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My dear Theo,
Thank you for your letter and the 50 Fr. note it contained.
Of course I am now safe until the arrival of your letter after
the first. What happened about that money was entirely pure
chance and misunderstanding, for which neither you nor I are
responsible. By just the same mischance I could not telegraph
as you said, because I did not know if you were still in
Amsterdam or back in Paris. It is over now with the rest, and
is one more proof of the proverb that misfortunes never come
singly. Roulin left yesterday (of course my wire yesterday was
sent off before the arrival of your letter of this morning). It
was touching to see him with his children this last day,
especially with the quite tiny one, when he made her laugh and
jump on his knee, and sang for her.
His voice has a strangely pure and touching quality in which
there was for my ear at once a sweet and mournful cradle-song,
and a kind of far-away echo of the trumpet of revolutionary
France. He was not sad, however. On the contrary, he had put on
his brand new uniform, which he had received that very day, and
everyone was making much of him.
I have just finished a new canvas which almost has what one
might call a certain chic about it, a wicker basket with lemons
and oranges, a cypress branch and a pair of blue gloves. You have already seen some
of these baskets of fruit of mine.
Look here - you do know that what I am trying to do is to
get back the money that my training as a painter has cost,
neither more nor less.
I have a right to that, and to the earning of my daily
I think it just that there should be that return, I don't
say into your hands, since what we have done we have done
together, and to talk of money distresses us so much.
But let it go to your wife's hands, who will join with us
besides in working with the artists.
If I am not yet devoting much thought to direct sales, it is
because my count of pictures is not yet complete, but it is
getting on, and I have set to work again with a nerve like
I have good and ill luck in my production, but not ill luck
only. For instance, if our Monticelli bunch of flowers
is worth 500 francs to a collector, and it is, then I dare
swear to you that my sunflowers are worth 500 francs too, to
one of these Scots or Americans.
Now to get up heat enough to melt that gold, those
flower-tones, it isn't any old person who can do it, it needs
the force and concentration of a single individual whole and
When I saw my canvases again after my illness the one that
seemed the best to me was the “Bedroom.”
The amount we handle is a respectable enough sum, I admit,
but much of it runs away, and what we'll have to watch above
all is that from year's end to year's end it doesn't all slip
through the net. That is why as the month goes on I keep more
or less trying to balance the outlay with the output, at least
in relative terms.
So many difficulties certainly do make me rather worried and
timorous, but I haven't given up hope yet.
The trouble I foresee is that we shall have to be very
prudent so as to prevent the expenses of a sale lowering the
sale itself, when the time for it comes. How many times we have
had occasion to see just that mischance in the lives of
I have in hand the portrait of Roulin's wife, which I was working on
before I was ill. In it I had ranged the reds from pink to an orange, which rises through the
yellows to lemon, with light and sombre greens. If I could
finish it, I should be very glad, but I am afraid she will no
longer want to pose with her husband away.
You can see just what a disaster Gauguin's leaving is,
because it has thrust us down again just when we had made a
home and furnished it to take in our friends in bad times.
Only in spite of it we will keep the furniture, etc. And
though everyone will now be afraid of me, in time that may
We are all mortal and subject to all the ailments there are,
and if the latter aren't exactly of an agreeable kind, what can
one do about it? The best thing is to try to get rid of
I feel remorse too when I think of the trouble that, however
involuntarily, I on my side caused Gauguin.
But up to the last days I saw one thing only, that he was
working with his mind divided between the desire to go to Paris
to carry out his plans, and the life at Arles.
What will come of all this for him?
You will doubtless be feeling that though you have a good
salary, nevertheless we lack capital, except in goods, and that
in order really to alter the unhappy position of the artists
that we know, we need to be in a stronger position. But then we
often run up against sheer distrust on their part, and the
things they are perpetually scheming among themselves, which
always end in - a blank. I think that at Pont-Aven they had
already formed a new group of 5 or 6, perhaps already broken
They are not dishonest, it is something without a name and
one of their enfant terrible faults.
Meantime the great thing is that your marriage should not be
delayed. By getting married you will set Mother's mind at rest
and make her happy, and it is after all almost a necessity in
view of your position in society and in commerce. Will it be
appreciated by the society to which you belong, perhaps not,
any more than the artists ever suspect that I have sometimes
worked and suffered for the community…So from me, your
brother, you will not want completely ordinary congratulations
and assurances that you are about to be transported straight
into paradise. And with your wife you will not be lonely any
more; which I could wish for our sister as well.
That, after your own marriage, is what I should set my heart
on more than anything.
When you are married, perhaps there will be other marriages
in the family, and in any case you will see your way clear and
the house will not be empty any more.
Whatever I think on other points, our father and mother were
exemplary as married people.
And I shall never forget Mother at Father's death, when she
only said one small word: it made me begin to love dear old
Mother more than before. In fact as married people our parents
were exemplary, like Roulin and his wife, to cite another
Well, go straight ahead along that road. During my illness I
saw again every room of the house at Zundert, every path, every
plant in the garden, the views from the fields round about, the
neighbors, the graveyard, the church, our kitchen garden
behind-down to the magpie's nest in a tall acacia in the
It's because I still have earlier recollections of those
first days than any of the rest of you. There is no one left
who remembers all this but Mother and me.
I say no more about it, since it is better that I should not
try to recall all that passed through my head then.
Only please realize that I shall be very happy when your
marriage has taken place. Look here now, if for your wife's
sake it would perhaps be as well to have a picture of mine from
time to time at Goupil's, then I will give up my grudge against
them, in this way.
I said I did not want to go back to them with too naive a
But if you like you can exhibit the two pictures of
Gauguin would be glad to have one, and I should very much
like to give Gauguin a real pleasure. So if he wants one of the
two canvases, all right, I will do one of them over again,
whichever he likes.
You will see that these canvases will catch the eye. But I
would advise you to keep them for yourself, just for your own
private pleasure and that of your wife.
It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character,
and takes on a richness the longer you look at it.
Besides, you know, Gauguin likes them extraordinarily. He
said to me among other things - “That...it's...the
You know that the peony is Jeannin's, the hollyhock belongs
to Quost, but the sunflower is somewhat my own.
And after all I should like to go on exchanging my things
with Gauguin even if sometimes it would cost me also rather
Did you during your hasty visit see the portrait of Mme.
Ginoux in black and yellow? That portrait was painted in
three-quarters of an hour. I must stop for the
The delay of the money was pure chance, and neither you nor
I could do anything about it. A handshake,
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 22 or 23 January 1889 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 573.
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