From Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University :
In early 1888, Van Gogh moved to Arles in the south of France, where he hoped to establish an art colony. Believing that painting could be reinvented through the genre of portraiture, he encouraged his fellow artists to paint themselves, and then to exchange the canvases. After receiving self-portraits from Emile Bernard and Gauguin, who were working together in Brittany at the time, Van Gogh inscribed this painting “To my friend Paul Gauguin,” and sent it to him. He described the process of creating his arresting likeness in several letters to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, explaining how he manipulated his features in response to Japanese prints, changed the contours of his jacket for coloristic effect, and painted the background “pale veronese green” without any shadows. Shortly after he sent the work to Gauguin, however, their friendship deteriorated, and Gauguin sold it for three hundred francs.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Thursday, 5 April 1888.
My dear Theo,
Am obliged to write to you as I’m sending you an order for colours which, if you place it with Tasset & Lhote, rue Fontaine, you’ll do well — since they know me — to tell them that I expect a discount at least equivalent to the cost of carriage, which I’ll be glad to pay myself — they don’t have to cover carriage, we’ll pay it, but in that case the discount should be 20%. If they’re willing to give you it — as I’m inclined to believe — they can supply me until further notice, and so this is a big order for them.
You’ll ask — please — père Tasset or père Lhote the lowest price for 10 metres of his primed or absorbent canvas — and you’ll let me know the outcome of the discussion you’ll probably have with that gentleman for delivery of the merchandise described above. Here’s the order:
This is quite a sizeable order; however, without counting the difference between the discount I dare hope for and the cost of carriage, we’ll still earn what I pay in addition for carriage, without taking into account that I don’t get any discount here.
Attached, so that it won’t put too much of a burden on you, a smaller order to be deducted from the first one, which latter is only urgent in respect of the part mentioned below.
And — as soon as possible — the final price, to me, of absorbent canvas, 10 metres, please.
The colourman here3 made absorbent canvas for me, but he’s so lazy about doing it that I’ve decided to have everything sent from Paris or Marseille, and give up — having lost all patience — the idea of getting him to do it. (While waiting for a no. 30 absorbent canvas I painted two on non-absorbent canvas.)
It goes without saying that if you buy colours for me my expenses here will be reduced by over 50%. Up to now I’ve spent more on my colours, canvases, &c. than on myself. I have another new orchard for you — but for Christ’s sake get the paint to me without delay. The season of orchards in blossom is so short, and you know these subjects are among the ones that cheer everyone up. As soon as I can pay for crates and postage (which is probably cheaper at the little station here than it would be at the Gare de Lyon) I’ll send you the studies. Am without a sou for the moment, as I was telling you before. Do what you can, but in any case let’s get the discount on the colours if, that is, you think it’s to our advantage to work like beavers.
Herewith an order direct to Tasset & Lhote.
I’m quite curious to know what you’ll say about my first consignment, which will definitely contain at least 10 canvases.