To Theo van Gogh. Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, on or about Sunday, 3 or Monday, 4 June 1888.
My dear Theo,
I’m writing to you from Saintes-Maries on the Mediterranean at last — the Mediterranean — has a colour like mackerel, in other words, changing — you don’t always know if it’s green or purple — you don’t always know if it’s blue — because a second later, its changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue.
It’s a funny thing, the family — quite unintentionally, and despite myself, I’ve often thought here from time to time of our uncle the seaman, who has certainly seen the shores of this sea many times.
I’ve brought three canvases and I’ve covered them — two seascapes — a view of the village — and some drawings which I’ll send you by post when I get back to Arles tomorrow. I board and eat for 4 francs a day — they started by asking 6.
As soon as I can I’ll probably come back to do some more studies here.
The beach here is sandy, no cliffs or rocks — like Holland — without the dunes and with more blue.
You eat better fried fish here than beside the Seine — only there isn’t fish to eat every day, as the fishermen go off to sell in Marseille. But when there is some it’s darned good. If there isn’t any — the butcher’s is no more appetizing than Monsieur Gérôme’s fellah butcher’s — if there’s no fish it’s rather hard to find something to eat here, it seems to me.
I don’t believe there are 100 houses in this village or town.
The main building after the old church, an ancient fortress, is the barracks. And what houses at that — like those on our Drenthe heaths and peat bogs, you’ll see some specimens in the drawings.
I have to leave my three painted studies here, because of course they aren’t dry enough to subject them to 5 hours’ jolting in a carriage with impunity.
But I expect to come back here.
Next week I’d like to go to Tarascon to do two or three studies.
If you haven’t already written I’ll expect your letter in Arles, of course.
A very handsome gendarme came to interview me here. And the priest too — people can’t be too bad here, because even the priest seemed almost like a decent fellow.
Next month will be the public bathing season.
Number of bathers varies from 20 to 50.
I’m staying till tomorrow afternoon, have still got some drawings to do. I took a walk along the seashore one night, on the deserted beach. It wasn’t cheerful, but not sad either, it was — beautiful.
The sky, a deep blue, was flecked with clouds of a deeper blue than primary blue, an intense cobalt, and with others that were a lighter blue — like the blue whiteness of milky ways. Against the blue background stars twinkled, bright, greenish, white, light pink — brighter, more glittering, more like precious stones than at home — even in Paris. So it seems fair to talk about opals, emeralds, lapis, rubies, sapphires. The sea a very deep ultramarine — the beach a mauvish and pale reddish shade, it seemed to me — with bushes. In addition to half-sheet drawings I have a large drawing, the pendant of the last one.
More soon, I hope. Handshake.