Saint-Rémy, c. 20 February 1890
My Dear Sister,
Many thanks for your last two letters, the one dated from
Paris, and today's. I am touched by what you write further
about Jo's confinement - how very brave and very good you have
been, staying with her all the time. In those circumstances in
which we feel the strain of anxiety, I should probably be, much
more than you, like a frightened, wet chicken.
Well, the result is that after all that the child is there -
and also I shall write a letter to Mother telling her so; a day
or two ago I started painting .
It is possible that I shall send it soon - at least I
hope so - toward the end of March. Tomorrow or the day after I
shall try to make the trip to Arles again as a kind of trial,
in order to see if I can stand the strain of traveling out of
ordinary life without a return of the attacks.
Perhaps in my case it is necessary to fortify my resolution
not to allow myself to have a weak head. Naturally, in
consequence of continual brainwork, an artist's thoughts get
somewhat exaggerated and eccentric at times.
I thought the article by Mr. Aurier - leaving out of
consideration whether I deserve what he says of me - very
artistic and very curious in itself. But it is rather like this
that I ought to be, instead of the sad reality of how I
do feel. I wrote to tell him that in any case it seems to me
that Monticelli and Gauguin are more like this - that it seems
to me that the part which should be assigned to me is of a
secondary, very secondary order.
The ideas he speaks of are not my property, for in general
all the impressionists are like that, are under the same
influence, and we are all of us more or less neurotic. This
renders us very sensitive to colours and their particular
language, the effects of complimentary colours, of their
contrasts and harmony. But when I had read that article I felt
almost mournful, for I thought: I ought to be like that, and I
feel so inferior. And pride, like drink, is intoxicating, when
one is praised, and has drunk the praise up. It makes one sad,
or rather - I don't know how to express it, I feel it - but it
seems to me that the best work one can do is what is done in
the privacy of one's home without praise. And then you do not
always find it a sufficiently friendly disposition among
artists. Either they exaggerate a person's qualities, or else
they neglect him too much. However, I should be pleased to be
able to believe that justice is better done after all than
appears to be the case.
One ought to be able to laugh now and then, and to make
merry a little, or rather very much.
I think you were lucky to see Degas in his home. I am
working on a portrait of an Arlésienne,
in which I am after another expression than that of the
Parisiennes. Oh Millet! Millet! How he painted humanity and
that Something on High which is familiar and yet solemn. And
then to think in our time that man wept when he started
painting, that Giotto and Angelico painted on their knees -
Delacroix so full of grief and feeling…nearly
smiling. What are we impressionists to be acting like them
already? Soiled in the struggle for life… “Who
will give back to the soul what the breath of revolutions has
taken away” - this is the cry of distress uttered by the
poet of another generation, who seemed to have a presentiment
of our present weaknesses, diseases, wanderings. And I often
say, are we as fresh of mind as the old Belgian Henri
Conscience? - “Ah, I was glad of the success at Brussels,
because of that Campine of Antwerp, which I will seek to call
to mind now and then when I see the quiet furrows of the
fields, although I feel that I have become a rather degenerate
Thinking of this, but far away, I feel the desire to renew
myself, and to try to apologize for the fact that my pictures
are after all almost a cry of anguish, although in the rustic
sunflower they may symbolize gratitude. You see that I do not
reason well yet - it would be better to know how to calculate
the price of a pound of bread or a quarter of a pound of
coffee, as the peasants do. And here we are again in the same
spot. Millet set the example by living in a hovel, and holding
intercourse only with people who did not know the bounds of
pride and eccentricity.
So rather a little wisdom than a lot of energetic zeal. And
for the rest - like all the rest -
I hope to write you again before long; keep in good health,
I hope to do some portraits in Paris; I have always believed
that one learns to think by painting portraits. This is
something the art lovers like least, but portraits are
something almost useful and at times pleasant; like furniture
one knows, they remind one of things long gone by.
I embrace you in thought; if the other sisters should also
like to have some canvases, you can ask Theo for others, and
you will select them according to your taste. Once again the
best of wishes, and a cordial handshake.
I should not be at all disgusted if some more pictures went
to Holland, so you'll know this if an occasion arises.
1. Written in French.
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh. Written c. 20 February 1890 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number W20.
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