My dear Theo,
I do not want to wait any longer
before writing you again.
Thank you once more for the lovely etching after Rembrandt.
I would very much like to know the picture and to know in which
period of his life he painted it. All this goes - along with
the “Portrait of Fabritius” in Rotterdam, the
“Traveller” of the Lacaze Gallery - into a special
category in which the portrait of a human being is transformed
into something luminous and comforting.
And how different this is from Michelangelo or Giotto,
though the latter nevertheless comes near it and thus Giotto
forms as it were a possible link between the school of
Rembrandt and the Italians.
[A sketch of Enclosed Field with Ploughman was drawn here.]
Yesterday I began to work a little again - on a thing that I
see from my window - a field of yellow stubble that they are
ploughing, the contrast of the violet-tinted ploughed earth
with the strips of yellow stubble, background of hills.
Work distracts me infinitely better than anything else, and
if I could once really throw myself into it with all my energy
possibly that would be the best remedy.
The impossibility of getting models, however, and a lot of
other things prevent me from doing it.
Altogether I really must try to take things a little
passively and have patience.
I think very often of the other fellows in Brittany, who are
certainly busy doing better work than I. If it were possible
for me to start again with the experience I have now, I should
not go to see the South. Were I free and independent, I should
nevertheless have kept my enthusiasm, because there are some
beautiful things to be done.
The vineyards, for instance, and the fields of olives.
If I had confidence in the management of this place,
nothing would be better or simpler than to bring all my
furniture here to the hospital and go quietly on.
If I get better, or in the intervals, I could sooner or
later go back to Paris or to Brittany for a time.
But first of all it is very expensive here, and then
just now I am afraid of the other patients. Altogether lots of
things make me feel that I haven't had any luck here
You will say - as I say to myself too - that the fault must
be within me and not in the circumstances or in other people.
Anyway, it is not pleasant.
M. Peyron has been kind to me and he has much experience. I
do not doubt that he speaks and judges correctly.
But has he come to any conclusion - has he written you
anything definite? And possible?
You see that I am in a very bad humour, things aren't going
well. Then I feel like a fool going and asking doctors
permission to make pictures. Besides, it is to be hoped that if
sooner or later I get a certain amount better, it will be
because I have recovered through working, for it is a thing
which strengthens the will and consequently leaves these mental
weaknesses less hold.
My dear brother, I wanted to write better than this, but
things aren't going very well. I get great pleasure from going
into the mountains to paint the whole day. I hope they will let
me do it one of these days.
You will soon see a canvas of a hovel in the mountains,
which I did under the influence of that book of Rod's. It would be good for me to stay
at a farm, for a time at least; I might do good work there.
I must write to Mother and Wil one of these days.
What do you say to Mother's going to live in Leyden? I think
she is right in that I understand how she hankers after her
grandchildren. And then there will be hardly any of us left in
Speaking of that - not very long ago - I read in Arles I
forget which book by Henri Conscience. His peasants are
dreadfully sentimental if you like, but speaking of
impressionism, do you know that there are descriptions
of landscapes in it with notes of colour, of a truth, an
experience, and a primitiveness of the first rank? And it is
always like that. Oh, my dear brother, that heath down there in
the Campine was something after all. But there, it will not
come again, so let's go on.
He - Conscience - described a brand-new little house with a
roof of red tiles full in the sunshine, a garden with dock and
onions, potatoes with their dull green, a beech hedge, a
vineyard and farther on some pines, the heather all yellow.
Don't be afraid, it was not a Cazine, it was a Claude Monet.
Then there is some originality even in the excess of
sentimentality. And I who feel that and can do nothing, isn't
If you happen to have an opportunity to get lithographs
after Delacroix, Rousseau, Diaz, etc., past or present artists,
Galéries Modernes, etc., I cannot advise you too
strongly to hold on to them because you'll see, they will
become rare. It was, however, just the way to make fine things
popular, those old prints at 1 franc, those etchings, etc., of
The pamphlet on Rodin and Claude Monet, very interesting;
I'd have liked to see that. It's no use saying that
nevertheless I don't agree with him when he says that
Meissonier is no good, and that the Rousseaus are of great
interest for those who like them and want to know what the
artist was feeling. It's impossible that everyone should be of
this opinion, because for that one must have seen and looked at
them, and that is not as common as blackberries. Now if you
looked at a Meissonier for a year, there would still be
something in it to look at next year, you may be sure of that.
Not to mention his lucky days, when he had perfect flashes of
genius. Certainly I know that Daumier, Millet and Delacroix
have a different style of drawing - but Meissonier's
workmanship, that something essentially French, above all when
the old Dutchmen would have found nothing to quarrel with in
it, and yet it is different from them, and modern; one must be
blind to think that Meissonier is not an artist and - a
Have many things been done which give the nineteenth-century
note better than the portrait of Hetzel? When Bernard did those
two fine panels, primitive man and modern man, which we saw at
Petit's, when he made the modern man a reader, he had the same
And I shall always regret that in our day people believe
that the generation of say `48 and the present one are
incompatible. I think that the two nevertheless belong to each
other, though I cannot prove it. See, take old Bodmer. Wasn't
he able to study nature as a hunter and as a woodsman, didn't
he love it and know it from the experience of a long life,
virile and complete - and do you think that any chance Parisian
who goes to the suburbs knows as much or more about it because
he does a landscape in cruder tones? Not that there is any harm
in using pure and jarring tones, not that I am always an
admirer of Bodmer from the point of view of
colour, but I admire and love the man who knew the
whole forest of Fontainebleau, from the insect to the wild boar
and from the stag to the lark, from the great oak and the rock
mass to the fern and the blade of grass.
Now a thing like that is not felt, nor even found by any
And Brion - oh, a maker of Alsatian type pictures, people
would tell me. Very good, he has as a matter of fact done the
“Betrothal Feast,” the “Protestant
Marriage,” etc., which are indeed Alsatian. However, when
no one could be found equal to illustrating Les
Misérables, he did it in a way not yet
surpassed, and he made no blunders about his characters. Is it
a little thing to know people so well, and the humanity of that
period so well, that you hardly ever make a mistake in an
expression or in a character?
As for us, we have to grow old in hard work, and that
is why we eat our hearts out when things don't go well. I think
that if one day you see the Brias Gallery at Montpellier, I
think that then nothing will move you more than Brias himself
when you realize, from his purchases, what he tried to be to
artists. It is rather disheartening when you see some portraits
of him, his face is so heartbroken and obviously
If one doesn't make a success of it in the South, there is
always the thought of that man who suffered all his life for
the same cause.
The only serene portraits are the Delacroixs and the
By pure chance the one by Cabanel, for instance, is true and
very interesting in its keenness of observation, at least it
gives an idea of the man.
I am glad that Jo's mother has come to Paris. Next year it
will be a little different perhaps, and you will have a child,
and that will bring a fair amount of the little worries of
human life - but as some great worries of spleen, etc., will
dis-appear forever, it is certainly the way things should
I will write again soon, I am not writing to you as I should
have liked. I hope that all is well at your home and will
continue to be well. I'm very glad that Rivet has rid you of
your cough, it worried me somewhat too!
The trouble I had in my throat is beginning to disappear; I
still eat with some difficulty, but after all it has got
A good handshake for you and Jo.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 3 or 4 September 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 602.
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