St-Rémy, 19th Sept 1889
My dear Theo, Many thanks for your letter. It gives me very
great pleasure that you on your side had already also thought
of old Pissarro.
You will see that there are better odds there other than
elsewhere. Meanwhile business is business, and you ask me to
answer you categorically - and you are right - if I would
consent to go into a home in Paris in case of an immediate
departure for this winter.
I answer Yes to that, with the same calm and for the same
reasons I had when I came to this place - even if this home in
Paris should be a makeshift arrangement, which might easily be
the case, for the opportunities to work are not bad here, and
work is my only distraction.
Then - even as a last resort - it might be necessary for the
moment to go into a private asylum instead.
Nevertheless, to avoid doing, or having the appearance of
doing, anything rash I declare, after having thus warned you of
what I might wish at a given moment - that is, to go away - I
assure you that I feel calm and confident enough to wait here
another length of time to see if a new attack materializes this
But then if I write you I want to get out of here you
should not hesitate and arrange things beforehand, for you
would know then that I had a serious reason or even several for
going into a home not run, as this one is, by nuns, however
excellent they may be.
Now if by some arrangement or other, sooner or later, I
should make a move, then let's begin as if practically nothing
was wrong, being very cautious all the same and ready to listen
to Rivet in the smallest matters, but don't let's begin by
taking too formal measures straight off, as if it were a lost
I don't see any advantage for myself in enormous physical
strength, because I am absorbed in the idea of doing good work
and wishing to be an artist and nothing but that would be more
Both Mother and Wil, after Cor's departure, have moved- they
were absolutely right. It is not necessary that grief gathers
in our heart like water in a swamp - but it is sometimes both
expensive and impossible to change.
Wil wrote beautifully that it is a great grief to them,
It is odd, just when I was making that copy of the
“Pieta” by Delacroix, I found where that canvas has
gone. It belongs to a queen of Hungary, or of some other
country thereabouts, who has written poems under the name of
Carmen Sylva. The article mentioning her and the picture was by
Pierre Loti, and he made you feel that this Carmen Sylva as a
person was even more touching than what she wrote - and she
wrote things like this: a childless woman is like a bell
without a clapper - the sound of the bronze would perhaps be
very beautiful, but no one will ever hear it.
I have now seven copies out of the ten of Millet's
“Travaux des Champs.”
I can assure you that making copies interests me enormously,
and it means that I shall not lose sight of the figure, even
though I have no models at the moment.
Besides, this will make a studio decoration for me or someone
I should also like to copy the sower and the diggers.
There is a photograph of the diggers after the drawing.
And of the sower at Durand Ruel's the etching by Larat
Among these same etchings is found the snow-covered field
with a harrow.
Then the four hours of the day; in the collection of wood
engravings there are some copies.
I should like to have all these, at least the etchings and the
It is a kind of study that I need, for I want to learn.
Although copying may be the old system, that makes absolutely
no difference to me. I am going to copy the Good Samaritan by
I have done a woman's portrait - the attendant's wife - which
I think you would like.
I have done a duplicate of it which is less good than the
one from life. And I am afraid they will take the latter; I
should have liked you to have it. It is pink and black.
I am sending you today my portrait of me, you must look at it
for some time - you will see, I hope, that my features are much
calmer, although my look is vaguer than before, it seems to
I have another one which is an attempt when I was ill, but I
think this will please you more, and I have tried to make it
simple; show it to old Pissarro when you see him.
You will be surprised at the effect les travaux des champs
takes on in colour, it is a very profound series of his.
What I am seeking in it and why it seems good to me to copy
them I will tell you - they are always asking we painters to
compose ourselves and be nothing but composers.
So be it - but it isn't like that in music - and if some
person plays Beethoven, he adds his personal interpretation -
in music and more especially in singing - the interpretation of
a composer is something, and it is not a hard and fast rule
that only the composer should play his own composition.
Very good - and I, mostly because I am ill at present, I am
trying to do something to console myself, for my own
I put the black and white by Delacroix or Millet or something
made after them in front of me as a subject - and then I
improvise colour on it, not, you understand, altogether by
myself, but searching for memories
of their pictures - but the memory, the vague consonance of
colours which are at least right in feeling - that is my own
Many people do not copy, many others do - I started on it
accidentally, and I find that it teaches me, and above all it
sometimes consoles me.
And then my brush goes between my fingers as a bow would on
the violin, and absolutely for my own pleasure. Today I tried
the woman shearing sheep in a range going from lilac to yellow.
They are little canvases of about size 5.
