Vincent van Gogh - Les Alyscamps 1888

Les Alyscamps 1888
Les Alyscamps
Oil on canvas 93.0 x 72.0 cm. Arles: late October, 1888
Private collection

« previous picture | Arles | next picture »

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 20 May 1888.
My dear Theo,
What you write about your visit to Gruby has upset me, but at the same time it reassures me that you went there.
Have you considered that your lethargy — a feeling of extreme lassitude — could have been caused by this heart condition, and that in that case potassium iodide couldn’t be blamed for these periods of stupefied exhaustion? If you remember how stupefied I was myself this winter, to the point of being quite incapable! of doing anything whatsoever, apart from a little painting, although I wasn’t taking potassium iodide at all. So if I were you, I’d have it out with Rivet if Gruby tells you not to take it.
And it will in any case — I have no doubt about it — be your intention to be friends with both the one and the other.
I often think of Gruby here and now, and in short I feel well, but it’s because here I have the pure air and the heat, which make things more possible for me. Among all the trials and the bad air of Paris, Rivet takes things as they are without trying to create a paradise and without in the slightest way trying to make us perfect. But he forges a suit of armour, or rather, he inures us to illness and keeps morale up, I find, by making fun of the trouble we have.

So if you could now have just one year of living in the country and close to nature, that would make Gruby’s treatment much easier. So I think he’ll urge you not to see women except in case of necessity, but as little as possible. Now for myself, I feel fine here in that respect, but here, since I have work and nature, and if I didn’t have that I’d become melancholy. As long as work has some appeal for you over there, and the Impressionists are going well, that would be a great gain. Because loneliness, worries, vexations, the need for friendship and fellow-feeling not sufficiently met, that’s what’s very bad, the mental emotions of sadness or disappointments undermine us more than riotous living: us, that is, who find ourselves the happy owners of troubled hearts.
I think potassium iodide purifies the blood and the whole system, doesn’t it — will you be able to do without it? Anyway, you’ll have to have a straight talk about it with Rivet, who shouldn’t be jealous.
I could wish you had near you something more rudely alive, warmer than the Dutch — but all the same, Koning with his whims is an exception for the better. Anyway, it’s always good to have somebody. But I could still wish you had one or two good friends among the French. Would you do me a great favour: my friend the Dane, who leaves for Paris on Tuesday, will give you 2 small paintings — nothing much — that I’d like to give to Mme the Countess De la Boissière at Asnières. She stays in boulevard Voltaire, on the first floor of the first house at the end of the Clichy bridge. Père Perruchot’s restaurant is on the ground floor. Would you take them to her personally on my behalf, saying I had hopes of seeing her again this spring and that even here I haven’t forgotten her; I gave them 2 small ones last year as well, her and her daughter. I’d have hope that you wouldn’t regret making these ladies’ acquaintance. After all, they’re a family. The countess is far from young but she’s first of all a countess, then a lady, the daughter ditto.
And it makes sense for you to go, since I can’t be sure that the family’s staying in the same place this year (however, they’ve been coming there for several years, and Perruchot must know their address in town). Perhaps I’m deluding myself — but I can’t help thinking of them, and perhaps it will be a pleasure for them and for you too, if you meet them. Listen — I’ll do all I can to send you some new drawings for Dordrecht.
This week I’ve done two still lifes.
A blue enamelled tin coffee-pot, a royal blue and gold cup (on the left), a pale blue and white chequered milk jug, a cup — on the right — white, with blue and orange designs, on a yellow grey earthenware plate, a blue barbotine or majolica jug with red, green, brown designs, and lastly 2 oranges and 3 lemons; the table is covered with a blue cloth, the background is yellow green, making 6 different blues and 4 or 5 yellows and oranges.
The other still life is the majolica jug with wild flowers.
I thank you very much for your letter and for the 50-franc note. I hope the crate will reach you in the next few days. The next time I think I’ll take the canvases off the stretching frames and send them rolled, by fast service. I think you’ll soon make friends with this Dane — he doesn’t do much but — he has intelligence and a good heart, and he probably started painting not long ago. Take him out a bit one Sunday to get to know him.
For myself, I feel infinitely better, my blood is circulating well, and my stomach’s digesting. I’ve found very, very good food now, which had an immediate effect on me.
Have you seen Gruby’s face when he pinches his lips tight and says ‘No women’? It would make a really good Degas, that face, like that. But there’s nothing to be said against it, because when you have to work all day long with your brain, calculating, thinking, planning business, that’s quite enough in itself for your nerves. So go off now and visit women in the world of artists and suchlike, you’ll see you’ll succeed — really. You’ll see it’ll work out like that and you won’t lose much, will you?
I still haven’t been able to make a deal with the furniture dealer, I’ve seen a bed but it’s dearer than I thought. I feel the need to get more work done before spending more on furniture.
My lodgings cost me 1 franc a night. I’ve bought more linen and colours as well. I’ve bought some very strong linen.
Just as my blood is returning to normal, so the idea of succeeding is returning to me too. I shouldn’t be too surprised if your illness was also a reaction to this dreadful winter, which lasted an age. And then it will go the same way as with me; take as much spring air as possible, go to bed very early because you’ll need to sleep; and then food, lots of fresh vegetables and no bad wine or bad liquor. And very few women and a great deal of patience. If it doesn’t clear up at once that doesn’t matter. And now Gruby will give you a heavy meat diet over there. Here, for myself, I couldn’t take very much, and it’s not necessary here. It’s just my stupefaction that’s going away, I don’t feel as much need to amuse myself, I’m less at the mercy of my passions and I can work more calmly, I could be alone without being bored. I came out of it feeling a little older, but no sadder. I wouldn’t believe you if in your next letter you told me there was nothing wrong with you any more; it’s perhaps a more serious change and I shouldn’t be surprised if, during the time it will take you to recover, you had some dejection. There is and there remains and it always comes back at times, in the midst of the artistic life, a yearning for — real life — ideal and not attainable.

