van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, 28 September 1888
Relevant paintings:

"Starry night over the Rhone," Vincent van Gogh

"Starry Night over the Rhone," Vincent van Gogh

"The Yellow House," Vincent van Gogh

"Vincent's House in Arles (The Yellow House)," Vincent van Gogh

"Sketch by Vincent," Vincent van Gogh

My dear Theo, thank you very much of your letter and the 50 francs note that it contained. - my god - it would be good it if it was possible if you could live in the Midi too, because I always think that we need each other, and the sun and good weather and the blue air are the strongest remedy. The weather here remains beautiful, and if it is always like this then it would be better than the paradise of those painters who are in Japan itself. I think about you and Gauguin and about Bernard all the time and everywhere. It is so beautiful and I would so like to see everybody here.

Included a small sketch of a 30 square canvas - in short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas. Two colourful figurines of lovers in the foreground.

Also a sketch of a 30 square canvas representing the house and its setting under a sulphur sun under a pure cobalt sky. The theme is a hard one! But that is exactly why I want to conquer it. Because it is fantastic, these yellow houses in the sun and also the incomparable freshness of the blue. All the ground is yellow too. I will soon send you a better drawing of it than this sketch out of my head.

The house on the left is pink with green shutters. It's the one that is shaded by a tree. This is the restaurant where I go to dine every day. My friend the factor is at the end of the street on the left, between the two bridges of the railroad. The night café that I painted is not in the picture, it is on the left of the restaurant.

Milliet finds this horrible, but I don't need to tell you that when he says he doesn't understand that one can have fun doing a common grocer's shop and the stiff and proper houses without any grace, but I remember that Zola did a certain boulevard in the beginning of L'assommoir, and Flaubert a corner of the embankment of the Villette in the dog days in the beginning of Bouvard and Pécuchet which are not to be sneezed at.

It does me good to do difficult things. It does not prevent me from having a terrible need of, shall I say the word - of religion - then I go outside in the night to paint the stars and I dream ever of a picture like this with a group of lively figures of our pals.

Now I have had a letter from Gauguin who seems very sad, and says that certainly if he made a sale he will come, but he doesn't say clearly that if he would simply have his journey paid he would agree to come down here.

He says that the people where he lodges are, and have been, great to him, and that to leave them like that would be a bad thing to do. But that I turn a dagger in his heart if I would believe that he would not immediately come if he was able to. That besides, if you could sell his canvases at a low price he would be happy. I will send you his letter with the replies.

And I always tell myself that what you are doing in private would in the end, with his collaboration, be a more serious thing than just my work, without an increase in the expenses and you would have more satisfaction. Later on, if maybe one day you are on your own with the impressionist paintings you will only have to continue and to enlarge on those which actually exists. Finally Gauguin says that Laval found someone who will give him 150 francs per month for at least one year, and that Laval also would maybe come in February. And I have written to Bernard that I think that in the Midi he could not live for less than 3.50 or 4 francs per day just for lodging & food. He says that he believes that for 200 francs per month he would have food and lodging for all 3 which is not impossible, if we live & eat in the studio.

The Benedictine father must have been very interesting. What would, according to him, be the future religion? Probably he would always say the same as the past.

Victor Hugo says God is an eclipsing lighthouse, and certainly now we are passing through that eclipse.

I only wish that someone could prove to us something calming which comforted us, so that we stopped feeling guilty or unhappy and that we could go forward without losing ourselves in the solitude or nothingness, and without having to fear every step, or to nervously calculate the harm we may unintentionally be doing to others.

In odd Giotto's biography it said that he was always suffering and always full of ardour and ideas.

There, I would like to arrive at this assurance that makes one happy, cheerful and alive all the time. That would be easier to do in the country or a small town than in that Parisian furnace.

I would not be surprised if you will like the starry night and the ploughed fields - they are more tranquil than the other canvases. If the work always turned out like that I would have less concerns about money, because people would take to them more easily if the technique continued to be more harmonious. But this blasted mistral is very bothersome to do brushstrokes that hold and are well interwoven, with a feeling like music played with emotion.

With this calm weather I let myself go and I don't have to struggle against impossibilities

Tanguy's consignment arrived and I thank you very, very much for it because I also hope to be able to make something during autumn for the next exhibition. What is now the most pressing is 5 or even 10 meters of canvas. I write again that I will send Gauguin's letter with the reply.

Very interesting what you say of Maurin; at 40 francs his drawings are certainly not expensive. More and more I come to believe that the true and proper trade of painting is one has to let oneself go with one's taste, one's learning before the masters, in short one's faith. It is not any easier, I am convinced, to make a good painting that to find a diamond or a pearl; it requires pain and one must risk his life as a dealer or as an artist. But once one has some good stones then self doubt is not necessary, and one must boldly stick to a certain price. In the meantime… but while this idea encourages me to work, still naturally I suffer at having to spend money. But in the midst of my suffering this idea of the pearl came to me, and I would not be surprised if it didn't do you good too in times of discouragement. There are as few good paintings as there are diamonds.

And there is absolutely nothing dishonest about doing business with good stones. One can believe in oneself when one sees that the thing one is selling is good.Now, if people like paste, and it pleases them and since they ask for it, good, one can have it in the store, but it isn't enough to make one feel good about oneself with the good paintings, yet one can feel oneself and be firm, since it is a pure error that there is as much as one wants. Perhaps I am expressing myself badly, but I have thought about this a good deal these days, and calm has come to me about this Gauguin affair.

All these Gauguins are good stones, and so let us boldly be merchants of Gauguin.

Milliet says a good hello. I now have his portrait with a red kepi on emerald background, and in the background the arms of his regiment, the crescent and a 5-pointed star.

A good handshake and until next time and many thanks and I hope that the pains will not last long. Have you seen a doctor again[?] Look after yourself, because physical pain is so agonising.

Ever yours,


Editor's note: For many years this letter was considered as having a different ending. The recent re-emergence of the sketch of Vincent's house from obscurity revealed that he had finished his letter on the reverse side of it. The final four pages have been restored to their rightful place as the end of letter 541a.

At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 28 September 1888 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number 543.

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