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My Dear Theo,
The letter I have just received from you gives me great
pleasure. You tell me that J. H. Weissenbruch has two pictures
at the exhibition - but I imagined he was dead - am I wrong?
Certainly he's a mighty good artist and a decent big-hearted
What you say about “La Berceuse” pleases me; it
is very true that the common people, who are content with
chromos and melt when they hear a barrel organ, are in some
vague way right, perhaps more sincere than certain men about
town who go to the Salon.
If he will accept it, give Gauguin the copy of “La
Berceuse” that was not mounted on a stretcher, and
Bernard also, as a token of friendship, but if Gauguin wants
the sunflowers, it is only fair that he should give you
something you like equally well in exchange.
Gauguin himself liked the sunflowers better later on when he
had been looking at them for a good while.
What you also have to know is that if you arrange them this
way, namely “La Berceuse” in the middle and the two
canvases of sunflowers to the right and left, it makes a sort
[Vincent inserted a sketch of the three paintings here.]
And then the yellow and orange tones of the head will gain in
brilliance by the proximity of the yellow wings.
And then you will understand what I wrote you, that my idea
had been to make a sort of decoration, for instance for the end
of a ship's cabin. Then, as the size increases, the summary
technique is justified. The frame for the central piece is the
red one. And the two sunflowers which go with it are the ones
framed in narrow strips.
You see that this frame of plain laths does quite well, and
a frame like this costs only a very little. It would perhaps be
a good idea to frame the green and red vineyards that way,
the “Sower” and the “Furrows” and
the bedroom interior as well.
[A sketch of Ivy Covered Tree Trunks was drawn here.]
Here is a new size 30 canvas, once again as run of the mill
as a cheap chromo, depicting age-old love nests in the
greenery. Large tree trunks covered with ivy,
the ground similarly covered with ivy and periwinkle, a stone
bench and a bush of roses, pale in the cool shadow. In the
foreground, some plants with white calyxes. It is green, violet
It's all a question - and this is unfortunately missing from
the cheap chromos as well as from the barrel organs - of
putting some style into it.
Since I've been here, there's been enough work for me to do,
what with the neglected garden with its tall pines and long,
unkempt grass mixed with all sorts of weeds, and I haven't even
However, the countryside around St. Rémy is
very beautiful, and little by little I shall probably make a
few short trips.
But while I stay here, the doctor is of course in a better
position to see what is wrong, and will have his mind set at
rest, I hope, about what he can let me paint.
I assure you that I am all right here, and that for
the time being I see no reason at all to take lodgings in or
around Paris. I have a small room with greenish-grey paper with
two sea-green curtains with a design of very pale roses,
brightened by touches of blood-red.
These curtains, probably the legacy of some deceased and
ruined rich person, are very pretty in design. A very worn
armchair, probably from the same source, is covered with a
tapestry speckled like a Diaz or a Monticelli in brown, red,
pink, white, cream, black, forget-me-not blue and bottle green.
Through the iron-barred window I can see an enclosed square of
wheat, a prospect like a Van Goyen, above which, in the
morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory.
In addition - as there are more than thirty empty rooms - I
have another room for doing my work.
The food is all right as far as it goes. It tastes a bit
musty, of course, as in a cockroach-infested restaurant in
Paris, or in a boarding-house. The poor wretches here, having
absolutely nothing to do (not a book, nothing more to distract
them than a game of boules or a game of draughts), have no
other daily distraction than to stuff themselves with
chickpeas, haricot beans, lentils and other groceries and
colonial produce, in set amounts and at stated hours.
As the digestion of these foodstuffs offers certain
difficulties, they fill their days in a way as offensive as it
But joking apart, my fear of madness is wearing off
markedly, since I can see at close quarters those who are
affected by it in the same way as I may very easily be in the
Previously, I was repelled by these individuals, and I found
it distressing to have to reflect that so many in our trade,
Troyon, Marchal, Méryon, Jundt, M. Maris,
Monticelli and a whole lot more finished up like that. It was
quite impossible for me to picture them in that condition.
Well, now I can think of all that without fear, that is to
say, I find it is no more dreadful than if those people had
died of something else, consumption or syphilis, for example. I
see these artists being reinvested with their old serenity, and
don't you think it's quite something to meet these old
colleagues of ours again? That, joking apart, is what I am
profoundly thankful for.
