My dear Theo,
Your kind letter did me good today, honestly - so now here's
for St. Rémy. But I tell you once more, if on
consideration and after consulting the doctor it should perhaps
be either necessary or simply advisable and wise to enlist,
let's give it the same consideration as everything else and
have no prejudice against it. That's all! You must put aside
any idea of sacrifice in it. The other day I again wrote our
sister that all through my life, or at least most of it, I have
sought something other than a martyr's career, for which I am
not cut out.
If I find trouble or cause it, honestly, I am aghast at it.
Certainly I should respect, I should heartily admire martyrs
and the like, but you must know that in Bouvard et
Pécuchet, for instance, there's something
very different which accords better with these little lives of
And now I am packing my trunk, and probably M. Salles will
go over with me as soon as he can.
Ah! what you say about Puvis and Delacroix is damn true,
those two have indeed demonstrated what painting could be, but
don't let's confuse things that are worlds apart. Now I as a
painter shall never amount to anything important, I am
absolutely sure of it. Suppose all were changed, character,
education, circumstances, then this or that might have been.
But we are too positive to get confused. I sometimes regret I
did not simply stick to the Dutch palette with its grey tones,
and brush away at landscapes of Montmartre without any fuss. I
am also thinking again of beginning to draw more with a reed
pen, which, like last year's views of Montmajour for instance,
costs less and distracts my mind just as much.
Today I made a drawing of that sort, which has turned out
very dark and rather melancholy for one of spring, but anyhow
whatever happens to me and in whatever circumstances I find
myself, it's something which will keep me occupied enough and
in some fashion might even make me a sort of livelihood.
After all, for you as well as for me, in the long run what
is having a little more or a little less to contend with to
Certainly you enlisted a good deal sooner than I, if
we come to that, at Goupils', where, indeed, you had some
pretty bad moments often enough, and didn't always get much
thanks for them.
And, indeed, you did it with zeal and devotion, for just
then Father was somewhat broke with that big family, and
everything had to be kept going, and you threw yourself into it
body and soul - during my illness I have been thinking of all
these old things with a good deal of emotion.
And after all, the main thing is to feel our closeness to
one another, and that is not yet shaken.
I have a sort of hope that with what on the whole I know of
my art, the time will come when I shall produce again, even in
the asylum. What use would the more artificial life of an
artist in Paris be to me? I should never be more than half
taken in by it, and so should lack the initial enthusiasm
indispensable to starting me off.
I would willingly, once I am a little known there, try to
become a hospital orderly little by little, in short, to work
at something and have some occupation again - whatever presents
I should be terribly in need of old Pangloss if in the
natural course of things I should happen to turn amorous again.
After all alcohol and tobacco have so much good or bad - it's
rather relative - that they are anti-aphrodisiacs, if one might
call it that, I think. Not always to be despised in the
exercise of the arts. Well, well, that's going to be the test,
and one mustn't wholly forget to poke fun at things. For virtue
and temperance, I am only too afraid, will again lead me into
those parts where the compass is apt to go overboard pretty
quickly, and where this time I must try to have less passion
and more good humour.
The passionate factor is no great matter to me, as long as
the power remains, as I dare hope, of feeling affection for the
fellow creatures with whom one must live.
How is old Tanguy? - you must remember me to him.
I see in the papers that there are some good things at the
Listen - do not become completely and exclusively
impressionist; after all, if there is good in anything, don't
let's lose sight of it. Certainly colour is progressing
primarily under the influence of the impressionists,
even when they go astray, but already Delacroix had reached
more completeness than they.
And confound it all, Millet, who has hardly any colour, what
work it is!
Madness is salutary in that one becomes less exclusive.
As an artist you are only a link in a chain, and whatever
you find or whatever you do not find, you can find comfort in
I have heard of an interior all in green with a woman in
green at the Salon, which was well spoken of, also of a
portrait by Mathey and another by Besnard, “The
Siren.” They also say that there is something
extraordinary by someone called Zorn, but they did not say
what, and that there was a Carolus Duran, “Triumph of
Bacchus,” bad. Nevertheless I still think his “Lady
with a Glove” in the Luxembourg very good; after all,
there are some not-too-serious things which I like very much,
such as a book like Bel Ami. And the work of Carolus is
a little like that. However, our period has been like that, and
all Badinguet's 1 period as well. And if a painter
paints as he sees, he always remains somebody.
