van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Max Braumann to n/a
Arles, 1928

[From Kunst und Künstler (Art and Artists), 1928 (1926 Issue, p. 451).]

“With friends of Van Gogh's in Arles” (Memories of travels by Max Braumann).

As he told Serret, who was to be his friend afterward, he only wanted to interrupt his journey in Arles for a short time. But the luminous sky of Provence would not release its hold on him, and so he decided to stay there, and to tackle the manifold problems that came rushing at him in this region....

Serret (librarian of the Municipal Library) relates:

“Vincent lives in my memory as an extremely timid man, a child. I was not interested in him because of his art, because I attached much value to his peculiar manner of painting, nor even perhaps because I had a perception of the leadership which it indicated. To me he was an unhappy man, who suffered much; and sufferings like these are only borne by noble characters. The outward life he led was of the most modest description.”

Serret drew a picture of the extremely primitive way in which he prepared his food, and which was also described later by Dr. Rey. “There can be no doubt that his body was perpetually undernourished, and this in conjunction with a productive energy intensified to a frenzy.” Serret believes that the greater part of his mental perturbations were attributable to this excessive exploitation of his strength. “Only one thing was important to him, his painting. But occasionally, when the consignments of paints sent by his brother Theo were used up, and he had no means of procuring new materials, he had to give up painting. Then a general dealer by the name of Durand, moved by his misery, took pity on him and gave him the paints...”

One of Serret's colleagues joined us, and contributed the observation: “People did not like to associate with Van Gogh, as be was always hanging about in the brothels. I knew him too. He was my next-door neighbor, so to speak. Along with other young people I used to poke fun at this queer painter. Well, we were only children then. His appearance made a highly comical impression on us. His long smock, his gigantic hat, the man himself continually stopping and peering at things, excited our ridicule.”

Serret continues: “At the time, after Doctor Rey had taken care of him and nursed him, he wanted to show his gratitude in his own way. He painted Doctor Rey's portrait, and made him a present of it. However, the doctor thought it so lacking in beauty that he put it in the garret. It is said that there it took the place of a broken windowpane, serving the purpose of keeping out the drafts. Afterward a friend who discovered it in the garret got hold of it...”

Serret can say nothing about the circumstances under which Vincent left Arles at firsthand. The fact is that before that time he had gone on a world tour which lasted several years, and of which he gave a description - Serret is a writer - in a several-volume work. When he came back, the star of the dead painter had risen gloriously. Then, at his own expense, he had a memorial tablet put up in the front of the house where Van Gogh had worked and suffered, which tablet contains the simple words: “The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh lived in this house in 1887-1888 [sic!]” (Le peintre hollandais V.v.G. habita cette maison en 1887 - 1888)…

At the appointed hour we, Professor Julius Seyler and I, called on Dr. Felix Rey. As his daughter had already told him what kind of information we wanted from him, he started talking without any circumlocution:

“First and foremost Vincent was a miserable, pitiful man, small of stature (please get up for a moment! about your size), lean. He always wore a sort of overcoat, smeared all over with colours - he painted with his thumb and then wiped it on his coat - and an enormous straw hat without a hatband, of the type usually worn by the shepherds of the Camargue as a protection against the scorching sun. He often used to complain of being the only painter in the region, so that he could not talk to anybody about painting. In the absence of any colleague he used to converse with me on the nature of the complementary colours. But for the life of me I could not understand that red should not be red, and green not green!”...

In exactly the same way as Serret, Dr. Rey now described how Vincent used to take his food. “In the morning, before setting out to work with his easel and canvases, he would put a pot of chick peas on the coal fire. Then, when he came back, generally in the evening, dead tired and hungry, the fire had gone out, of course, and the mess of peas was usually only half done and in fact inedible. All the same,

At this time, Vincent was 75 year old
Max Braumann. Letter to n/a. Written 1928 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.

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