van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, c. 26 September 1888
Relevant paintings:

"Ploughed Field," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

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

Dear Theo,

I have to thank you most kindly for the consignment of canvas and colours from Tasset's, which arrived in good condition and this time by parcel post. In my last letter I already told you that autumn has manifested itself in rain and bad weather. This has hampered me a little, but all the same I have just finished a size 30 canvas representing a ploughed field, done in the sunny intervals.

[A sketch of "Ploughed Fields (The Furrows)" appeared here.]

A blue sky with white clouds. An immense expanse of ground of an ashy lilac. Innumerable furrows and clods. A horizon of blue hills and green bushes with - [illegible].

This is another one that will take a long time to dry; pictures that are thickly painted must be treated like the stronger types of wine; one must let them mature. I have ordered a white deal frame for this one.

As long s autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas and colours enough to paint the beautiful things I see.

I am also working on a portrait of Milliet, but he poses badly, or I may be at fault myself, which, however, I do not believe, as I am sorely in want of some studies of him, for he is a good-looking boy, very unconcerned and easy-going in his behaviour, and he would suit me damned well for the picture of a lover.

I have already promised him a study for his trouble, but, you know, he cannot keep still.

Besides, he hardly has any time to spare, seeing that he must take a tender leave of all the grues et grenouilles de la grenouillère 1 of Arles, now that he has to return to his f— garrison, as he says.

I do not object to it, but I regret that he has a nervous motion of the legs when posing.

He is a good fellow, but he is only twenty-five, God damn it, ten years younger than I am - and within ten years - according to Ziem - I am afraid that, if he goes on like this, and not being able to caper about any longer, he may join the ambitious.

I should not be surprised if in his heart he were annoyed at having to leave, and perhaps he is living beyond his means, which obliges him to go back to Africa. I only know one serious fault in his character, which is that he likes L'abbé Constantin by Georges Ohnet, and I have told him that he had a thousand times better read Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant.

What does Father Tanguy say of the gross-grained paints now?

3 large tubes as the silver white and the zinc white and the Prussian blue.
6 large tubes id. id. chrome I citron
6 “ “ id. id. chrome II
2 “ “ id. id. chrome III
6 “ “ id. id. malachite green
and 6 medium tubes geranium lake
12 zinc white, large tubes
12 silver white

This is approximately in proportion to the canvas.

As I have just received the consignment of canvas and colours, you will understand that there is no hurry; however, it is the minimum that I shall need during autumn and the falling of the leaves, which will be marvellous and which lasts only one week.

I am sure that I shall be able to do a good job of work, and during that period I should not like to run short of yellow and blue.

Now it fades a little, but when I use zinc white in its crude state, I shall be able to do without the rest if necessary.

Delacroix swore by that vulgar blue and used it often.

So I warn you of the state of affairs in advance, though the famous falling of the leaves is still a considerable distance off.

I must work like a team of mules as long as autumn lasts if I want to recover what our furniture has cost.

I wanted to do some sunflowers again but they were already finished. Yes, during autumn I would like to be able to make a dozen 30 square canvases and I can very well accomplish it as far as I can see. I have a terrifying lucidity at times when nature is so beautiful these days, and then I am not conscious of myself any more, and the painting comes to me as in a dream. I am rather afraid that it will have a reaction of depression when we have rotten weather but then I will seek for a distraction in the study of these questions of drawing figures from memory.

I am always frustrated in my best powers by the lack of models, but I don't let it worry me - I do a landscape and colour without worrying about where it will take me. I know this, that if I were to beg the models “Now pose for me I beg you,” I would be behaving like Zola's good painter in his book. And certainly Manet, for example, didn't behave like that. And in his book Zola doesn't say how those that didn't see anything supernatural in painting acted.

But don't criticise Zola's book. I will send five of Bernard's drawings in the style of the others.

But that in any case I didn't urge him to come. That as I counted on wintering here, certainly his company would be very welcome, but that above all he must do his calculations well.

If one of these days Gauguin writes to you definitely, either to you or to me, we will be able to see again about Bernard. I think myself that Bernard would certainly find his business here but his father should be a little bit more magnanimous in his regard. Because Bernard is painstaking. - I don't like these drawings, however, as much that the previous ones.

At the beginning of next month there will again be a heap of things that will fall on my back at the same time. In the frames and stretchers that I am having made here for the decoration of the house at the same time as the month's rent and the cleaning woman.

But I can delay taking the frames and the stretchers, and therefore I hope I will get by in any case.

The only hope that I have that is that by working very hard, at the end of one year I will have enough paintings to be able to exhibit - if I want or if you want to - at the time of the exhibition. I am not set on it, but what I am certainly set on is showing something not at all bad.

I would not exhibit, but we would have in my house work of mine that would prove that I am not slothful, nor an idler. I would be at peace, but the main thing seems to me to be that I must not give myself less trouble that the painters who work expressly for it.

Whether one exhibits or one doesn't exhibit it is necessary to be productive, and from then on one has the right to smoke his pipe in peace.

But this year we will be productive and I'm endeavouring to make this new series better than the first two consignments.

And among the studies there will be some, I hope, that are paintings, so to speak, there.

As for the starry sky, I keep hoping very much to paint it, and perhaps I will one of these days, in the same ploughed field if the sky is glittering properly.

Tolstoy's book My Religion has already been published in French in 1885 but I have never seen it in any catalogue.

He does not appear to believe much in a resurrection of the body or the soul. Above all he barely appears to believe in heaven - he argues these things like a nihilist - but - in opposition to most of these people - he attaches great importance of doing the things that one does well, since that is probably all one has.

And if he doesn't believe in resurrection, he appears to believe in the equivalent - the continuance of life - the march of humanity, of man and his work continued almost infallibly by the humanity of the generation to come. After all, they must not be empty consolations that he gives. Himself a nobleman, he made himself a worker, he knows how to make boots, knows how to repair stoves, knows how to guide a plough and to dig the earth.

I know nothing at all of all that, but I respect an energetic human soul, noted for his reforms too. My god, all the same we don't have to pity ourselves for living at a time where there are nothing but loafers, when we are contemporaries of similar specimens of poor mortals who don't even believe very strongly in heaven. He believes - maybe I already wrote of it to you, in a non-violent revolution caused by the need for love and religion that, as a reaction to the scepticism and desperate and discouraging suffering, must appear in people.

Goodbye. Your last letter came on Friday; if I got the next letter on Friday too it would be awfully good.

But it is not pressing, it will be alright whatever happens. A handshake

Ever yours,


Editor's note: For many years the end of this letter was thought to be missing. The recent emergence of the sketch of Vincent's house [F 1453] revealed that the final four pages of 543 did not belong there but were in fact the end of this letter. They are now restored to their rightful place for the first time.

  1. A private pun, really untranslatable, literally “... the cranes and frogs of the swamp...” A free translation would be “hussies and tarts in the tart shop.”

At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written c. 26 September 1888 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number .

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