Ah, to paint figures as Claude Monet paints landscapes! That
still, in spite of everything, remains to be done, unless one
is to see only Monet in all the impressionists. For after all,
in figure Delacroix, Millet, and several sculptors have done
far better work than the impressionists and even J. Breton. In
short, my boy, let's be fair, and, while withdrawing: I tell
you whenever we think we are getting too old to class ourselves
with the younger men, let us remember that in our time we have
loved Millet, Breton, IsraÃ«ls, Whistler,
Delacroix and Leys.
And I'm quite sure that for my part I am pretty well
convinced that I shall see no future beyond that, nor desire
Now society being what it is, we naturally cannot wish that
it should conform to our personal needs. And so, though I am
very, very glad to be going to St. Rémy,
nevertheless it would be really fairer to men like myself to
shove them into the Legion.
We can do nothing about it, it's more than likely that they
would turn me down, at least here where what has happened to me
is too well known, and above all exaggerated. I say this very,
very seriously; physically I am better than I have been in
years and years, and I could quite well be a soldier. Let's
think this over again, even though I'm going to St.
A good handshake for you and your wife.
Ever yours, Vincent
When I wrote that one must not forget to appreciate what is
good in those who are not impressionists, I didn't mean exactly
that I wanted to urge you to an unbounded admiration of the
Salon, but I was thinking of a lot of men like Jourdan for
example, who has just died at Avignon, of Antigna,
Feyen-Perrin, all the people we used to know so well when we
were younger. Why forget them or why attach no importance to
their equals? Why aren't Daubigny and Quost and Jeannin
colourists, for instance?
So many distinctions in impressionism have not the
importance that people have chosen to see in them.
Crinolines had something pretty about them and consequently
good, but in the end the fashion was fortunately short-lived
for all that. Not for some people.
And thus we shall always keep a sort of passion for
impressionism, but I feel that I return more and more to the
ideas that I already had before I came to Paris.
Now that you are married, we don't have to live for great
ideas any longer, but, believe me, for small ones only. And I
find that a wonderful relief, and don't complain of it at
In my room I have the famous “Portrait of a Man”
- the wood engraving which you know - a “Tangerine”
by Monorobu (the big plate in Bing's sketchbook), the
“Blade of Grass” (from the same book), the
“PietÃ ” and the “Good
Samaritan” by Delacroix, and the “Reader” by
Meissonier, and then two big reed pen drawings. Just now I am
reading Balzac's Médecin de Campagne, which is
splendid; there is a character of a woman in it, not mad but
too sensitive, which is very attractive; I will send it to you
when I have finished it. They have lots of room here in the
hospital, there would be enough to make studios for a score or
so of painters.
I really must make up my mind, it is only too true that lots
of painters go mad, it is a life that makes you, to say the
least, very absent-minded. If I throw myself fully into my work
again, very good, but I shall always be cracked.
If I could enlist for five years, I should recover
considerably and be more rational and more master of
But one way or the other, it's all the same to me.
I hope that there will be some canvases in the batch I have
sent you which may give you some pleasure. If I go on being a
painter, then sooner or later I shall probably be in Paris
again, and I promise myself in that case to give some old
canvases a good overhaul.
What is Gauguin doing? Am putting off writing him again
until I am quite normal, but I often think of him and I should
so much like to know if everything is going comparatively well
If I had not been in such a hurry, if I had kept my studio,
then this summer I should have touched up all the canvases I
sent you. Of course, so long as the impasto isn't dry all the
way through, you cannot scrape at it.
You will see that the expressions of the two women are
different from the expressions one sees in Paris.
Is Signac back in Paris yet?
1. -Nickname for Napoleon III.
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 3 May 1889 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 590.
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