Arles, c. 13 August 1888
My dear Theo,
I have to thank you for a lot of things, first for your
letter and the 50-fr. note enclosed, but and lastly for
the Cassagne book, and for La Fin de Lucie Pellegrin.
If Tasset divided his parcels better, it would make a
difference in the cost of carriage; there were three parcels
this time, two of them weighing more than 5 kilos. If he had
kept back a few tubes, the whole would have cost about 5
francs. But I am very glad to have them all the same.
Lucie Pellegrin is very fine, it is quick with life and is
still exquisite and moving, because it keeps the human touch.
Why should it be forbidden to handle these subjects, unhealthy
and overexcited sexual organs seek sensual delights such as da
Vinci's. Not I, who have hardly seen anything but the kind of
women at 2 francs, originally intended for the Zouaves. But the
people who have leisure for love-making, they want the da Vinci
mysteries. I realize that these loves are not for everyone's
understanding. But from the point of view of what is allowed,
one could write books treating worse aberrations of perversion
than Lesbianism, just as it would be permissible to write
medical documents on this sort of story, surgical
At all events, law and justice apart, a pretty woman is a
living marvel, whereas the pictures by da Vinci and Correggio
only exist for other reasons. Why am I so little an artist that
I always regret that the statue and the picture are not alive?
Why do I understand the musician better, why do I see the
raison d'être of his abstractions better?
At the first opportunity I will send you an engraving after
a drawing by Rowlandson, representing two women, as beautiful
as a Fragonard or a Goya. Just now we are having a glorious
strong heat, with no wind, just what I want. There is a sun, a
light that for want of a better word I can only call yellow,
pale sulphur yellow, pale golden citron. How lovely yellow is!
And how much better I shall see the North!
Oh! I keep wishing for the day when you will see and feel
the sun of the South!
As to studies, I have two studies of thistles in an
uncultivated field, thistles white with the fine dust of the
road. Then a little study of a roadside inn, with red and green carts; and
also a little study of Paris-Lyons-Mediterranée
carriages; these last two studies have been
approved of as having “quite the modern touch” by
the young rival of good old General Boulanger, the very
resplendent 2nd lieutenant of Zouaves.
This valiant warrior has given up the art of drawing, into
the mysteries of which I endeavored to initiate him, but it was
for a plausible reason, namely that he had unexpectedly to take
an examination, for which I am afraid he was anything but
Always supposing the aforesaid young Frenchman always speaks
the truth, he has astonished his examiners by the confidence of
his answers, a confidence he had reinforced by spending the eve
of the examination in a brothel.
As François Coppée, I think, says in a sonnet,
one might have “a despairing doubt” on the subject
of “my lieutenant to be,” for, Coppée goes
on, “my thoughts are on our defeat.” The fact
remains that I have nothing to complain of in him, and if it is
true that he will shortly be a full-fledged lieutenant, one
must anyhow acknowledge his luck. He is literally like the good
old general in that he has often frequented the pretty ladies
of the so-called café-chantant type. It will be enough
for me to write you, or rather he will send you a wire telling
you by what train he will arrive on the 16th or 17th. Then he
will hand over the painted studies, which will save us the cost
of carriage. He owes me all that anyhow for my lessons. He will
only stay in Paris one or two days, as he is going North, but
on his return he will stop there longer.
After such coolness it is rather kind of Uncle to have left
you a legacy, But I won't harp on that. All the
more reason for trying to do the utmost in art, even if we
shall always be in comparatively straitened circumstances as
far as money is concerned. Well, my boy, at the time you were
ready for your part to set up in business, and
consequently you have a perfect right to feel that you are
doing your duty for your part. Considered as a whole,
you have taken up this business of the impressionists with
their help. Without their help the thing can't go on; or will
go on in some different way. If you have made no profit yet,
you have deserved something, and if the Dutch confound these
two very different things, having only their word
“verdienen” for both meanings, so much the worse
I am writing a line to Mourier too - you can read it - and I
give you a hearty handshake.
Ever yours, Vincent
I would rather shut myself up in a cloister like the monks,
free as the monks are to go to the brothel or the wine shop if
the spirit moves us. But for our work we need a home.
Altogether Gauguin leaves me quite in the dark about Pont-Aven;
he tacitly accepts my suggestion of coming to him if necessary,
but he writes nothing about any means of finding a studio of
our own, or about what it would cost to furnish it. And I can't
help feeling there's something queer about it.
So I have decided not to go to Pont-Aven, unless we could
find a house there at a low rent like the one here (15 fr. per
month is what mine costs) and could arrange it so that we could
sleep in it.
I am going to write our sister this evening if I can find
A handshake. Vincent
Have you got the drawings of the gardens, and the two figure
drawings? I think that the picture of the old peasant's head is
as strange in colour as the Sower, but the Sower is a failure,
and the peasant is more what it should be. Oh, as to that - I
will send it to you all by itself as soon as it is dry, and I
am going to put a dedication to you on it.
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 13 August 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 522.
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