To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 28 May 1888.
My dear Theo,
I was very pleased to receive this morning’s letter from you; I thank you very much for the 100-franc note that was included in it.
And am glad in the end that the crate has arrived.
If you think the Souvenir de Mauve is among those that are passable — then you should add it to the next Hague consignment, with a simple all-white frame. If you found another study among them that seemed to you more suitable for Tersteeg, you should put it in without a dedication, and you should keep the one with the dedication to him, which you could then scratch out. Because it’s better to give him one without any sort of dedication. He can then claim not to have understood that it was a gift for him, and send it back without saying anything if he would rather not have something of mine.
I’ll certainly have to give him one myself, to prove that I have some enthusiasm for the cause and that I appreciate his having taken it in hand — but in short, do as it turns out, don’t send any, send that one with or without a dedication, send another one, it makes no difference to me whatsoever. Only as Mauve and he were so close, in the emotion of the moment it seemed to me a very simple thing to do something for Tersteeg at the same time as I was doing a souvenir of Mauve. And I had scarcely another thought but that. So that’s enough.
The orchard study you mention — where there’s a lot of stippling — is half of the main subject of the decoration. The other half is the study in the same format, without a stretching frame.
And those two together would give an idea of how orchards are laid out here. But I myself thought one study too feeble, the other too harsh, both of them failures. The changeable weather certainly had something to do with it too, and I was like the Russian who tried to swallow up too much ground in a day’s march.
I’m very curious to see the results of the Gruby system — in the long run, after, let’s say, a year’s application. It will be wise to show up sometimes — to chat with him — and — to extract his real attention, a real, big effort on his part, as Bonger in the end gained his friendship and deeper interest. Then I’d feel easier on your account. I couldn’t feel that way now. The proposal by those gentlemen to have you make short trips overseas is wearing you out.
And I blame myself for wearing you out like this — me — with my constant needs for money.
It seems to me that what those gentlemen are demanding of you could, however, be reasonable if they first agreed to give you a year’s leave (on full salary) to regain your health. You’d devote that year to going to see all the Impressionists and connoisseurs of the Impressionists at their homes again. That would still be working in the interests of Boussod & Co. After that you’d go off with your blood and your nerves more settled, and fit to do new business over there.
But to go and pull the chestnuts out of the fire for those gentlemen in the state you’re in now is to spend a year that will wear you out.
And that does nobody any good.
My dear brother — the Muslim idea that death only comes when it must come — let’s just see about that.
To me, it seems that we haven’t any proof of such a direct guidance from above.
On the contrary, it seems to me that it’s been proved that good hygiene may not only prolong life but above all, can make it more serene — its waters more limpid — while poor hygiene not only muddies life’s current, but even more than that, lack of hygiene may put an end to life before time.
Have I not myself seen a fine figure of a man die before my very eyes for want of an intelligent doctor — he was so calm and tranquil through all of that, only he kept saying — ‘if I had another doctor’, and he died shrugging his shoulders in a way I’ll never forget. Would you like me to go to America with you? It would be only right that those gentlemen paid my fare.
There are many things that wouldn’t matter to me one way or the other, but not that — that you didn’t first build up your health properly.
Now I think you need to immerse yourself again even more, both in nature and among artists.
And would prefer to see you independent of the Goupils and working on your own account with the Impressionists, to this alternative of a life of travelling with the expensive paintings that belong to those gentlemen. When our uncle was an associate of theirs, in some years he managed to be very well paid — but just count what it cost him.
Now you, your lungs are good — but but but — — — a year of Gruby first, and then you’ll see the danger you’re in now.
At present you’ve had over 10 years of Paris, which is more than is good. You’ll tell me that Detaille, for example, has had perhaps thirty years of Paris and that he holds himself as straight as a ramrod.
Good, do the same if you have comparable capacities. I’m not against it, and our family has a tenacious grip on life.
Everything I could wish to say is summed up in this: if those gentlemen make you pull the chestnuts out of the fire over such distances, see that you’re well paid, or refuse, and throw yourself into the Impressionists, doing less business from the point of view of the sums handled, but living closer to nature.
For myself, I’m definitely recovering, and since the past month my stomach has improved enormously. I still suffer from unaccountable, involuntary feelings, or a stupor on some days, but it’s getting calmer.
I plan to make an excursion to Saintes-Maries, to see the Mediterranean at last.
Our two sisters will doubtless be quite happy to come to Paris and it won’t do them any harm, that’s quite certain. I’d like everybody to come here to the south too.
I’m always blaming myself for the fact that my painting isn’t worth what it costs.
We must work nevertheless — but you should know that if circumstances ever made it desirable for me to involve myself more in business, as long as it took a burden off you, I’d do it with no regrets.
Mourier will give you two more pen drawings.
Do you know what we should do with these drawings? Albums of 6 or 10 or 12, like the albums of original Japanese drawings.
I’m very keen to make such an album for Gauguin and one for Bernard. Because the drawings will become better than that.
I bought some colours here today, and canvases, because depending on the weather I’ll have to go onto the attack. Another reason why there’s nothing urgent in the order for colours, except the ten large tubes of white.
It’s funny that one evening recently at Montmajour I saw a red sunset that sent its rays into the trunks and foliage of pines rooted in a mass of rocks, colouring the trunks and foliage a fiery orange while other pines in the further distance stood out in Prussian blue against a soft blue-green sky — cerulean. So it’s the effect of that Claude Monet. It was superb. The white sand and the seams of white rocks under the trees took on blue tints. What I’d like to do is the panorama of which you have the first drawings — it’s so wide — and it doesn’t fade into grey, it stays green to the last line — and that’s blue, the range of hills. Thunderstorm and rain today, which will do good anyway. If Koning prefers a painted study, do whatever turns out.
Think carefully before you agree to everything the Goupils demand, and if that brought a change for me, really, now my health’s improving I could work anywhere, and don’t have an idée fixe about work, if it comes to that. Handshake to you and to Koning.
I think that for the white orchard we need a cold and raw white frame.
You should know that I’d rather give up my painting than see you wear yourself out to earn money. We need it of course, but have we reached the point where we have to go and look for it so far away?
You see so clearly that ‘preparing oneself for death’, a Christian idea — (fortunately for him Christ himself didn’t share it at all, it seems to me — he who loved the people and things of this earth, more than is wise according to those who see him as nothing more than a crackpot), if — you see so clearly that preparing oneself for death is a thing — to leave there for what it is — don’t you also see that — devotion — living for others — is a mistake if it’s complicated by suicide — since in that case one truly makes murderers of one’s friends.
So if you’ve reached the point where you have to make trips like that without ever having any peace and quiet, truly that takes away my appetite to recover my own tranquillity.
And if you agree to these proposals, well and good — but then ask those Goupils to take me on again at my previous salary and take me with you on these trips. People are worth more than things and for me, the more trouble I go to over paintings the more paintings as such leave me cold. The reason I try to make them is to be among artists. You’ll understand — it would grieve me to drive you to earn money, let’s rather stay together in any case — where there’s a will there’s a way, and I feel you’ll cure yourself for a good many years if you cure yourself now. But don’t wear yourself out now, either for me or for others. You know the portrait of Six as an old man, a man who is leaving, his glove in his hand, well, live until you leave like that, that’s how I see you, married, with a solid position in Paris. You’ll play a good role that way. Think it over and consult Gruby before accepting such a proposal.