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My dear friend Gauguin,
Thank you for your letter. Left behind alone on board my
little yellow house - as it was perhaps my duty anyway to be
the last to leave - I am not a little put out at my friends'
Roulin got his transfer to Marseilles and has just left. It
has been touching to see him these last few days with little
Marcelle, making her laugh and dandling her on his knee.
His transfer means his being separated from his family, and
you will not be surprised that the man whom you and I one
evening nicknamed “the passer-by,” was very
heavy-hearted. And so was I, on witnessing that and other
When he sang to his child, his voice took on a strange
timbre in which one could hear the voice of a woman rocking a
cradle or of a sorrowing wet-nurse, and then another trumpet
sound like a clarion call to France.
I reproach myself now that it was I - perhaps insisting too
much that you stay on here to await events and giving you so
many good reasons for doing so - I reproach myself now that
perhaps it was I who was the cause of your departure - unless,
of course, that departure was planned beforehand? And that it
was therefore perhaps up to me to show I still had the right to
be kept fully in the picture.
Be that as it may, I hope we still like each other enough to
be able, if need be, to start afresh, assuming that the wolf at
the door, alas ever-present for those of us artists without
means, should necessitate such a measure.
You mention a canvas of mine in your letter - Sunflowers on
a yellow background - and make it plain you'd rather like to
have it. I don't think it's altogether a bad choice - for if
Jeannin can claim the peony, and Quost the hollyhock, then
surely I, above all others, can lay claim to the sunflower.
I think I'll begin by returning what is yours [Gauguin's
fencing equipment], while observing that it is my intention,
after what has happened, categorically to deny your right to
the canvas in question. But since I commend your intelligence
in choosing this canvas, I'll make the effort to paint two of
them exactly alike. In which case it can all be done and
settled amicably so that you can have your own in the end all
I made a fresh start today on my canvas of Mme. Roulin, the one in which,
due to my accident, the hands
had been left unfinished. As an arrangement of colours, the
reds moving through to pure orange, building up again in the
flesh tones to the chromes, passing through the pinks and
blending with the olive and malachite greens - as an
impressionist arrangement of colours I have never devised
anything better. And I'm sure that if one were to put this
canvas just as it is in a fishing boat, even one from Iceland,
there would be some among the fishermen who would feel they
were there, inside the cradle.
Ah! My dear friend, to achieve in painting what the music of
Berlioz and Wagner has already done … an art that offers
consolation for the broken-hearted! There are still just a few
who feel it as you and I do!!!
My brother understands you well and when he tells me that
you are a poor sort of wretch like me, well, that just proves
that he understands us.
I shall send you your things, but I still have bouts of
weakness at times during which I'm in no position to even lift
a finger to return your things to you. In a few days' time I'll
pluck up the courage. And as for the `fencing masks and gloves'
(make as little use as possible of less infantile engines of
war), these terrible engines of war will just have to wait
until then. I am writing to you very calmly, but packing up
what's left is still beyond me.
In my mental or nervous fever, or madness - I am not too
sure how to put it or what to call it - my thoughts sailed over
At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Paul Gauguin. Written 22 or 23 January 1889 in Arles. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number VG.
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