My dear Bernard,
Forgive me for writing in haste, I'm afraid my letter will
be illegible, but I did want to reply at once.
Do you realize that we have been very stupid, Gauguin, you
and I, in not going to the same place? But when Gauguin left, I
still wasn't sure if I could get away, and when you left, that
awful money business, and the bad reports I sent you about the
cost of living here, stopped you from coming.
It wouldn't have been such a stupid thing to do if we had
all gone to Arles together, for with three of us here, we could
have done our own housekeeping. And now that I have found my
bearings a bit more, I am beginning to discover the advantages.
For my part, I'm getting on better here than I did in the
north. I even work right in the middle of the day, in the full
sun, with no shade at all, out in the wheat fields, and lo and
behold, I am as happy as a cicada. My God, if only I had known
this country at 25 instead of coming here at 35! At that time I
was fascinated by grey, or rather lack of colour. I kept
dreaming of Millet, and then I also had such acquaintances
among the Dutch painters as Mauve, Israëls, etc.
[Here Vincent drew a sketch of the Sower.]
Here is a sketch of a sower: a large piece of land with clods
of ploughed earth, for the most part a definite purple. A field
of ripe wheat, in yellow ochre with a little carmine.
The sky chrome yellow, almost as bright as the sun itself,
which is chrome yellow 1 with a little white, while the rest of
the sky is chrome yellow 1 and 2 mixed. Thus very yellow.
The Sower's smock is blue and his trousers white.
Size 25 canvas, square.
There are many touches of yellow in the soil, neutral tones
produced by mixing purple with the yellow, but I couldn't care
less what the colours are in reality. I'd sooner do
those naïve pictures out of old almanacs, old farmers'
almanacs where hail, snow, rain or fine weather are depicted in
a wholly primitive manner, like the one Anquetin used so
successfully in his Moisson. 1 To he honest with
you, I have absolutely no objection to the countryside, since I
grew up in it - I am still enchanted by snatches of the past,
have a hankering after the eternal, of which the sower and the
sheaf of corn are the symbols. But when shall I ever get round
to doing the starry sky, that picture which is always in
Alas, alas, it is just as the excellent fellow Cyprien says
in J. K. Huysman's “En ménage”: the most
beautiful paintings are those which you dream about when you
lie in bed smoking a pipe, but which you never paint.
Yet you have to make a start, no matter how incompetent you
feel in the face of inexpressible perfection, of the
overwhelming beauty of nature.
How I should like to see the study you have done of the
I am always reproaching myself for not having done any
figures here yet.
[Sketch of Summer Evening drawn here.]
Herewith another landscape. Setting sun? Rising moon?
A summer evening, anyway.
Town purple, celestial body yellow, sky green-blue. The
wheat has all the hues of old gold, copper, green-gold or
red-gold, yellow-gold, yellow-bronze, red-green. Size 30
I know a second lieutenant in the Zouaves here; his name is
Milliet. I give him drawing lessons - with my perspective frame
- and he is beginning to do some drawings and, honestly, I've
seen far worse. He is keen to learn, has been in Tonkin,
etc… He is leaving for Africa in October. If you were to
join the Zouaves, he would take you along and guarantee you a
fairly large measure of freedom to paint, at least if you were
willing to help him with his artistic plans. Might this be of
any use to you? If so, let me know as soon as possible.
One reason for working is that the canvases are worth money.
Since you doubt that, you may call this reason fairly prosaic.
But it is true. One reason for not working is that canvases and
paint simply swallow up our money while they are waiting to be
Drawings, on the other hand, don't cost a lot.
Gauguin too is bored at Pont-Aven, complains just like you
of his isolation. If only you could go and see him! But I
haven't any idea whether he means to stay, and I'm inclined to
think he's planning to go to Paris. He told me he thought you
would come to Pont-Aven. My God, if only all three of us were
here! You will say that it's too out of the way. All right,
but think of the winter, for here you can work all year
You will see that for yourself when you are a soldier. Then
your melancholy will be gone, which could easily be the result
of your having too little or the wrong blood, which I don't
really think is the case.
So, don't go back to Paris but stay in the countryside, for
you will need your strength to come through the trial of
serving in Africa. Well then, the more blood you produce
beforehand, good blood, the better it will be, for over there
in the heat you may not be able to do it quite so easily.
Painting and fucking a lot don't go together, it softens the
brain. Which is a bloody nuisance.
The symbol of St. Luke, the patron saint of painters, is, as
you know, an ox. So you just be patient as an ox if you want to
work in the artistic field. Still, bulls are lucky not to have
to work at that foul business of painting.
But what I wanted to say is this: after the period of
melancholy is over you will be stronger than before, you will
recover your health, and you will find the scenery round you so
beautiful that you will want to do nothing but paint.
I think that your poetry will change in the same way as your
painting. After a few eccentric things, you have succeeded in
doing some with Egyptian calm and a great simplicity.
“Que l'heure est donc brève
Qu'on passe en aimant,
C'est moins qu'un instant,
Un peu plus qu'un rêve.
Le temps nous enlève
[How short, then, the hour
One spends in loving,
It is less than an instant,
Little more than a dream.
Time strips us of
That's not by Baudelaire, I don't know who wrote it. They're
the words of a song found in Daudet's Nabab - that's where I
took it from - but doesn't it express the idea just like a
shrug of the shoulders from a real lady?
The other day I read Loti's Madame Chrysanthème, it
includes interesting details about Japan.
My brother is holding a Claude Monet exhibition at the
moment which I should very much like to see. Guy de Maupassant
among others came to have a look, and said that he'll be coming
often to the Boulevard Montmartre in the future.
I must go and paint, so I'll stop; I'll probably write again
soon. A thousand apologies for my not putting enough stamps on
that letter, even though I stuck them on at the post office,
nor is this the first time that it has happened here that,
being in doubt and enquiring at the counter, I have been given
the wrong information about the postage. You have no idea of
the indifference, the unconcern of the people here. Anyway,
you'll soon be seeing all that with your own eyes, in Africa.
Thanks for your letter, I hope to write again soon, at a moment
when I'm in less of a rush.
With a handshake,
Louis Anquetin, Harvest, 1887.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Emile Bernard. Written c. 18 June 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number B07.
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