I thank you very much for the package of canvas and paints. In
return I am sending you with the portrait the following
Study of Fields
Study of Olives
Study of the Night
Field of Green Wheat
Orchard in Bloom
Entrance to a Quarry
The first four canvases are studies without the effect of a
whole that the others have. I like very much the entrance to a
quarry which I was doing when I felt this attack coming on
because to my taste the sombre greens go well with the ochre
tones; there is something sad in it which is healthy, and that
is why it does not bore me. Perhaps that is also true of the
Mountain. They will tell me that mountains are not like
that and that there are black outlines of a finger's width. But
after all it seemed to me that it expressed the passage in
Rod's book - one of the very rare passages of his which I found
good - about a country of somber mountains, lost among which
one perceives some dark goatherds' huts where sunflowers are
The olives with white clouds and background of mountains,
also the moonrise and the night effect, these are exaggerations
from the point of view of arrangement, their lines are warped
as that of old wood. The olives are much more in character, as
in the other study, and I tried to express the time of day when
you see the green rose beetles and the cicadas flying about in
The other canvases, the reaper, etc., are not dry.
And now in the bad weather I am going to make a lot of copies,
for really I must do more figures. It is the study of the
figure that teaches you to seize the essential and to
When you say in your letter that I have done nothing but
work, no - that is not right. I am myself very, very
dissatisfied with my work, and the only thing that comforts me
is that people with experience say you must paint for ten years
for nothing. But what I have done is only those ten years of
miserable and unwelcomed studies. Now a better period may come,
but I shall have to get the figure stronger and I must refresh
my memory by a very close study of Delacroix and Millet. Then I
shall try to get my drawing clearer. Yes, misfortune is good
for something, you gain time for study. I am adding to the roll
of canvases a study of flowers - nothing much, but after all I
do not want to tear it up.
In all this batch I think nothing at all good save the field
of wheat, the mountain, the orchard, the olives with the blue
hills and the portrait and the entrance to the Quarry, and the
rest says nothing to me, because it lacks individual intention
and feeling in the lines. Where these lines are close and
deliberate it begins to be a picture, even if it is
exaggerated. That is a little what Bernard and Gauguin feel,
they do not ask the correct shape of a tree at all, but they insist absolutely
that one can say if the shape is round or square - and my word,
they are right, exasperated as they are by certain people's
photographic and empty perfection. Certainly they will not ask
the correct tone of the mountains, but they will say: In the
Name of God, the mountains were blue, were they? Then chuck on
some blue and don't go telling me that it was a blue rather
like this or that, it was blue, wasn't it? Good - make them
blue and it's enough!
Gauguin is sometimes like a genius when he explains this, but
as for the genius Gauguin has, he is very timid about showing
it, and it is touching the way he likes to say something really
useful to the young. How strange he is all the same.
It gives me great pleasure that Jo is well, and I think that
you will feel much more in your element thinking of her
pregnancy, and of course having worries too, than alone without
these family worries. For you will feel more as one with
When you think of Millet and Delacroix, what a contrast.
Delacroix without a wife, without children.
Millet surrounded by a big family, more than anybody.
And yet what similarities there are in their work.
So Jouve has still kept his big studio and is working on a
That man came very near to being an excellent painter. It is
money trouble with him, he is forced to do a thousand things
rather than painting, and it costs him more money than it
brings in for living; when he does do something beautiful.
And he is quickly losing his knack of drawing with the
brush. That is probably caused by the old way of education,
which is the same as nowadays in the studios - they fill in the
outlines. And Daumier was always painting his face in the
mirror to learn to draw!
Do you know what I think of pretty often - what I already said
to you some time ago - that even if I did not succeed, all the
same I thought that what I have worked at will be carried on.
Not directly, but one isn't alone in believing in things that
are true. And what does it matter personally then! I feel so
strongly that it is the same with people as it is with wheat,
if you are not sown in the earth to germinate there, what does
it matter, in the end you are milled to become bread.
The difference between happiness and unhappiness.
Both are necessary and useful, as well as death or
disappearance ... it is so relative - and with life
Even during an illness that breaks me up or frightens me,
that belief is unshaken.
How I should have liked to see those Meuniers.
Well, let it be understood that if I were to write again
expressly and briefly that I should like to go to Paris, I
should have a reason for it, which I have explained above. That
meanwhile there is no hurry, and that, having warned you, I
have confidence enough to wait for the winter and the attack
which will perhaps come back then. But if it is a fit of
religious exaltation again, then no delay, I would like to
leave without giving reasons at once. Only we are not
permitted, at least it would be indiscreet, to meddle with the
sisters' management or even to criticize them.
They have their beliefs and their own ways of doing good to
others, sometimes they do very well. But I do not warn you
And it is not to recover more liberty or anything else that I
don't have. So let's wait very calmly till an opportunity to
settle things presents itself.
It is a great advantage that and then I
do not think I am so sensitive to cold. And besides I know what
to do when the weather is bad, having this project of copying
lots of things that I like.
I should very much like to see Millet reproductions in the
schools. I think there are children who would become painters
if only they saw good things.
Say hello to Jo and a handshake.
Goodbye for now.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 19 September 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 607.
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