van Gogh's letters - unabridged and annotated
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Letter from Paul Gauguin to Vincent van Gogh
Brittany, 22 September 1888

c. 22 September 1888

My dear Vincent,

It has taken me a long time to answer you: What do you expect? My sickly state and sorrow often leave me in a state of prostration, when I lock myself up in inaction. If you knew my life, you'd understand that after having struggled so much (in every way), I am just now catching my breath, and at this moment I am dormant. Your exchange project to which I haven't yet answered smiles at me, and I will do the portrait you want, though not yet. I am not up to doing it, seeing as it is not a copy of a face that you want but a portrait, as I understand a portrait to be. I watch little Bernard, and I don't yet possess him. I will perhaps do it from memory; in any case, it will be an abstraction. Maybe tomorrow, I don't know, it will come to me all at once. Right now, we're having a spell of good weather which leads both of us to try many things. I just did a religious painting, very poorly done, but which was interesting to do and which pleases me. I wanted to give it to the church at Pont-Aven. Naturally, they don't want it.

Groups of Brittany women pray, very intense black costumes. Very bright yellow-white headdresses. The two headdresses on the right are like monstrous helmets. A dark purple apple tree crosses through the painting, with foliage drawn in masses like emerald green clouds with intervals of yellow-green sunlight. The (pure vermilion) land. At the church it slopes down and becomes red-brown.

The angel is dressed in violent ultramarine blue and Jacob bottle-green. The angel's wings of pure chromium yellow one. The angel's hair chromium two and orange flesh-coloured feet. I think I've succeeded in creating a great rustic and superstitious simplicity in the faces. The whole thing is very severe. The cow under the tree is very small compared to life and rears up. In this painting I find that the landscape and the fight exist only in the imagination of the people who pray after the sermon - that's why there is a contrast between the life-sized people and the unnatural and disproportionate fight in its landscape. In your letter you seem angry at our laziness in regard to the portrait, and that makes me sad; friends don't get mad (at a distance words cannot be interpreted in their true value).

Another thing. You twist the dagger in the wound when you insist upon proving to me that I've got to come south, knowing I suffer by not being there right now. When you invited me to come there with your scheme, I formally wrote you one last affirmative letter, happy with your brother's offer. There is no way I can form a studio in the north, since every day I hope to sell something which would allow me to get out of here. The people who feed me here, the doctor who cured me, did it on credit and would never take a painting or scrap of clothing from me and are splendid toward me. I cannot let them down without committing a misdeed, which would bother me very much. If they were either rich or thieves, it wouldn't matter to me. I will wait, then. For example, if that day came, and you were in a different frame of mind and had to tell me “Too late” … I'd prefer that you do it right away. I'm afraid that your brother, who loves my talent, will price it too high. If he finds a collector or a speculator who is tempted by low prices, let him do it. I am a man of sacrifices, and I would like him to understand that I approve of whatever he does.

Little Bernard will bring several of my paintings to Paris with him shortly.

Laval plans to meet me in the Midi sometime in February. He found someone who will pay him 150 francs per month for a year.

Now it seems to me, my dear Vincent, that you count badly. I know the prices in the south; besides the restaurant, I am responsible for a house of three people for 200 francs per month, including food. I've kept up my household and I know how to get along - even more so with four.

As for housing; besides yours, Laval and Bernard could have a small furnished bedroom nearby. I like the layout of your dream house and the idea of seeing it makes my mouth water.

Well! As much as possible, I do not want to think about the promised fruit. Let's wait for better days; unless I rid myself of this foul existence that weighs down upon me so horribly outside of work.

Yours sincerely,


At this time, Vincent was 35 year old
Paul Gauguin. Letter to Vincent van Gogh. Written 22 September 1888 in Brittany. Translated by Robert Harrison, edited by Robert Harrison, number htm.

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