentally, something hardly worth considering. In art, unlike in industry, where the opposite applies, time plays absolutely no role whatsoever. There is no wasted time when it is not until the end that the potential in terms of intensity and perfection are reached. Without painting, I would not have come so far as a writer." From a letter to Georg Reinhart, 1924


"I know from personal experience only a single other activity [other than writing] that has a similar tension and concentration; that is, painting. There it is the same: to blend each individual colour with its neighbouring colour properly and carefully is pleasant and easy, one can learn to do it and then practice it at any time. Over and beyond that, however, to have really before one's mind the as yet unpainted and invisible parts of the whole picture and to take them into account, to experience the whole fine network of intersecting vibrations, that is astonishingly difficult and seldom succeeds."

From Kurgast, 1925. English translation by Denver Lindley, © 1971 and 1972 Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.


"I have in my hand my little painting stool, which acts as my conjuring device and Faustian coat, and with which I have already worked magic and won the battle against dull-witted reality a thousand times over. And on my back I have the rucksack, in which are my little painting board, and my palette with watercolours, and a little flask containing water for the painting, and some nice sheets of Italian paper." From Ohne Krapplack, in Berliner Tageblatt, 1928


"Each of us artists, even when he sees a lot to doubt in himself and feels his talents and abilities to be woefully small, has a purpose and task and, when he remains true to himself, can create something, in whatever place he may happen to be, that he alone is able to give. When you paint with me in Tessin, and we both paint the same motif, each of us paints not so much the little stretch of countryside as his own love of nature, and when faced with the same motif, each does something different, something unique (…) And many are the painters who were thought to be blunderers or barbarians of art that later proved to be noble warriors in whose works succeeding generations find greater solace, and which are cherished more ardently than the great works of classic talents!"

From a letter to Bruno Hesse, 1928


"In my writings people often miss the customary respect for reality, and when I paint, the trees have faces and the houses laugh or dance or weep, but whether the tree is a pear or chestnut, that for the most part cannot be determined. I must accept this reproach. I admit that my own life frequently appears to me exactly like a legend. I often see and feel the outer world connected and in harmony with my inner world in a way that I can only call magical." From Kurzgefasster Lebenslauf, 1925. English translation by Denver Lindley, © 1971, 1972 Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.


"I am otherwise not a zealous owner, can easily part with things or give them away. Yet I am now plagued by a zeal to capture things that occasionally makes even me want to smile. In the garden on the terrace, at the little tower under the weathervane, I remain stuck sitting for hours on end each day, suddenly having become incredibly industrious, and with pencil and pen, with brush and paint I seek to salt away some of this blooming and fading lushness. I laboriously sketch the morning shadows on the garden steps, and the thick twists of trailing wisteria, and seek to imitate the distant, glassy colours of the evening mountains, which are as wispy as gossamer and yet as radiant as jewels. I return home tired, very tired, and when I lay my sheets in the portfolio in the evening, it makes me almost sad to see how little of all this I was able to capture and preserve."

From Zwischen Sommer und Herbst, 1930.


"In response to your greetings, I am sending you a little picture I painted these past few days - for painting and drawing are my way of relaxing. The picture is designed to show you that the innocence of nature, the vibrancy of a few colours, are at any one given moment - even in the midst of a difficult and problematic life - able to stir belief and freedom in us." From a letter to a female student in Duisburg, 1930.

From Hermann Hesse, Magie der Farben Aquarell aus dem Tessin. Edited by Volker Michels.