Arles, 11 August 1888
My dear Theo,
Shortly you are going to make the acquaintance of Mr.
Patience Escalier, a sort of man with a hoe, former drover of
the Camargue, now gardener at a farm in the Crau. Today I am
sending you the drawing I made after this painting, as
well as the drawing of the portrait of the postman Rollin [sic]. The colouring
of this portrait of the peasant is less black than the potato eaters of Nuenen, but our highly
civilized Parisian Portier - probably so called because he chucks pictures
out - will be bothered by the same old problem. You have
changed since then, but you still see that he has not, and it
really is a pity that there are not more paintings en
sabots in Paris. I don't think that my peasant would do
harm to the Lautrec that you have and I even dare say that the
Lautrec would become even more distinguished by the mutual
contrast, and that my own would gain by the odd comparison,
because the sunlit and sunburned quality of the huge sun and
the open air would show to advantage beside the rice powder and
the chic dressing table 1.
What a mistake Parisians make in not having a palate for
crude things, for Monticellis, for common earthenware. But
there, one most not lose heart because Utopia is not coming
true. It is only that what I learned in Paris is leaving me,
and I am returning to the ideas I had in the country before I
knew the impressionists. And I should not be surprised if the
impressionists soon find fault with my way of working, for it
has been fertilized by Delacroix's ideas rather than by theirs.
Because instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have
before my eyes, I use colour more arbitrarily, in order to
express myself forcibly. Well, let that be, as far as theory
goes, but I'm going to give you an example of what I mean.
I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a
man who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale
sings, because it is his nature. He'll be a blond man. I want
to put my appreciation, the love I have for him into the
picture. So I paint him as he is, as faithfully as I can, to
But the picture is not yet finished. To finish it I am now
going to be the arbitrary colourist. I exaggerate the fairness
of the hair, I even get to orange tones, chromes and pale
Behind the head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of
the mean room, I paint infinity, a plain background of the
richest, intensest blue that I can contrive, and by this simple
combination of the bright head against the rich blue
background, I get a mysterious effect, like a star in the
depths of an azure sky.
Similarly in the portrait of the peasant I have worked this
way, but in this case without wishing to evoke the mysterious
brilliance of a pale star in the infinite blue. But imagine the
terrible man that I have to do in the full furnace of the
harvest at high noon. Hence the flashing orange colours like a
red-hot fire, hence the tones of old gold luminous in the
Ah, my dear boy - - and the good folk will not see in this
exaggeration anything but a caricature.
But what has that to do with us? We've read La Terre and
Germinal, and if we are painting a peasant, we want to show
that in the end what we have read has come very near to being
part of us.
I do not know if I can paint the postman as I feel
him; this man is like old Tanguy in so far as he is a
revolutionary, he is probably thought a good republican because
he wholeheartedly detests the republic which we now enjoy, and
because on the whole he is beginning to doubt, to be a little
disillusioned, as to the republican principle itself.
But I once watched him sing the “Marseillaise”
and I thought I was watching `89, not next year, but the old 99
years ago. It was a Delacroix, a Daumier, straight from the old
Unfortunately he cannot pose, and yet to make a picture you
must have an intelligent model.
And now I must tell you that these days, as far as material
things go, are cruelly hard. Life, no matter what I do, is
pretty expensive here, almost like Paris, where you can spend 5
or 6 francs a day and have very little to show for it.
If I have models, I suffer a good deal for it. But it
doesn't matter, and I'm going to continue. And I can assure you
that if you should happen to send me a little extra money
sometimes, it would benefit the pictures, but not me. The only
choice I have is between being a good painter and a bad one. I
choose the first. But the needs of the painting are like those
of a wasteful mistress, you can do nothing without money, and
you never have enough of it. That's why painting ought to be
done at the public expense, instead of the artists being
overburdened with it.
But there, we had better hold our tongues, because no one
is forcing us to work, fate having ordained that
indifference to painting be widespread and by way of being
It is the blessed warmth that is bringing back
my strength, and I was certainly right in going at once
to the South, instead of waiting until the evil was past
remedy. Yes, really, And all the same to
feel the stars and the infinite high and clear above you. Then
life is almost enchanted after all. Oh! those who don't believe
in this sun here are real infidels.
Unfortunately, along with the good god sun three quarters of
the time there is the devil mistral.
Saturday's post has gone, damn it, and I never doubted but I
should get your letter. However, you see I am not fretting
With a handshake.
Ever yours, Vincent
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Poudre de Riz”,
Van Gogh Museum.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 11 August 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 520.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.