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My dear friend Koning,
Thanks for having wished me a happy New Year all the way
from the North of our native country. I received your postcard
in the hospital at Arles, where I had been quartered following
an attack of something the matter with my brains, or otherwise
fever, which had nearly passed off already.
And as for the causes and consequences of said illness, I
think I shall be wise to leave the solving of these problems to
the casual discussions of the Dutch catechists, that is to say
whether I am mad or not, or whether I have been mad, and am
still mad, in some imagination of a purely sculptural
And if not, whether I was already mad before that time; or
whether I am so at present, or shall be so in the
After having thus given you ample information with regard to
the state of my mind and body…I suppose you will think
it less miraculous that I did not answer you earlier. Meanwhile
we must not forget to stick to the point.
And starting from there I ask you what you are doing in the
art of painting, and how you are working with the colours.
As far as I know, I have seen absolutely none of your
studies which you sent to Theo, in spite of my urgent request
to you for one of your works. Does the fault lie with Theo, who
possibly has other things to think of, or with the not
inconsiderable distance between us?
Did you know that Theo is engaged, and is going to marry an
Amsterdam girl within a relatively short time?
After this question on your work, a few words about
At present I have in mind, or rather on my easel, the
portrait of a woman.
I call it “La Berceuse,” or as we say in Dutch
(after Van Eeden, you know, who wrote that particular book I
gave you to read), or in Van Eeden's Dutch, quite simply
“our lullaby or the woman rocking the cradle.” It
is a woman in a green dress (the bust olive green and grey
skirt pale malachite green).
The hair is quite orange and in plaits. The complexion is
chrome yellow, worked up with some naturally broken tones for
the purpose of modelling.
The hands holding the rope of the cradle, the same.
At the bottom the background is vermilion (simply
representing a tiled floor or else a stone floor). The wall is
covered with wallpaper, which of course I have calculated in
conformity with the rest of the colours. This wallpaper is
bluish-green with pink dahlias and spotted with orange and
In this I think I have run pretty well parallel with Van
Eeden and his style of writing, which consequently can be
considered analogous to my style of painting in the matter of
Whether I really sang a lullaby in colours is something I
leave to the critics, particularly to the aforesaid ones.
But we talked all this over sufficiently at the time, didn't
we? I mean the eternal problem of colours, which leads us on as
far as our tranquillity of mind will allow.
At any rate, on leaving the hospital, I made a portrait of
my own doctor. And I haven't wholly lost my
equilibrium as a painter.
But of course, from that time onward I have painted quite a
considerable number of studies or pictures. Among other things,
last summer, two flower pieces with nothing but sunflowers in a
yellow earthen pot. Painted with the three chrome yellows,
yellow ocher and malachite green, and nothing else.
For the time being I am staying on in Arles, and keeping
myself at your disposal in the matter of correspondence or
painted studies. Not long ago Theo went to see Breitner, and
discussing his work, he told me that after all he considered
Breitner the best painter and thinker over there.
Good-by, amice, with a handshake in thought,
Your friend, Vincent
The address is still Place Lamartine 2, Arles.
Should you meet Breitner, you have my permission to let him
read this letter or tell him of it. I mean as I write it, and
without letting your powers of imagination run away with you
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to A. H. Koning. Written 22 or 23 January 1889 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number .
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