van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, c. 9 July 1888
Relevant paintings:

"Marcalle Roulin," Van Gogh 1888

Arles, c.9th. July 1888

My Dear Theo,

I have come back from a day at Mont Majour, and my friend the sub-lieutenant kept me company. The two of us explored the old garden and stole excellent figs there. If it had been bigger it would have made me think of Zola's Paradou, great reeds, vines, ivy, fig trees, olive trees, pomegranates with lusty flowers of the brightest orange, hundred-year-old cypresses, ash trees and willows, rock oaks, half-demolished flights of steps, ogive windows in ruins, blocks of white rock covered with lichen, and scattered fragments of collapsed walls here and there among the greenery. I brought back another big drawing, but not of the garden. That makes three drawings. When I have half a dozen of them I will send them.

Yesterday I went to Fontvieilles to pay a visit to Bock and Mac Knight, only these gentlemen had gone on a little trip to Switzerland for 8 days.

I think the heat is still doing me good, in spite of the mosquitoes and flies.

The grasshoppers — not like those at home, but like this, like those you see in Japanese albums;

and gold and green Cantharides in swarms on the olive trees. These grasshoppers (I think they are called cicada) sing at least as loud as a frog.

and that I have bought without discount 250 francs worth of paints from Tanguy, on which naturally he made something, and finally that I have been his friend no less than he has been mine, I have very serious reason to doubt his right to claim money from me; and it really is squared by the study he still has of mine, all the more so because there was an express arrangement that he should pay himself by the sale of a picture.

Xanthippe, Mother Tanguy, and some other ladies have by some queer freak of Nature heads of silex or flint. Certainly these ladies are a good deal more dangerous in civilized society they circulate in than the poor citizens bitten by mad dogs who live in the Pasteur Institute. And old Tanguy would be right a thousand times over to kill his lady…but he won't do it, any more than Socrates.

And for this reason old Tanguy has more in common — in resignation and long suffering anyhow — with the ancient Christian martyrs and slaves, than with the present day pimps of Paris.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to pay him 80 francs, but it is a reason for never losing your temper with him, even if he loses his, when, as you may do in this instance, you chuck him out, or at least send him packing.

I am writing to Russell at the same time. I think we know, don't we, that the English, the Yankees, have this much in common with the Dutch, that their charity…is very Christian. Now, the rest of us not being very good Christians…That's what I can't put out of my head writing again like this.

This Bock has a head rather like a Flemish gentleman of the time of the Compromise of the Nobles, of the time of Taciturn [William the Silent] and Marnix. I shouldn't wonder if he's a decent fellow.

I have written to Russell that I would send him my parcel in a roll direct to him, for our exchange, if I knew that he was in Paris.

That means he must in any case answer me soon. Now I shall soon need some more canvas and paints. But I have not yet got the address of that canvas at 40 francs for 20 meters.

I think it is well to work especially at drawing just now, and to arrange to have paints and canvas in reserve for when Gauguin comes. I wish paint was as little of a worry to work with as pen and paper. I often pass up a painted study for fear of wasting the colour.

With paper, whether it's a letter I'm writing or a drawing I'm working on, there's never a misfire — so many leaves of Whatman, so many drawings. I think that if I were rich I should spend less than I do now.

Well, old Martin would say, then it's up to you to get rich, and he is right, as he is about the masterpiece.

Do you remember reading in Guy de Maupassant the gentleman hunter of rabbits and other game, and who had hunted so hard for ten years, and was so exhausted by running after the game that when he wanted to get married he found he was impotent, which caused him the greatest embarrassment and consternation.

It is only the greatest philosopher of his place and time, and consequently of all places and all times, good old master Pangloss who could — if he were here — give me advice and calm my soul.

There — the letter to Russell is in its envelope, and I have written as I intended. I asked him if he had any news of Reid, and I ask you the same question.

I told Russell I left him free to take what he liked, and from the first consignment I sent as well. And that I was only waiting for his explicit answer, to know whether he preferred to make his choice at his or your place; that if, in the former circumstance, he wanted to see them at his own house, you would send him along some orchards as well, and fetch the lot back again when he had made his choice. So he cannot quarrel with that. If he takes nothing from Gauguin it is because he cannot. If he can, I am hoping that he will.

I told him that if I ventured to press him to buy, it was not because nobody else would if he didn't, but because Gauguin, having been ill, and with the further complication of his having been laid up in bed and having to pay his doctor, it all fell rather heavily on us; and we were all the more anxious to find a purchaser for a painting.

I am thinking a lot about Gauguin, and I would have plenty of ideas for pictures, and about work in general.I have a charwoman now for 1 franc, who sweeps and scrubs the house for me twice a week. I am banking very much on her, counting on her to make our beds if we decide to sleep in the house. Otherwise we could make some arrangement with the fellow where I am staying now. Anyhow, we'll try to manage so that it would work out as an economy instead of more expense. How is your health now? Are you still going to Gruby?

What you tell me of that conversation at the Nouvelle Athènes is interesting. You know the little portrait by Desboutin that Portier has very well.

It certainly is a strange phenomenon that all the artists, poets, musicians, painters, are unfortunate in material things — the happy ones as well — what you said lately about Guy de Maupassant is a fresh proof of it. That brings up again the eternal question: is life completely visible to us, or isn't it rather that this side of death we see one hemisphere only?

Painters — to take them only — being dead and buried, speak to the next generation or to several succeeding generations through their work.

Is that all, or is there more besides? In a painter's life death is not perhaps the hardest thing there is.

So it doesn't seem impossible to me that cholera, gravel, pleurisy & cancer are the means of celestial locomotion, just as steam-boats, omnibuses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

Now I am going to bed, because it is late, and I wish you good night and good luck.

A handshake, Yours


At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 9 July 1888 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 506.

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
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