Letter W15 1
Saint-Rémy, c. 20-22 October 1889
My dear sister,
Many thanks for your last letter and for news it contained
of Cor. One of these days you are going to move, and so this is
the last time I shall write you at Breda.
Within a very short time I shall send Theo the painted
studies I promised you, and he will see to it that they are
sent to you at Leyden.
Here is what I have: an orchard of olive trees
- a field of wheat with a reaper - a
field of wheat with cypresses - an interior
- a ploughed field, early-morning effect
- orchard in bloom - and a self-portrait.
Now suppose that I can send you as many during the next
year, then they will make a little collection along with the
two you have, and I should like you to keep them together if
there is enough room, for I think that in Leyden you will meet
artists from time to time, in which case other studies will
join mine, I daresay. Don't be afraid to hang them in the
passage, in the kitchen, on the staircase - above all, my
paintings are meant to be seen against a simple background.
I do my best to paint in such a way that my work will show
up to good advantage in a kitchen, and then I may happen to
discover that it shows up well in a parlour too, but this is
something I never bother my head about. Here in the south we
have bare walls, white or yellow, or covered with wallpaper
with large coloured flowers. So it seems to me that it is a
matter of using frank contrasts of colours. The same is true of
the frames - the frames I use cost me five francs at the
outside, whereas the gilt frames, which are less strong, would
cost thirty or more. And if a picture shows to advantage in a
simple frame, why put gilt around it?
Now listen - if I am going to continue sending studies to
you and Mother with great pleasure, I also feel a desire, which
is almost an irresistible urge, to do some more of them to be
given to persons I often think of. So if, since you will be in
Leyden, you should meet our cousins the ladies Mauve and
Lecomte, please tell them that, in case they like my work, I
shall be pleased, very pleased, to do things for them, but most
of all I should like Margot Begemann to have a picture of mine.
But letting her have it through your mediation would seem more
discreet than sending it to her directly. So you will greatly
oblige me by taking measures for the three persons I have just
mentioned to get some work of mine. There isn't any reason for
hurry, but I certainly have a right, yes, a right to
work from time to time for friends who are so far away that I
shall probably never see them again.
. But it is difficult to return
to one's ordinary way of life while one is too despondent over
the uncertainty of misfortune. And one goes on clinging to the
affections of the past.
So, as I told you, I feel a nearly irresistible urge to send
something of my work to Holland, and if you should succeed in
getting people to accept anything, it will be my duty to
You will probably think the interior of the empty bedroom
with a wooden bedstead and two chairs the most unbeautiful
thing of all - and notwithstanding this I have painted it
twice, on a large scale.
I wanted to achieve an effect of simplicity of the sort one
finds described in Felix Holt. After being told this you may
quickly understand this picture, but it will probably remain
ridiculous in the eyes of others who have not been warned.
Doing a simple thing with bright colours is not at all easy,
and I for my part think it is perhaps useful to show that it is
possible to be simple by using something other than grey,
white, black or brown. Here you have the justification for the
You will think my wheat fields too yellow, but in our native
country one should not begin by saying it is too yellow, too
blue or too green.
You will get the studies at Leyden - I don't know when. Theo
will probably have one of them framed in Paris, so that you
will be able to put them into a frame if you should want
to, and then he will put them in a case to be sent to The
Hague at the first opportunity. But what matters is that as far
as my painting is concerned the work is finished, and I assure
you that it is not the worst work I have done. I should like
you to have the red vine, which Theo has in
Paris, and if I should ever go back to Paris I shall copy it
Yes, I return once again to this interior. I certainly wish
that other artists had a taste and a longing for simplicity as
I do. But the ideal of simplicity renders life more difficult
in modern society - and whoever has this ideal will not be able
to do what he wants to in the end, as is the case with me. But
so it is after all, yet this is what society should grant an
artist in my opinion, whereas nowadays one is obliged to live
in cafés and low inns.
The Japanese have always lived in very simple interiors, and
what great artists have not lived in that country? If a painter
is rich in our society, then he has to live in a house which is
like a curiosity shop, and this isn't very artistic either to
my taste. As for me, I often suffered under the fact that I had
to live in conditions in which order was impossible, with the
result that I lost the notion of order and simplicity.
That good fellow Isaäcson wants to write an
article about me in one of the Dutch papers, on the subject of
pictures which are exactly like those I am sending you,
but reading such an article would make me very sad, and I wrote
to tell him so.
At present I am working at a ward in the hospital. In the
foreground a big black stove around which some grey and black
forms of patients and then behind the very long ward paved in
red with the two rows of white beds, the partitions white, but
a lilac- or green-white, and the windows with pink curtains,
with green curtains, and in the background two figures of nuns
in black and white. The ceiling is violet with large beams.
I have read an article on Dostoevsky, who has
written a book Souvenirs de la maison des morts [Memories of
the house of the dead], and this has driven me to resume a
large study which I had [done, corrected to:] started in the
fever ward in Arles. But it is troublesome to do the figures
The other day I read another of Carmen Sylva's
“Thoughts,” which is very true - when you suffer
much, you see everybody at a great distance, and as at the far
end of an immense arena - the very voices seem to come from
afar. During the attacks I experience this to such a degree
that all the persons I see then, even if I recognize
them, which is not always the case, seem to come toward me
out of a great distance, and to be quite different from
what they are in reality, so much do I seem to see them in
pleasant or unpleasant resemblances to person I knew in the
past and elsewhere.
Au revoir, I wish you the utmost success in your labour of
moving, and I embrace you in thought.
1. Written in French.
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh. Written c. 20-22 October 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number W15.
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