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My dear Theo,
As far as work is concerned, this month hasn't been bad on
the whole, and as the work takes my mind off things, or rather
keeps me in order, I don't deprive myself of it.
I have done “La Berceuse” three
seeing that Mme. Roulin was the model and I only the painter, I
let her choose between the three, her and her husband, on
condition, however, that I could do a duplicate for myself of
the one she chose, which I am working on at present.
You ask if I have read La Mireille by Mistral - I am like
you, I can only read the extracts that have been translated.
But what about you, have you heard it yet, for perhaps you know
that Gounod has set it to music. At least I think so. I don't
know the music, of course, and even if I did go to hear it, I
should be watching the musicians rather than listening.
But I can tell you this, that the local dialect spoken here
sounds so musical in the mouths of the Arlésiennes that
I actually pick up snatches of it every now and then.
Perhaps there is an attempt at a medley of local colour in
“La Berceuse.” It's badly painted, and in a sense
cheap chromos are infinitely better done, but even
Here, the so-called worthy town of Arles is such a peculiar
sort of place that it is with good reason our friend Gauguin
calls it the filthiest spot in the South. Now, if Rivet saw the
population, he'd certainly have some bad moments, and repeat
over and over again, “You're in a sorry state, the lot of
you,” just as he says of us. Still, once you've had the
local disease, you'll never catch it again.
Which is just to let you know that as far as I am concerned,
I have no illusions about myself. Things are going very, very
well, and I'll do everything the doctor says, but…
When I came out of hospital with good old Roulin, I fancied
there'd been nothing wrong with me, it was only
afterwards I felt I'd been ill. Well, that's only to be
expected, I have moments when I am twisted with enthusiasm or
madness or prophecy, like a Greek oracle on his tripod. I
display great presence of mind then in my words, and speak like
the Arlésiennes, but in spite of all that, my spirits
are very low. Especially when my physical strength returns. But
I've already told Rey that at the first sign of a serious
symptom I would come back and submit myself to the alienists in
Aix, or to himself.
What else except pain and suffering can we expect if we are
not well, you and I?
Our ambition has been dashed so low. So let us work very
calmly, look after ourselves as best we can, and not exhaust
ourselves in futile attempts at mutual generosity. You do your
duty and I will do mine, and as far as that's concerned, we've
both already paid for it - and not just in words - and at the
end of the road we may quietly come together again. But when I
am in a delirium and everything I love so much is in turmoil,
then I don't mistake that for reality, and I don't play the
But why are you thinking about your marriage contract and
the possibility of dying just now? Wouldn't it be better simply
to run your woman through instead? After all, that's normal
practice in the North, and it's not for me to say that
practices in the North are no good.
It'll all come all right in the end, believe me.
But I, without a penny to my name, I still say that when it
comes down to it, money is one kind of currency and painting is
another. And I am even ready to send you a consignment along
the lines mentioned in previous letters. And it will get
better. If my strength returns.
So, if Gauguin, who is completely infatuated with my
sunflowers, takes these two pictures, I should just like him to
give your fiancée or you a couple of pictures of his,
not second-rate ones but better than that. And should he take a
copy of “La Berceuse,” then all the more reason for
him to give a good one in return. Otherwise I wouldn't be able
to complete the series I spoke to you about, which should be
fit to go on show in that same little display window we have
gazed at so often.
In this case, the value of the pictures does not come into
it, and I don't claim to be an expert. It remains a fact,
however, that I may be entitled to attach as much importance to
my social position as you do to yours as a loyal employee. And
let me just say this: I think as much of brotherly integrity
when it comes to Boussod's money as you do. It has never played
us false. And we have sweated far too much doing good work to
get annoyed at being called thieves or incompetents.
Anyway, I won't keep on about it.
As for the Indépendants, it seems to me that six
pictures are too many by half. To my mind, The
“Harvest” and the “White
Orchard” are enough, with the
“Provençale Girl” or the
“Sower” if you like. But I really
don't care. The only thing I really want to do some day is to
give you a more comforting impression of this painting business
of ours with a collection of about 30 more serious studies. In
any case that will prove to our real friends like Gauguin,
Guillaumin, Bernard, etc., that we are producing something.
So I told him that I had no need of a lease, nor of a
written assurance of preference, and that in the event of my
being ill payment would only be made by friendly
People here have their hearts in the right place and the
spoken word is more binding than the written word. So I shall
keep the house on for the time being, as I need to feel that
this is my home if I am to regain my mental health.
Now about your moving from the Rue Lepic to the Rue Rodier,
I can't offer any opinion, as I haven't seen it, but the main
thing is that you too will be lunching at home with your wife.
By staying in Montmartre you would all the sooner get decorated
and be a Minister of Arts, but as you are not too keen on that,
it is better to have the peace of one's own home, so I think
you are quite right.
I am a little like that too. I always tell the people here
who ask after my health that I shall begin by dying in their
midst, and that then my malady will be dead.
This doesn't mean I shall not have long spells of respite,
but once you are ill in earnest, you know quite well that you
cannot contract the same illness twice, you are well or you are
ill, just as you are young or old. Like you, I will do what the
doctor tells me as much as I can, and I consider that as part
of my work and the duty I have to fulfil.
I must tell you this, that the neighbours, etc., are
particularly kind to me, as everyone here is suffering either
from fever, or hallucinations, or madness, we understand each
other like members of the same family. Yesterday I went to see
the girl to whom I had gone when I was off my head. They told
me that there's nothing surprising about things like that in
this part of the world. She'd been upset and had fainted but
had regained her composure. And indeed, they spoke well of
But it won't do for us to think that I am completely sane.
The people from round here who are ill like me have told me
there will always be times when you take leave of your
So I don't ask you to tell people that there is nothing
wrong with me, or that there never will be. It is just that the
explanation of all this is probably not Ricord's but Raspail's
1. Though I have not yet had the fevers of the
region, I might still catch them. But they already know a thing
or two about all that here at the hospital, and as long as you
have no false shame and say frankly how you feel, you cannot go
I am bringing this letter to a close for this evening with a
good handshake in my thoughts,
Ever yours, Vincent
Philippe Ricord, French surgeon specializing in
syphilis; François Raspail, French chemist and
politician who asserted that disease is caused by
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 3 February 1889 in Arles. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 576.
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