Lot 290
  • 290


15,000 - 20,000 USD
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  • Highly important autograph letter signed ("Leo Tolstoy"), in French, to Octave Mirbeau, the French journalist, critic, and novelist ("Cher Confrère") comparing the natures of French and Russian art as an expression of a common humanity, citing the works of Rousseau and Dostoevsky, and stressing the importance of Rousseau on his own writing
2 pages (10 1/4 x 8 1/8 in.; 260 x 206 mm) on paper, single onion skin sheet folded, written in French in black ink. Dated "12 Octobre 1903" and signed "Léon Tolstoy"; minor creasing. 

Catalogue Note

Tolstoy addresses issues raised in Mirbeau’s letter received two days before, affirms the different approaches of artists of different nationalities towards a common expression of humanity, discusses the French authors who interested him, above all Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but also mentioning de Vigny, Stendhal and Hugo, comparing their approach with his fellow giant of Russian literature Feodor Dostoevsky and emphasizing the importance of Rousseau’s writing on his own works, and enquires about Mirbeau’s account of the French revolution …Je crois que chaque nationalitė emploie differents moyens pour exprimer dans l’art l’idéal commun à toute l’humanité et que à cause de cela que nous epreuvons une jouissance particulière a notre idéal éxprimé d’une manière nouvelle et inattendue pour nous. L’art francais m’a donné jadis ce sentiment de découverte quand j’ai lu pour la première fois les oeuvres d’Alfred de Vigni, de Stendhal de V.Hugo et surtout de Rousseau. Je crois que c’est à ce même sentiment qu’il faut attribuer la trop grande importance qui s’attacher aux écrits de Dostoewsky et surtout aux miens…

This letter links to giants of their time, both writers, novelists and humanitarians. Mirbeau, friend of Zola and passionate supporter of Dreyfus, was a novelist, writer on art and Impressionism, Rodin, Cézanne, Renoir and Monet. He was the leading commentator on French culture at the turn of the century. Tolstoy, author of the greatest works of literature of the nineteenth century was a titan of Russian art. Mirbeau had admired Tolstoy and had been influenced by his writings, particularly after his spiritual conversion. Tolstoy was fluent in French and German and had some English. This letter, with its frequent crossings out and change of words, shows Tolstoy attempting to find the mot juste, emblematic of the struggle of this great writer to set down his thoughts clearly and emphatically for Mirbeau and a wider audience.

The importance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Tolstoy is underlined in this letter and by A.N. Wilson, who writes: “Rousseau’s cult of the rural and the primitive had seized the imagination while surrounded by the bustling and noisy atmosphere of Kazan. Nor was Tolstoy ever disloyal to Rousseau in principal. In practice, though, after his first few months there, Yasnaya Polnaya bored him greatly”. Tolstoy, London, 1988, pp.54-55).