And we sometimes lack the desire to throw ourselves head first into art again and to build ourselves up for that. We know we’re cab-horses and that it’ll be the same cab we’re going to be harnessed to again. And so we don’t feel like doing it and we’d prefer to live in a meadow with a sun, a river, the company of other horses who are also free, and the act of generation. And perhaps in the final account your heart condition comes partly from there; it wouldn’t greatly surprise me. We no longer rebel against things, we’re not resigned either — we’re ill and it’s not going to get any better — and we can’t do anything specific about it. I don’t know who called this condition being struck by death and immortality. The cab we drag along must be of use to people we don’t know. But you see, if we believe in the new art, in the artists of the future, our presentiment doesn’t deceive us. When good père Corot said a few days before he died: last night I saw in my dreams landscapes with entirely pink skies, well, didn’t they come, those pink skies, and yellow and green into the bargain, in Impressionist landscapes? All this is to say there are things one senses in the future and that really come about.
And we, who, I’m inclined to believe, are by no means so close to dying, nevertheless feel the thing is bigger than us and longer-lasting than our lives.
We don’t feel we’re dying, but we feel the reality of the fact that we’re not much, and that to be a link in the chain of artists we pay a steep price in health, youth, freedom, which we don’t enjoy at all, any more than the cab-horse that pulls a carriage full of people who, unlike him, are going out to enjoy the springtime. Well then — what I wish you as well as myself is to succeed in recovering our health, because we’ll need it. That Hope of Puvis de Chavannes is such a reality. There’s an art in the future and it will surely be so beautiful and so young that, really, if at present we leave it our own youth, we can only gain in tranquillity. Perhaps it’s too silly to write all this, but it’s what I felt; it seemed that like me, you suffered to see your youth going up in — smoke — but if it comes back and appears in what we do, there’s nothing lost, and the power to work is a second youth. So be serious about getting better, because we’ll need our health. I shake your hand firmly, and Koning’s too.
Ever yours,