Dear M. Aurier
Thank you very much for your article in the Mercure de
France, which surprised me a good deal. I admire it very
much as a work of art in itself, it seems to me that you paint
with words; in fact, I encounter my canvases anew in your
article, but better than they are in reality, richer, more
meaningful. Reflecting, however, that what you say would be
more relevant to others than to myself, I feel uneasy.
Monticelli in particular is a case in point. Since you say that
“he is, so far as I know, the only painter who perceives
the range of colour of things with this intensity, with this
metallic, gem-like quality,” please go to see, at my
brother's, a certain bouquet 1 by Monticelli - a
bouquet in white, forget-me--not blue & orange - and then
you will understand what I mean. But for some time now the
best, the most wonderful Monticellis have been in Scotland and
England. There should still be a marvellous one of his in a
gallery in the North - the one in Lille, I think - as rich and
certainly no less French than Le depart pour
Cythère by Watteau. At this moment M. Lauzet is in
the process of reproducing about thirty Monticellis. As far as
I know, there is no colourist who stems so directly from
Delacroix, and yet it is probable, in my opinion, that
Monticelli knew of Delacroix's colour theories at second-hand
only; he had them in particular from Diaz and Ziem.
Monticelli's artistic temperament seems to me exactly the same
as that of the author of the Decameron - Boccaccio - a
melancholy, rather resigned, unhappy man, watching the
fashionable wedding party and the lovers of his time pass him
by, painting them and analysing them - he, the outsider. Oh! He
no more imitated Boccaccio than Henri Leys imitated the
Anyway - what I am trying to say is that things seem to have
mistakenly become attached to my name that you would do better
to link to Monticelli, to whom I owe so much. I also owe a
great deal to Paul Gauguin, with whom I worked for several
months in Arles, and whom, moreover, I already knew in
Gauguin, that curious artist, that strange individual, whose
demeanour and look vaguely recall Rembrandt's Portrait of a Man
at the Galerie Lacaze - that friend who likes to make one feel
that a good picture should be equivalent to a good deed, not
that he says so, but it is in fact difficult to be much in his
company without being mindful of a certain moral
A few days before we parted company, when my illness forced
me to go into an asylum, I tried to paint “his empty
It is a study of his wooden armchair, brown and dark red,
the seat of greenish straw, and in place of the absent person,
a lighted candle in a candlestick and some modern novels. Should the opportunity
arise, do please take another look at this study by way of a reminder of him. It is
done throughout in broken tones of green and red.
You may realize now that your article would have been fairer
and - it seems to me - consequently more powerful, if, when
dealing with the question of the nature of `tropical painting'
and the question of colour, you had - before speaking of me -
done justice to Gauguin and Monticelli. For the role
attaching to me, or that will be attached to me, will remain, I
assure you, of very secondary importance.
Besides, I should like to ask you another question. Let us
suppose that the two canvases of sunflowers which are at
present at the Vingtistes have certain qualities of colour, and that they also symbolize
“gratitude.” Are they any different from so many
other pictures of flowers, more skilfully painted, which are
not yet appreciated enough - the Roses trémières and the Iris jaunes by old
Quost, the magnificent bunches of peonies which Jeannin
produces in such abundance. You see, I find it very difficult
to make a distinction between impressionism and other things. I
do not see any use for much of the sectarian thinking we have
seen these last few years, but the absurdity of it frightens me.
And in conclusion, I confess I do not understand why you
should vilify Meissonier. It may have been from the excellent
Mauve that I have inherited a boundless admiration for
Meissonier; Mauve was tireless in his praise of Troyon and
Meissonier - a strange combination.
I say this in order to draw your attention to how much
people from other countries admire the artists of France
without attaching the slightest importance to what,
unfortunately, so often divides them. An often-repeated saying
of Mauve's was something like, “If one wants to use
colour, one should also be able to draw an inglenook or an
interior like Meissonier.”
If you will do me the pleasure of accepting it, I shall
include a study of cypresses for you in the next batch I send
to my brother, in remembrance of your article. I am still
working on it at the moment, as I want to put a small figure
into it. The cypress is so characteristic of the Provence
landscape. You will feel it, and say, “Even the colour
black.” However, before
leaving here, I mean to have one more try at tackling the
cypresses. The study I intend for you represents a group of
them in the corner of a wheat field during the mistral on a
summer's day. It is thus a kind of black note in the shifting
blue of the flowing wide sky, with the vermilion of the poppies
contrasting with the note of black. You will see that it forms
something like the combination of tones found in those
agreeable Scottish tartans of green, blue, red, yellow and
black, which seemed so charming to you and to me at the time,
and which, alas, we hardly see any more these days.
In the meantime, dear Sir, please accept my grateful thanks
for your article. If I come to Paris in the spring, I certainly
shall not fail to thank you in person.
Vincent v. Gogh
It will be a year before the study I am going to send you
will be thoroughly dry, particularly the impasto - I think it
might be a good idea to give it a good coat of varnish.
And in the meantime, it should be washed several times with
plenty of water to get the oil out completely. This study is
painted in pure Prussian blue, that much-maligned colour which
Delacroix nevertheless used so much. I think that once the
tones of Prussian blue are quite dry, you will, by varnishing,
get the black, the very black tones that are needed to bring
out the various dark greens.
I am not quite sure how this study should be framed, but
since it makes one think of those much-esteemed Scottish
fabrics, I have noticed that a very simple flat frame in
BRIGHT ORANGE LEAD gives the desired effect along with the
blues of the background and the black-green of the trees.
Without that there might not be enough red in the canvas, and
the upper part would seem rather cold.
1. Adolphe Monticelli, Vase with Flowers.
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Albert Aurier. Written 10 or 11 February 1890 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number .
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