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