Saint-Rémy, c. 10 December 1889
My dear sister,
Many thanks for writing me a letter. As for me, I should be
highly pleased if you went to stay with Theo next January - as
it is not impossible that I too shall go to Paris, so that we
I am greatly interested in your description of your and
Mother's abode, and it is a certain fact that this moving was a
wise and well-considered thing to do. I should most assuredly
be charmed to see it - that quay, where people came to wash the
red and green wool, and those barges moored alongside, and that
factory with its lighted windows at night. These are effects
which I should like to paint.
And the garden with that mulberry tree trained on
latticework. As for mulberry trees, there are a good many of
them here. I painted one some time ago, when its dense foliage
was of a magnificent yellow colour against a very blue sky. On
a white stony field with the sunshine from behind.
I think I shall send to Brussels: sunflowers,
a quite red vine in autumn, an orchard
in bloom, tree trunks covered with ivy,
and finally a field of young wheat at sunrise.
I am working on the latter canvas at the moment; it
is (along with the orchard in bloom, which Theo liked, he said)
the most delicate thing I have painted yet. The fleeing lines
of the furrows rise high into the picture toward the distant
hills of a violet hue. The earth is pink and violet, but
marbled with the yellow-green of the wheat. The sky in the
background with a sun in it is pale citron yellow and pink.
Do not imagine that it is less cold here than in Holland.
The winter has only just started, and we shall have it until
the end of March. Only less rain than in Holland, an unbearably
harassing wind which is very cold, and dry and clear but severe
spells of cold weather, although the sun has more power, and
the sky is very blue.
I think that within a short time you will receive the
canvases I promised you. . 3 I
wish he had my health, by which I mean that I myself always
have plenty of fresh air,
I am working on twelve large canvases, especially olive
orchards, one of which has a sky that is entirely pink, another
one with a green and orange sky, and a third one with a big
Moreover, tall weather-beaten fir trees against a red
I just received a very good letter from Theo; he says that
he and Jo are in good health, and he also says that you may
come to stay with them. So let us hope that within a short time
his health will be fully re-established - with him it is to a
great degree his state of mind which influences all the
At present a great number of painters who spent the winter
in the country are returning to Paris. You ask me who Bernard
is - he is a young painter - he is certainly not older than
twenty - very original. He is trying to do elegant modern
figures in the manner of the ancient Greek and Egyptian art, a
gracefulness in the expressive motions, a charm in consequence
of his daring colours.
I saw a picture of his of a Sunday afternoon in Brittany,
Breton peasant women, children, peasants, dogs strolling about
in a very green meadow; the clothes are black and red, the
women's caps white. But in this crowd there are also two
ladies, the one dressed in red, the other in bottle green; they
make it a very modern thing.
Ask Theo to show you the watercolour that
I made after the picture; it is so original that I wanted to
have a copy of it. Now you say you seem to remember that you
have seen rocks painted by him; he had done many of them, and
also cliffs and beaches in Brittany.
He has also painted landscapes and figures of the outskirts
of Paris. Theo has an excellent thing of his, which I exchanged
with Bernard for a canvas of mine. It is the portrait of his
grandmother, very old, blind in one eye; the background is the
wall of a room covered with chocolate-coloured wallpaper, and a
completely white bed. The other day he sent me six photographs
of pictures he has done this year, and by way of contrast they
are bizarre and highly debatable Biblical subjects - but by
this you see that he is an original, a seeker who tries
everything. They are like medieval tapestry, stiff and very
brightly coloured figures.
However, I admire this only moderately, for the English
Pre-Raphaelites have done such things more seriously and
conscientiously, and with more ability and logic. Of these I
suppose you know Millais, who did “The Huguenot”
and an engraving, “The Light of the World.” If you
should like it, I shall tell Bernard to paint your portrait
while you are in Paris. He will certainly do it, and I assure
you that he will do it well. I won't say anything about it to
him, in case you shouldn't think it pleasant, but as for me I
should very much like him to do it. And I should exchange it
for a picture of mine, which he wants me to exchange.
Don't misfortune and disease do the same thing to us
and to our health; and if fate ordains that we be unfortunate
or sick, are we not in that case worth more than if we were
serene and healthy according to our own vague ideas and desires
with regard to possible happiness? I don't know…
When I compare them with others, some of my pictures
certainly show traces of having been painted by a sick man, and
I assure you that I don't do this on purpose. It's against my
conscious will that all my calculations end in broken tones.
Bernard has parents who give him shelter and food with very bad
grace, and continually reproach him because he does not earn
money. So every now and then his home is hell, but as far as I
know there is nobody who works so inexpensively. Well, he is a
nice boy, very Parisian, very elegant. He should have gone into
the army this year, but they granted him a respite until next
year on account of his health.
I still have work to do, hope to see you soon, I embrace you
1. Written in French.
2. See letter 621 to Theo.
3. Wil had probably suggested that Theo was suffering from
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh. Written c. 10 December 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number W16.
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