c. 22 September 1888
My dear Vincent,
It has taken me a long time to answer you: What do you
expect? My sickly state and sorrow often leave me in a state of
prostration, when I lock myself up in inaction. If you knew my
life, you'd understand that after having struggled so much (in
every way), I am just now catching my breath, and at this
moment I am dormant. Your exchange project to which I haven't
yet answered smiles at me, and I will do the portrait you want,
though not yet. I am not up to doing it, seeing as it is
not a copy of a face that you want but a portrait, as I
understand a portrait to be. I watch little Bernard, and I
don't yet possess him. I will perhaps do it from memory; in any
case, it will be an abstraction. Maybe tomorrow, I don't know,
it will come to me all at once. Right now, we're having a spell
of good weather which leads both of us to try many things. I
just did a religious painting, very poorly done, but which was
interesting to do and which pleases me. I wanted to give it to
the church at Pont-Aven. Naturally, they don't want it.
Groups of Brittany women pray, very intense black costumes.
Very bright yellow-white headdresses. The two headdresses on
the right are like monstrous helmets. A dark purple apple tree
crosses through the painting, with foliage drawn in masses like
emerald green clouds with intervals of yellow-green sunlight.
The (pure vermilion) land. At the church it slopes down and
The angel is dressed in violent ultramarine blue and Jacob
bottle-green. The angel's wings of pure chromium yellow one.
The angel's hair chromium two and orange flesh-coloured feet. I
think I've succeeded in creating a great rustic and
superstitious simplicity in the faces. The whole thing
is very severe. The cow under the tree is very small compared
to life and rears up. In this painting I find that the
landscape and the fight exist only in the imagination of the
people who pray after the sermon - that's why there is a
contrast between the life-sized people and the unnatural and
disproportionate fight in its landscape. In your letter you
seem angry at our laziness in regard to the portrait, and that
makes me sad; friends don't get mad (at a distance words
cannot be interpreted in their true value).
Another thing. You twist the dagger in the wound when you
insist upon proving to me that I've got to come south, knowing
I suffer by not being there right now. When you invited me to
come there with your scheme, I formally wrote you one last
affirmative letter, happy with your brother's offer.
There is no way I can form a studio in the north, since every
day I hope to sell something which would allow me to get out of
here. The people who feed me here, the doctor who cured me, did
it on credit and would never take a painting or scrap of
clothing from me and are splendid toward me. I cannot let them
down without committing a misdeed, which would bother me
very much. If they were either rich or thieves, it wouldn't
matter to me. I will wait, then. For example, if that day came,
and you were in a different frame of mind and had to tell me
“Too late” … I'd prefer that you do it right
away. I'm afraid that your brother, who loves my talent, will
price it too high. If he finds a collector or a speculator who
is tempted by low prices, let him do it. I am a man of
sacrifices, and I would like him to understand that I approve
of whatever he does.
Little Bernard will bring several of my paintings to Paris
with him shortly.
Laval plans to meet me in the Midi sometime in
February. He found someone who will pay him 150 francs per
month for a year.
Now it seems to me, my dear Vincent, that you count badly. I
know the prices in the south; besides the restaurant, I am
responsible for a house of three people for 200 francs per
month, including food. I've kept up my household and I know how
to get along - even more so with four.
As for housing; besides yours, Laval and Bernard could have
a small furnished bedroom nearby. I like the layout of your
dream house and the idea of seeing it makes my mouth water.
Well! As much as possible, I do not want to think about the
promised fruit. Let's wait for better days; unless I rid myself
of this foul existence that weighs down upon me so horribly
outside of work.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Paul Gauguin. Letter to Vincent van Gogh. Written 22 September 1888 in Brittany. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.
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