van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, 3 September 1888
Relevant paintings:

"Portrait of Eugene Boch," Vincent van Gogh

"La Mousm,"

"Harvest at La Crau, with Montmajour in the Background," Vincent van Gogh

"Seascape at Saintes-Maries," Vincent van Gogh

"Sunny Lawn in a Public Park," Vincent van Gogh

"Portrait of Patience Escalier," Vincent van Gogh

"Portrait of the Art Dealer Alexander Reid," Vincent van Gogh

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My dear Theo,

I spent yesterday with the Belgian, who also has a sister among the “vingtistes.” The weather was not fine, but a very good day for talking; we went for a walk and anyway saw some very fine things at the bullfight and outside the town. We talked more seriously about the plan, that if I keep a place in the south, he ought to set up a sort of post among the collieries. Then Gauguin and I and he, if the importance of a picture made it worth the journey, could change places - and so be sometimes in the north, but in familiar country with a friend in it, and sometimes in the south.

You will soon see him, this young man with the look of Dante, because he is going to Paris, and if you put him up - if the room is free - you will be doing him a good turn; he is very distinguished in appearance, and will become so, I think, in his painting.

He likes Delacroix, and we talked a lot about Delacroix yesterday. He even knew the violent study for the “Bark of Christ.”

Well, thanks to him I have at last a first sketch of that picture which I have dreamt of for so long - the poet. He posed for me. His line head with that keen gaze stands out in my portrait against a starry sky of deep ultramarine; for clothes, a short yellow coat, a collar of unbleached linen, and spotted tie. He gave me two sittings in one day.

I have finished L'Immortel by Daudet. I rather like the saying of the sculptor Védrine, that to achieve fame is something like ramming the lighted end of your cigar into your mouth when you are smoking. But I certainly like L'Immortel less, far less than Tartarin.

You know, it seems to me that L'Immortel is not so fine in colour as Tartarin, because it reminds me with its mass of true and subtle observations of the dreary pictures of Jean Bérend which are so dry and cold. Now Tartarin is really great, with the greatness of a masterpiece, just like Candide.

I am having two oak frames made for my new peasant's head and for my Poet study. Oh, my dear boy, sometimes I know so well what I want.

And in a picture I want to say something comforting as music is comforting. I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to confer by the actual radiance and vibration of our colourings.

Portraiture so understood does not become like an Ary Scheffer, just because there is a blue sky behind as in the “St. Augustine.” For Ary Scheffer is so little of a colourist.

But it would be more in harmony with what Eug. Delacroix attempted and brought off in his “Tasso in Prison,” and many other pictures, representing a real man. Ah! portraiture, portraiture with the thought, the soul of the model in it, that is what I think must come.

The Belgian and I talked a lot yesterday about the advantages and disadvantages of this place. We quite agree regarding both. And on the great advantage it would be to us if we could move now North, now South.

He is going to stay with McKnight again so as to live more cheaply. That, however, has I think one disadvantage, because living with a slacker makes one slack.

I think you would enjoy meeting him, he is still young. I think he will ask your advice about buying Japanese prints and Daumier lithographs. As to these - the Daumiers - it would be well to get some more of them, because later there will be none to be got.

The Belgian was saying that he paid 80 francs for board and lodging with McKnight. So what a difference there is in living together, since I have to pay 45 a month for nothing but lodging. And so I always come back to the same reckoning, that with Gauguin I should not spend more than I do alone, and be no worse off. But we must consider that they were very badly housed, not for sleeping, but for the possibility of work at home.

So I am always between two currents of thought, first the material difficulties, turning round and round to make a living; and second, the study of colour. I am always in hope of making a discovery there, to express the love of two lovers by a marriage of two complementary colours, their mingling and their opposition, the mysterious vibrations of kindred tones. To express the thought of a brow by the radiance of a light tone against a sombre background.

To express hope by some star, the eagerness of a soul by a sunset radiance. Certainly there is nothing in that of trompe d'oeil realism, but isn't it something that actually exists?

Good-by for the present. I will tell you another time when the Belgian may be leaving,, because I shall see him again tomorrow.

With a handshake,

Ever yours, Vincent

The Belgian says that his people at home have a de Groux, the study for the “Benedicité” in the Brussels Museum.

The portrait of the Belgian is something like the portrait of Reid which you have, in execution.

At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 3 September 1888 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 531.

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