van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
» Home < Previous   Next >
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, c. 27 September 1888
Relevant paintings:

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

"Poet's Garden II," Vincent van Gogh

"Public Park with Weeping Willow: The Poet's Garden I," Vincent van Gogh

"Ploughed Field," Vincent van Gogh

"Portrait of Milliet, Second Lieutenant of the Zouaves," Vincent van Gogh

  Highlighting feelings - loneliness   - Turn off highlighting

My dear Theo,

I know quite well that I already wrote you yesterday, but it has been such a lovely day again today. My great regret is that you cannot see what I am seeing here.

Since seven o'clock this morning I have been sitting in front of something which after all is no great matter, a ball-shaped bush of cedar or cypress, planted in the grass. You already know this ball-shaped bush, since you already have a study of the garden. Enclosed also a sketch of my canvas, again a square size 30.[Painting lost]

The bush is green, a little bronze and various other tints.

The grass is very, very green, lemon-tinted emerald green.

The sky is very, very blue.

The row of bushes in the background are all oleanders, raving mad; the blasted plants flowering so riotously they could certainly catch locomotor ataxia. They are loaded with fresh flowers, and heaps of faded flowers as well, their greenery is likewise renewing itself in vigorous new shoots, apparently inexhaustibly.

A funereal cypress, all black, is standing over them, and some colourful little figures walking on a pink path.

This makes a pendant to another size 30 canvas of the same place, only from quite another point of view, where the whole garden is coloured in very different green, under a pale lemon- yellow sky.

But isn't it true that this garden has a strange character which makes one easily imagine the poets of the Renaissance, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, strolling among these bushes and over the flowering grass?

Only it has been overcrowded by some bushes which are not in character.

And this should find that truer and more fundamental character. This is the third time that I've painted the same place.

It just happens to be the garden right in front of my house.

But this corner of garden is a good example of what I was telling you, that to get at the real character of things here, it is necessary to study them and paint them for a very long time.

Perhaps you will see nothing in the sketch except that the lines are now very simple. This picture is again painted very thickly, like its pendant with the yellow sky.

I hope to work again with Milliet tomorrow.

Today again from seven o'clock in the morning till six in the evening I worked without budging except to grab a bite just two steps away. That is why the work is going so quickly.

But what will you say of it, and what shall I think of it myself, a little while from now?

I have a lover's lucidity or blindness for work just now.

Because the setting of colours all about me are new to me, and it gives me an extraordinary exaltation.

I have no thought of fatigue, I could even do another painting this evening, and I would bring it off.

If I tell you that it is very urgent for me to have:

6 large tubes of chrome yellow, 1 lemon yellow

6 “ “ veronese green

3 “ “ Prussian blue

10 “ “ zinc white

Big tubes like the zinc and silver white

Then this can be deducted from yesterday's order

At the same time 5 meters of canvas

I can't help it, I feel so lucid, and I want as far as possible to make sure I have enough pictures to hold my own when the others are making a great effort for the year '89. Seurat with 2 or 3 of his enormous canvases has enough to hold an exhibition of his own, Signac is a good worker and has enough as well. Gauguin and Guillaumin too. So for the time being, whether we exhibit or not, I want to have the series of studies:


In this way we shall be absolutely original, for the others will not be able to think us pretentious when we have only that.

But you may be quite sure that I shall try to put style into them. Today Milliet was pleased with what I had done - the ploughed field - generally he does not like what I do, but because the clods of earth are as soft in colour as a pair of sabots, it did not offend him, with the forget-me-not blue sky flecked with white clouds. It would give me great pleasure if he posed better, and he would have a more elegant portrait than I can manage now, though the subject is beautiful with his pale and matte tinted face, the kepi red against a viridian background.

Ah, how I wish you could see all that I am seeing these days. In front of so many lovely things I can only let myself go. Especially since I think that the work is getting somewhat better than the last batch. Only it was the studies in the last batch that prepared me to be able to work with so much assurance, these days that are free of wind.

Why doesn't our good father Thomas want to lend me anything on my studies? He is making a mistake if he doesn't, and I hope he will. I am afraid of overburdening you, and yet I would like to order some 200 franc's worth of paints, and canvas, and brushes. It is not for anything else, it is for that.

Perhaps the entire autumn will be fine, and if I knock off a size 30 canvas every two or three days, I shall make several thousand franc notes.

I still have a kind of concentrated power, more than I need to spend just on the work. But I am bound to begin by using up a heap of paint, and that is why I need Thomas.

If I continue to work like this, I shall have my studio full of very sound studies the way Guillaumin's is. Guillaumin is sure to have some beautiful new things I don't doubt, and I would love to see them.

The touch is not much divided and the tones are often blended, and altogether I can't help laying it on thick à la Monticelli. Sometimes I think I really am continuing that man's work, only I have not yet done the figure of a lover as he did.

And probably I shall not do it either before doing some serious studies from life. But there is no rush, and now I am quite set in my mind to work hard until I have surmounted that.

If I want to get this letter off, I must hurry.

Have you news of Gauguin? At any moment I am expecting Bernard's letter which will probably follow the sketches.

Gauguin must certainly have another combination in mind, I have felt that for weeks and weeks.

He has a perfect right to, of course.

For the moment the solitude doesn't bother me, and later we will find someone for company, and perhaps in the end more than we want.

I believe it is not necessary to say anything unpleasant to Gauguin if he does change his mind, and take it absolutely in good part.

If he has joined forces with Laval, it is only natural, since Laval is his pupil, and they have already lived together.

As a matter of fact, if they might really both come here, we could find some way of putting them up.

As for the furnishings, if I knew beforehand that Gauguin was not coming, I still would like to have two beds in case I had to put someone up. So of course he is quite free. There will always be someone with the desire to see the Midi. What has Vignon done?? After all, if everything takes a turn for the better, everyone will be sure to make great progress, and the same for me too. If you can't always see these lovely days here, you will see some of it in the paintings. And I am trying to get more into them than in the others.

A handshake and

Ever yours, Vincent

At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 27 September 1888 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 541.

This letter may be freely used, in accordance with the terms of this site.
» Home < Previous   Next >

or find:         Credits & feedback