Arles, c. 16 November 1888
My dear sister,
It gave me much pleasure to receive a reply from Mrs. Mauve
at last. As I want to write her a letter one of these days,
kindly send me her present address at once and without fail.
Her letter was dated from The Hague, but she does not say
whether she is going to stay there; my impression was that she
was going to stay at Laren. She told me that she had received a
nice letter from you.
I received the letter dated from Middelharnis, and I thank
you very much for it. It is a very good thing that you have at
least started to read Au bonheur des dames, and so on. There
are a lot of things in it - as in Guy de Maupassant too, for
I have already answered you that I don't like Mother's picture
I have just finished painting, to put in my bedroom, a
memory of the garden at Etten; here is a
sketch of it. It is a rather large canvas.
Here are the details of the colours. The younger of the two
ladies who are out for a walk is wearing a Scottish shawl with
green and orange checks, and a red parasol. The old lady has a
violet shawl, nearly black. But a bunch of dahlias, some of
them citron yellow, the others pink and white mixed, are like
an explosion of colour on the somber figure. Behind them a few
cedar shrubs and emerald-green cypresses. Behind the cypresses
one sees a field of pale green and red cabbages, surrounded by
a border of little white flowers. The sandy path is of a raw
orange colour; the foliage of the two beds of scarlet geraniums
is very green. Finally, the interjacent plane, there is a
maid-servant, dressed in blue, who is arranging a profusion of
plants with white, pink, yellow and vermilion-red flowers.
Here you are. I know this is hardly what one might call a
likeness, but for me it renders the poetic character and the
style of the garden as I feel it. All the same, let us suppose
that the two ladies out for a walk are you and our mother; let
us even suppose that there is not the least, absolutely not the
least vulgar and fatuous resemblance - yet the deliberate
choice of colour, the somber violet with the blotch of violent
citron yellow of the dahlias, suggests Mother's personality to
The figure in the Scotch plaid with orange and green checks
stands out against the somber green of the cypress, which
contrast is further accentuated by the red parasol - this
figure gives me an impression of you like those in Dickens's
novels, a vaguely representative figure.
In a similar manner the bizarre lines, purposely selected
and multiplied, meandering all through the picture, may fail to
give the garden a vulgar resemblance, but may present it to our
minds as seen in a dream, depicting its character, and at the
same time stranger than it is in reality.
I have also painted “Une Liseuse de Romans,” the
luxuriant hair very black, a green bodice, the sleeves the
colour of wine lees, the skirt black, the background all
yellow, bookshelves with books. She is holding a yellow book in
So much for today. But remember I have not told you that my
friend Paul Gauguin, an impressionist painter, is now living
with me, and that we are very happy together. He strongly
encourages me to work often from pure imagination.
Give my kindest regards to Mother, and do not fail to send
me Mrs. Mauve's address by return mail.
I embrace you in thought, Mother and you.
Written in French.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh. Written c. 16 November 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number W09.
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