Vincent van Gogh - Trunk of an Old Yew Tree 1888

Trunk of an Old Yew Tree 1888
Trunk of an Old Yew Tree
Oil on canvas 91.0 x 71.0 cm. Arles: late October, 1888
London: Helly Nahmad Gallery

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Emile Bernard. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 22 May 1888.
My dear Bernard,
I’ve just received your last letter – you’re quite right to see that those negresses were heart-rending – you’re quite right not to find it innocent.
I’ve just read a book — not beautiful and not well written, by the way — on the Marquesas Islands, but very heart-rending in its description of the extermination of an entire tribe of natives — cannibals in the sense that let’s say an individual was eaten once a month, and what of that?
The whites, very Christian, etc., to put an end to this barbarity? really not very savage...., could think of nothing better than to exterminate both the tribe of cannibal natives and the tribe with which the former was at war (in order to obtain the requisite edible prisoners of war on both sides). Then the two islands were annexed, and did they become dismal!!! Those tattooed races, those negroes, those Indians, everything, everything, everything disappears or is corrupted. And the frightful white man, with his bottle of alcohol, his wallet and his pox, when will we have seen enough of him! The frightful white man, with his hypocrisy, his greed and his sterility! And those savages were so gentle and so loving.

Ah, you do darned well to think of Gauguin – they’re high poetry, his negresses — and everything his hand makes has a sweet, heart-rending, astonishing character. People don’t understand him yet, and he suffers greatly from not selling, like other true poets.
My dear pal, I would have written to you sooner, only have had quite a few things on my hands; I’ve sent a first batch of studies to my brother is one, I’ve had trouble with my health is two, and three is that I’ve rented a house painted yellow outside, whitewashed inside, in the full sun (4 rooms).
With all that, new studies on the go. And in the evening I was often too numbed to write.
That’s why my reply was delayed.
Listen, the sonnet about the women of the boulevard has some good things, but it isn’t there yet — the end’s banal.
A ‘sublime’ woman, I don’t know what you mean by that, nor do you in this case.

‘Hunting among the clan of old and young
Those whom she’ll take to bed late at night’.

Something like that — it’s not characteristic, because

he women of our boulevard — le petit — usually sleep alone at night because they screw 5 or 6 times during the day or the evening and — late at night it’s that honourable carnivore, their pimp, who comes to collect them and take them home, yes, but he doesn’t sleep with them (only rarely). The worn-out and haggard woman usually goes to bed alone, and sleeps a leaden sleep. But with two or 3 lines redone, it’ll be there.
What have you painted now? I myself have done a still life with — a coffee pot in blue enamelled iron — a royal blue cup and saucer, a milk jug with pale cobalt and white checks, a cup with orange and blue designs on a white background, a blue majolica jug with green, brown, pink flowers and foliage, all of it on a blue tablecloth against a yellow background. With these pieces of crockery, 2 oranges and three lemons. It’s thus a variation of blues enlivened by a series of yellows ranging all the way to orange.
Then I have another still life, some lemons in a basket against a yellow background.
Then a view of Arles — of the town you see only a few red roofs and a tower, the rest’s hidden by the foliage of fig-trees, &c.
All that far off in the background and a narrow strip of blue sky above. The town is surrounded by vast meadows decked with innumerable buttercups — a yellow sea. These meadows are intersected in the foreground by a ditch full of purple irises. They cut the grass while I was painting, so it’s only a study and not a finished painting, which I intended to make of it. But what a subject — eh — that sea of yellow flowers with a line of purple irises, and in the background the neat little town of pretty women. Then two studies of roadsides — afterwards — done out in the mistral.
If you weren’t expecting my reply right away I’d make croquis. Courage, good luck, handshake. I’m worn out this evening.
I’ll write to you again one of these days, more at my ease.

P.S. The croquis of the woman in the last letter but one is really pretty.

My address:
Place Lamartine 2