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Arles, 9 August 1888
My dear Theo,
I think it is likely that we are going to have great heat
now without wind, since the wind has been blowing for six
weeks. If so, it is a very good thing that I have a supply of
paints and canvas, because I already have my eye on half a
dozen subjects, especially that little cottage garden I sent
you the drawing of yesterday. I am thinking about Gauguin a
lot, and I am sure that in one way or another, whether it is he
who comes here or I who go to him, he and I will like
practically the same subjects, and I have no doubt that I could
work at Pont-Aven, and on the other hand I am convinced that he
would fall in love with the country down here.
If we each live alone, it means living like madmen or
criminals, in appearance at any rate, and also a little in
reality. I am happier to feel my old strength returning than I
ever thought I could be. I owe this largely to the people at
the restaurant where I have my meals at the moment, who really
are extraordinary. Certainly I have to pay for it, but it is
something you don't find in Paris, really getting something to
eat for your money. And I should very much like to see Gauguin
here for a good long time.
What Gruby says about doing without women and eating well is
true, for if your very brain and marrow are going into your
work, it is pretty sensible not to exhaust yourself more than
you must in love-making. But it is easier to put into practice
in the country than in Paris.
The desire for women that you catch in Paris, isn't it
rather the effect of that very enervation which Gruby is the
sworn enemy of than a sign of vigour? So you feel this desire
disappearing at the very moment you are yourself again. The
root of the evil lies in the constitution itself, in the fatal
weakening of families from generation to generation, and
besides that, in one's unwholesome job and the dreary life in
Paris. The root of the evil certainly lies there, and there's
no cure for it.
This job of working among people so as to make sales is a job that requires observation and
coolness. But if you are forced to give too much attention to the books, you lose your poise.
I do want to know exactly how you are. Anyway, provided the
impressionists produce good stuff and make friends, there is
always the chance and the possibility of a more independent
position for you later on. It's a pity that it cannot be from
now on. No letter from Russell yet, but now that he has got the
drawings, he is bound to reply. This restaurant where I am is
very queer; it is grey all over; the floor is of grey bitumen
like a street pavement, grey paper on the walls, green blinds
always drawn, a big green curtain in front of the door which is
always open, to stop the dust coming in. So it already has a
Velásquez grey—like in the “Spinning
Women”— and even the very narrow, very fierce ray
of sunlight through a blind, like the one that slants across
Velásquez's picture, is not wanting. Little tables of
course, with white cloths. And behind this room in
Velásquez grey you see the old kitchen, as clean as a
Dutch kitchen, with floor of bright red bricks, green
vegetables, oak chest, the kitchen range with shining brass
things and blue and white tiles, and the big fire a clear
orange. And then there are two women waitresses, both in grey,
a little like that picture of Prevost's you have in your place
- you could compare it point for point.
In the kitchen, an old woman and a short, fat servant also
in grey, black, white. I don't know if I describe it clearly
enough for you, but it's here, and it's pure
In front of the restaurant there is a covered court, paved
with red brick, and on the walls wild vine, convolvulus and
creepers.[Vincent is describing the Restaurant Venissac at 28 Place Lamartine.]
It is still the real old Provençal, whereas the other
restaurants are so much modeled on Paris that even when they
have no kind of concierge whatever, there's his lodge just the
same and the notice “Apply to the Concierge!”
It isn't all brilliant here. I saw a stable with four
coffee-coloured cows, and a calf of the same colour. The stable
bluish-white hung with spiders' webs, the cows very clean and
very beautiful, and a great green curtain in the doorway to
keep out flies and dust.
Grey again - Velásquez's grey.
There was such quiet in it - the cafe-au-lait and tobacco
colours of the cows' hides, with the soft bluish grey-white of
the walls, the green hanging and the sparkling sunny
golden-green outside to make a startling contrast. So you see
there's something still to be done, quite different from
anything I have done so far.
I must go to work. I saw another very quiet and lovely thing
the other day, a girl with a coffee-tinted skin, if I remember
correctly, ash-blonde hair, grey eyes, a print bodice of pale
pink under which you could see the breasts, shapely, firm and
small. This against the emerald leaves of some fig trees. A
woman as simple as the herds, every line of her virgin.
It isn't altogether impossible that I shall get her to pose
in the open air, and her mother too - a gardener's wife - earth
colour, dressed just then in soiled yellow and faded blue.
The girl's coffee-tinted complexion was darker than the pink
of her bodice.
The mother was amazing, the figure in dirty yellow and faded
blue standing out in strong sunlight against a square of
brilliant snow-white and citron-yellow flowers. A perfect Van
der Meer of Delft, you see.
It's not a bad place, the South.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 9 August 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 521.
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