Thank you for your last letter; I hope Wil has recovered
from her indisposition and that it was no worse than you said.
Many thanks also for the package of canvas and paints which has
I have enough subjects for pictures in my head for when the
weather will let me work outside.
I am pleased with what you say of the copy after Millet,
“La Veillée.” The
more I think about it, the more I think that there is
justification for trying to reproduce some of Millet's things
which he himself had no time to paint in oil. Working thus on
his drawings or on his woodcuts is not purely and simply
copying. Rather it is translating - into another language -
that of colour - the impressions of light and shade in black
and white. So I have just finished the three other “Hours
of the Day,” after the woodcuts by Lavielle.
It has taken me a lot of time and trouble. For you know that I already did the
“Travaux des Champs” last summer. Now I haven't
sent these reproductions - you'll see them someday - because
they were more groping attempts than these, but all the same
they have been very useful to me for the “Hours of the
Day.” Later on, who knows, perhaps I shall be able to
make lithographs of them.
I am curious to know what M. Lauzet will say of them.
They will take quite a month more to dry, the three last
ones, but once you get them, you will see clearly that they
have been done out of a profound and sincere admiration for
Millet. Then, whether they are someday criticized or despised
as copies, it will nonetheless be true that they have their
justification in the attempt to make Millet's work more
accessible to the great general public.
Now, I am going to speak to you again about what I think we
could do for the future, to cut expenses. At Montevergues there
is an asylum where one of the employees was an attendant. He
tells me that one pays only 22 sous per day there, and that the
patients are even clothed by the establishment. Further they
make them work on the land that belongs to the property; and
there is also a forge, a carpenters shop, etc. Once they get to
know me a little, I do not believe that they would forbid me to
paint; then there is always the point that it is less expensive
for one thing, and for another, that one can work on something.
Therefore one is not miserable there with something to do,
which is good. But aside from the idea of Montevergues, if I
return to Holland, are there not establishments there also
where one works and where it is not expensive and where one has
the right to take advantage of? While I do not know if
Montevergues accepts foreigners, there would probably be a bit
higher rate and especially admission difficulties, that it
would be better to forget it.
I have to tell you that that reassures me somewhat to think
things can be simplified. Because now it turns out to be too
expensive, and the idea of going to Paris and then to the
country, without having any other resource to offset the cost
except painting, would be making the pictures expensive
You should discuss it with C. M. someday, if you see him,
and tell him frankly that I shall try my best, and that I have
no preference at all.
I have seen Mr. Peyron again this morning, he tells that he
leaves me at complete liberty to amuse myself, and that it is
necessary for me to guard against depression as much as I can.
Well, it is good advice to think about, and it is also an
obligation. Now, you understand that in an establishment where
invalids work the land, I would find many subjects for studies
and drawings, and that I would not be in the least bit
miserable there. Well, it is necessary to think of these things
while one has the time.
I believe that if I came to Paris, I would not at first do
anything but draw Greek casts again, because it is always
necessary for me to study.
And I have the same hope that it will get even better, if I
return to the North.
Don't forget that a broken pitcher is a broken pitcher and
therefore in no way do I have any pretensions. I think that at
home in Holland they always value painting more or less, so
that an institution would hardly object to letting me do it.
However, over and above painting, it would be important to have
the opportunity for an occupation, and it would cost less.
Hasn't the country, and working in it, always been to our
taste? And are we not a bit indifferent, you as much as I, to
life in a big city?
I must tell you that at times I feel too well to be idle,
and I fear that I would not make anything good coming to Paris.
I am able, and I very much want to earn some money with my
painting, and it would be necessary to make enough that my
expenses do not exceed their value, and even that the money
spent could be returned little by little.
To talk of something else, I cannot manage to see the South
like the good Italians - Fortuny, Jimenez, Tapiró
and others - on the contrary, I see it more and more with a
Northerner's eye! It is not, believe me, that I should not like
to be able to live as before, without this preoccupation with
my health. Anyway, we will make the attempt once, but
probably not twice in the spring, if this passes away
Today I got the 10 francs which were still with M. Peyron.
When I go to Arles, I shall have to pay three month's rent for
the room where my furniture is, that will be in February. This
furniture, I think, will be useful, if not to me, then to some
other painter who wants to establish himself in the country. In
case I leave, wouldn't it be wiser to send it to Gauguin, who
will probably spend more time in Brittany, than to you, who
will not have any place to put it? That's another thing we must
think of in time.
I think that by giving three heavy old chests to someone, I
could get out of paying the rest of the rent and perhaps the
packing cost. I paid about 30 francs for them. I will write a
note to Gauguin and De Haan to ask if they intend to stay in
Brittany, and if they would like me to send the furniture, and
then if they would wish me to go there too. I will pledge
myself to nothing, only I shall say that most probably I am not
staying on here. This week I am going to start on the
snow-covered field and Millet's “The
First Steps,” in the same size as the
others. Then there will be six canvases in a series, and I can
tell you, I have put much thought into the disposition of the
colours while working on these last three of the “Hours
of the Day.”
You see nowadays there are so many, many people who do not
feel they are made for publicity, but who support and reinforce
what others do. People who translate books, for example. Or
engravers, lithographers. Take Vernier, for instance, and
So that means that I do not hesitate to make copies. I
should so much like, if I had time to travel, to copy Giotto's
work, that painter who would be as modern as Delacroix, if he
were not primitive, yet so different from the other primitives.
However, I have not seen much of his work, but there is one
piece which is comforting.
So what I think I shall do in painting is the “Men
Drinking” by Daumier and the “Convict Prison” by
Régamey. You will find them among the wood engravings.
For the moment I am busy with the Millets, but this means
that I shall not lack things to work on.
So even half locked up, I shall be able to occupy myself for
a good while.
What the impressionists have found in colour will develop
even more, but many forget the tie which binds them to the
past, and I will strive to show that I have little belief in a
rigorous division between impressionists and others. I think it
is very fine that in this century there have been painters like
Millet, Delacroix and Meissonier, who cannot be
surpassed. For though we do not like Meissonier as much as
some people, there's no getting away from it when you see his
“Readers,” his “Halting Place,” and so
many other pictures, it is something. And then we leave out
what is absolutely his strongest point, that is to say the
military painting, because we like it less than the
Nevertheless, to be just, one must really say that what he
has done cannot be surpassed or changed. Once more I hope our
sister is better. Kind regards to all,
Ever yours, Vincent.
[The beginning of the postscript is missing]
…. exaggerated in the work. That parents who are
ignorant of painting should cease loving a child who is a bit
different from the others - but even if they understood
painting, how could one reproach them with it in this society
of money and soldiers? So, it would not be unfortunate for him
if he should do his military service, it would only mean
acknowledging in time that he is defeated by fate. What has
become of Vignon? After all, this much is certain, what is
important is not playing the part of a proud man or having
great hopes for the future. Let's take the terrible realities
for what they are, and if it should be necessary for me to give
up painting, I think I should do so. At any rate, being in
better health than I have been for two years, I will again do
my best to find some job or other. I have often told myself
that if I had had a calmer temperament two years ago, like
Seurat's for instance, I should have been able to resist.
[On the back of the letter in Vincent's handwriting is the
English poem which he included in the letter to Wil. See Letter
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 12-15 January 1890 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 623.
This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.