van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
 
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Saint-Rémy, 17 or 18 June 1889
Relevant paintings:


"L'Arlesienne: Madame Ginoux with Gloves and Umbrella," Vincent van Gogh
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"Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background," Vincent van Gogh
[Enlarge]


"Starry Night," Vincent van Gogh
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"Vincent's Bedroom in Arles," Vincent van Gogh
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"Courtyard of the Arles hospital," Vincent van Gogh
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"Lawn with weeping tree," Vincent van Gogh
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"Olive Trees," Vincent van Gogh 1889
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My dear Theo,

Thank you for yesterday's letter. I too cannot write as I would like, but after all we live in such a disturbed time that there can be no way of having opinions fixed enough to form any judgment of things.

I should have liked very much to know if you are still having your meals in the restaurant or whether you are living more at home. I hope so, for in the long run that must be best.

Things are going well with me. You will understand that after almost half a year now of absolute frugality in eating, drinking, smoking, with two-hour baths twice a week of late, it's evident that it should steady me a lot. So it's all going well, and as for the work, far from wearing me out, it occupies and distracts me - which I am in great need of.

I am glad to hear that Isaäcson has found some things that please him in my consignment. He and De Haan seem very faithful, and that is so rare nowadays that one must appreciate it. And I am also glad to hear that someone else has turned up who actually saw something in the woman's figure in black and yellow. That does not surprise me, though I think that the merit is in the model and not in my painting.

I despair of ever finding models. Ah, if now and then I had someone like that or like the woman who posed for “La Berceuse,” I'd do something very different yet.

I think you were right not to show any pictures of mine at the exhibition that Gauguin and the others had. My not yet being recovered is reason enough for my keeping out of it without giving them offense.

I think that unquestionably Gauguin and Bernard have great and real merit. And it remains very understandable that for beings like them - young and very vigorous, who must live and try to hack out their way - it would be impossible to turn all their canvases to the wall until it should please people to admit them into something, into the official stew. You cause a stir by exhibiting in cafes; I do not say it is not bad taste to do it, but I myself have this crime on my conscience twice over, as I exhibited at the Tambourin and at the Avenue de Clichy, without counting the upset caused to 81 worthy anthropophagi of the good town of Arles and their excellent mayor.

So in any case I am worse and more to blame than they, as far as that goes, in causing stir enough, my word, quite involuntarily. Young Bernard - I think - has already done some absolutely astonishing canvases in which there is a sweetness and something essentially French and sincere of rare quality.

After all, neither he nor Gauguin are artists who could ever look as if they were trying to get into a universal exhibition by the back stairs.

Be reassured about this. That they could not hold their tongues is very understandable. That the impressionist movement has had no unity proves that they aren't as skilled fighters as other artists such as Delacroix and Courbet.

At last I have a landscape with olive trees and also a new study of a starry sky. Though I have not seen either Gauguin's or Bernard's last canvases, I am pretty well convinced that these two studies I've spoken of are parallel in feeling.

When you have looked at these two studies for some time, and that of the ivy as well, it will perhaps give you some idea, better than words could, of the things that Gauguin and Bernard and I sometimes used to talk about, and which we've thought about a good deal; it is not a return to the romantic or to religious ideas, no. Nevertheless, by going the way of Delacroix, more than is apparent, by colour and a more spontaneous drawing than delusive precision, one could express the purer nature of a countryside compared with the suburbs and cabarets of Paris.

One would try to paint human beings who are also more serene and pure than Daumier had before his eyes, but following Daumier, of course, in the drawing.

Whether it exists or not is something we may leave aside, but we do believe that nature extends beyond St. Ouen.

Perhaps even while reading Zola, we are moved by the sound of the pure French of Renan, for instance.

And after all, while the Chat noir draws us women after its fashion and Forain in a fashion that's masterly, we do some of our own, and being less Parisian but no less fond of Paris and its graces, we try to prove that something very different exists as well.

Gauguin, Bernard and I may stop at that point perhaps and not conquer, but neither shall we be conquered; perhaps we exist neither for the one thing nor for the other, but to give consolation or to prepare the way for a painting that will give even greater consolation.

Perhaps Isaäcson and De Haan will not succeed either, but in Holland they felt the compulsion to maintain that Rembrandt did great painting and not delusive photography; they also felt something that was different.

If you can get the “Bedroom” re-canvassed, it would be better to have it done before sending it to me.

I have no more white at all at all.

You would give me great pleasure by writing again soon. I so often think that after some time your marriage, I hope, will give you back your old vigour, and that a year from now you will be in better health.

What I should very much like to have to read here now and then would be a Shakespeare. There is one at a shilling, Dick's Shilling Shakespeare, which is complete. There are plenty of editions, and I think the cheap ones have been altered less than the more expensive ones. In any case I don't want one that costs more than 3 francs.

Meanwhile, whatever is too bad in this batch, put it aside altogether - no use having stuff like that about; it may be useful later on to remind me of things. Whatever is good in it will show up better in a smaller number of canvases.

The rest are only worth putting flat in some corner between two sheets of cardboard with some old newspapers between the studies. I am sending you a roll of drawings.

Handshakes for you, Jo, and our friends.

Ever yours, Vincent

The drawings - Hospital at Arles, the Weeping Tree in the Grass, the Fields and the Olives are a continuation of those old ones of Montmajour, the others are hasty studies made in the garden.

There is no hurry for the Shakespeare, if they haven't got an edition like that, it doesn't take an eternity to order it.

Do not fear that I shall ever, of my own will, rush to dizzy heights. Unfortunately we are subject to the circumstances and the maladies of our time, whether we like it or not.


At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Source:
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 17 or 18 June 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 595.
URL: http://webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/20/595.htm.

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