From The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York:
Disillusioned with Parisian artists’ café society and the oppressive gloom of the urban winter, Vincent van Gogh left Paris in mid-February 1888 to find rejuvenation in the healthy atmosphere of sun-drenched Arles. When he stepped off the train in the southern city, however, he was confronted by a snowy landscape, the result of a record cold spell. Undaunted, Van Gogh painted Landscape with Snow around February 24, when the snow had mostly melted, just prior to a new inundation.¹ The artist implies the patchy coverage of the snow through daubs of brown paint and by leaving areas of the canvas to the brilliant illumination and feverish colors of the summer harvest paintings Van Gogh made later in the year. Here, instead, he presents the looming, purplish light of an impending snowstorm.
A great admirer of Japanese art, Van Gogh went to Arles hoping to establish an artistic community in an environment commensurate with his Oriental ideal. He wrote to his brother, Theo, from Arles, “But for my part I foresee that other artists will want to see color under a stronger sun, and in a more Japanese clarity of light.”² This painting may have been inspired by the snowy scenes common to the Japanese prints Van Gogh avidly collected, but it also follows conventions of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting in its gradation of color from dark greens and browns framing the foreground to blue sky in the distance, and through the diagonal recession of the road in the snowy landscape. But, unlike Dutch panoramas with their broad expanse of sky, the present work shows Van Gogh concentrating on the terrain between where he stands and the bright red-roofed cottage in the distance. He paints the scene from a perspective immersed in the landscape, on the same plane as the black-hatted man and bowlegged dog trudging along the path.
This canvas and a similar one painted a day or so later, Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background (private collection, London), are less detailed than the more elaborate and descriptive landscapes Van Gogh made a few months later, thus suggesting the artist’s tentative approach to his recently chosen home.
To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Monday, 2 February 1885.
My dear Theo,
I have a great deal to say about your calling my last letter ‘particularly unpleasant’.
First of all this — some time ago you wrote various unpleasant things to me which I’ve been hearing from you and others for the past 15 years and more — that’s a long time — about relations at home.
With this specially added, ‘that you are suspicious’. Well, if it had only been the former, I probably wouldn’t have given it any more attention.
That addition of your suspicion, though, that was a bit too much for me, and I repeatedly asked you to take it back or to explain it, because I don’t allow something like that to be said without asking for enlightenment.
And in my last letter I compared suspicion in general with a dark glass one looks through.
And said that the nastiest misunderstandings arise because of it.
And that’s true.
When you now turn this round and write to me, ‘you remind me of the old people who say that things were better in their young days than now, forgetting meanwhile that they themselves have changed’, this doesn’t upset me.
What we were talking about is suspicion, which not I but you yourself mention, by you of me. First apply the thing about the old people to that, and after that see whether it also applies to me.
If it also applies to me after that — then I’ll have to change.
What I wrote about a certain atmosphere at home, which I had more opportunity to observe than I cared to, is, I fear, all too true.
When you ask me in your letter how it is that you never hear me say, ‘I’d like to be thus or so’ — is — because I believe that those who make the greatest parade of ‘I’d like to be thus or so’ do the least to improve themselves. Those who say it, usually don’t do it.
Were I to express myself about such wishes, it would not be easy to do so in an atmosphere like the one that now exists between us.
So that’s the reason — and since I take pains to improve my work, I don’t have to keep lapsing into lamentations.
I’m sorry you didn’t send me that No. of L’Illustration; I’ve been following Renouard a good while, and have what he’s done for L’Illustration going back for years. And this is one of the very finest, which I think you would also have been delighted with yourself.
One can’t get the old Nos. if one orders them in the bookshop, at least not here. I do wish you could get it. If it’s too much trouble for you, leave it, although it’s really not that much trouble after all. And — after all — take note that as far as that suspicion is concerned and what I replied to it, it isn’t so much because I won’t allow you or others, if need be, to think of me exactly as you will, but I’ve warned you that it would give you little satisfaction if your character were to set in that mould.
Since you repeatedly say that you know me better than anyone else and yet it still all ends in suspicion, though, this is serious enough for me to decidedly object to it, and to that ‘know so well’, and to the other thing, that suspicion. I’ve a history like that behind me with Pa — I’m not starting on a Pa II.
If I’d kept on top of things with Pa from the start and not simply stayed silent, a great deal wouldn’t have happened.
So don’t take it amiss that I now say foursquare what I think about it. That’s better for both of us. For the rest, old chap, I think I’m working rather too hard for it to be too long before I can reduce the financial burden on you somewhat. It may take me longer than I’d like for you or for me, but keeping on working is a path that can hardly fail altogether. And when I insist on pressing on with it, it’s in order to put an end to the possibility of quarrelling. Because even the possibility of quarrelling ceases to exist as soon as I find a means of covering myself financially. Then my work will no longer be at issue, and at present it still is.
And therefore don’t despair. But now it’s wretched for both of us. And for me the work is expensive; I have to paint a lot and I constantly need a model for it; just all the more reason why, at a time when the work is difficult and exacting, and at the same time thankless, it’s quite wretched to get suspicion for it. Never mind, it’s a period I have to go through, and one doesn’t paint for one’s comfort.
Thanks for what you sent. Regards.