For though there are some who howl or rave a great deal,
there is much true friendship here. They say we must
tolerate others so that the others may tolerate us, and other
very sound arguments, which they put into practice, too. And we
understand each other very well. Sometimes, for instance, I can
talk with one of them who can only reply in incoherent sounds,
because he is not afraid of me. If someone has an attack, the
others look after him and interfere so that he does not harm
The same for those whose mania is to fly often into a rage.
The old inhabitants of the menagerie come running and separate
the combatants, if combat there is.
It is true there are some whose condition is more serious,
who are either dirty or dangerous. These are in another
I take a bath twice a week now, and stay in it for two
What I hope is that at the end of a year I shall know what I
can do and what I want to do better than now. Then little by
little the idea of a fresh start will come to me. Going back to
Paris or anywhere at all in no way attracts me. I think my
place is here. Extreme enervation is, in my opinion, what most
of those who have been here for years suffer from. Now my work
will preserve me from that to a certain extent.
The room where we stay on wet days is like a third-class
waiting room in some stagnant village, the more so as there are
some distinguished lunatics who always wear a hat, spectacles
and a cane, and travelling cloak, almost like at a watering
place, and they represent the passengers.
I am forced to ask you again for some paints and especially
for canvas. When I sent you the four canvases of the garden I
am working on, you will see that, considering my life is spent
mostly in the garden, it is not so unhappy.
Yesterday I drew a very big, rather rare night moth, called
a death's head, its colouring of amazing distinction, black,
grey, cloudy white tinged with carmine or vaguely shading off
into olive green; it is very big.
[Here he drew a sketch of the moth.]
To paint it I had to kill it, and it
was a pity, the beast was so beautiful. I will send you the
drawing along with some other drawings of
You could take the canvases at Tanguy's or at your place off
the stretchers, if they are dry enough, and then put on any new
ones you think worth it.
Gauguin ought to be able to tell you the address of a man
who could reline “The Bedroom,”
and who won't be too expensive. The restoration ought, I
imagine, to cost 5 francs. If it is more, then don't
have it done. I'm sure Gauguin didn't pay any more on the many
occasions when he had his canvases, or Cézanne's
or Pissaro's, relined.
Most epileptics bite their tongue and injure themselves. Rey
told me that he had seen a case where someone had mutilated his
own ear, just as I did, and I think I heard a doctor from here,
who came to see me with the director, say that he too had seen
it before. I like to think that once you know what it is, once
you are conscious of your condition, and of being subject to
attacks, then you can do something to prevent your being taken
unawares by the anguish or the terror. Now that it has all been
abating for five months, I have high hopes of getting over it,
or at least of no longer having such violent attacks.
There is someone here who has been shouting and talking like
me all the time for a fortnight. He thinks he hears
voices and words in the echoes of the corridors, probably
because the auditory nerve is diseased and over-sensitive, and
in my case it was both sight and hearing at the same time,
which is usual at the onset of epilepsy, according to what Rey
said one day.
And anyway, it is only recently that my loathing of life has
been drastically changed. There is still a long way to go from
that to willing and doing.
What a pity that you are condemned to stay full-time in
Paris and that you never see any part of the country other than
that around Paris. I'm sure it's no worse for me to be in the
company I now find myself than for you to be with that
ill-fated Goupil & Co. all the time. In that respect, we
are pretty much equal. For you, too, are only able to act
partly in keeping with your ideas. However, once we have got
used to these difficulties, it all becomes second nature.
Although the pictures swallow up canvas and paint, etc.,
nevertheless at the end of the month I'm sure it's more
profitable to spend a little more on those, making use of what
I've learned, than to abandon it all, when you have to pay for
my board and lodging anyway. And that's why I'm carrying on. So
this month I have four size 30 canvases and two or three
But the question of money, whatever one does, is always with
us, like the enemy facing the troops, and cannot be denied or
As much as anyone, I know where my duties lie in that
respect. And I may yet be able to pay back everything I've
spent, for I consider it to have been, if not taken from you,
at least taken from the family. So that's why I've been
producing pictures and shall be doing some more. This is acting
as you yourself are acting. If I were a man of means, perhaps
my mind would be freer to produce art for art's sake. Now I
content myself with the thought that by working diligently, I
may perhaps make some progress, even without thinking about
3 emerald green
1 orange lead (big tubes)
6 zinc white
5 meters of canvas
Thanking you for your kind letter, I shake your hand warmly,
as I do your wife's.
Ever yours, Vincent
At this time, Vincent was 36 year old
Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written 22 May 1889 in Saint-Rémy. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 592.
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