Vincent van Gogh - Self-Portrait 1888

Self-Portrait 1888
Oil on canvas 46.0 x 38.0 cm. Arles: November-December, 1888
Private collection

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Saturday, 23 June 1888.
My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your letter and the 50-franc note it contained. I didn’t know that the article on Claude Monet was by the same hand as the one on Bismarck. It does you good to read things like that, more than the majority of articles by the Decadents, with their fondness for saying the most banal things in strangely convoluted ways.
I’m really unhappy with what I’ve done these past few days, because it’s very ugly. And yet the figure interests me much more than landscape.
I’ll send you a drawing of the Zouave today all the same.
To do studies of figures, to attempt them and to learn would still after all be the shortest route for me to do something of value.
Bernard’s in the same position. Today he sends me a croquis of a brothel that I’m sending you enclosed herewith to pin up next to the acrobats by him that you have.
On the back of the drawing there’s a poem with very much the same tone as the drawing, it’s likely that he has a more finished painted study of it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to make an exchange with me for the head of a Zouave, although that one’s very ugly. But as I wouldn’t wish to deprive him of saleable studies I wouldn’t suggest an exchange unless at the same time we could buy something from him for a small sum.
It’s still raining a lot here, which does a lot of damage to the wheat, which is still standing.
But luckily I had a model these past few days.

I’ll need a book, A B C D du dessin by A. Cassagne. I requested it at the bookshop here, and after waiting a fortnight they tell me they need the name of the publisher, which I don’t know. If you could send me it I’d be very pleased. The negligence, the lazy carelessness of people here is indescribable and one is really put out by the least things. That’s the reason I’ll have to go to Marseille one of these days, to be able to get what I need from over there.
The cost of carriage from Paris isn’t always pleasant, and makes things dearer, but there you are, to go to Marseille specially, that makes them even dearer. It quite often makes me feel sad that painting’s like a bad mistress one might have, who’s always spending, spending and it’s never enough, and to say to myself that even if there happens to be a passable study from time to time, it would be much less expensive to buy them from others.
The rest, the hope of doing better, is also a bit of a fata Morgana.
Well, there’s not much remedy for all that, unless some day or other one could enter into an association with a good worker and produce more together.
As for the publisher of Cassagne’s book — you probably have his treatise on perspective, and the address should be in it.
Besides, they have these books at Latouche’s, and in rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, at the place of that man who always has works by Allongé.
It’s very good that Claude Monet found a way of making these ten pictures between February and May.
To work quickly isn’t to work less seriously, it depends on the confidence and experience one has.
In the same way, Jules Gérard the lion-hunter says in his book that at the beginning young lions have a lot of trouble killing a horse or an ox, but old lions kill with a single well-judged strike from a claw or a tooth, and have an amazing sureness for that job. I don’t find the southern gaiety here that Daudet talks about so much, on the contrary, an insipid affectation, a sordid carelessness, but that doesn’t mean that the region isn’t beautiful.
All the same, nature here must be very different from Bordighera, Hyères, Genoa, Antibes, where there’s less mistral, where the mountains give a quite different character. Here — except for a more intense colour, it reminds one of Holland, it’s all flat — only one thinks more of the Holland of Ruisdael and Hobbema and Ostade rather than the Holland of today.
What amazes me is how few flowers there are, so no cornflowers in the wheatfields, seldom any poppies.
What was the cost of the carriage for the crate of pictures recently? The impastos on some canvases are dry on the surface but not enough to roll them up; if it wasn’t for that I’d send them.
MacKnight has a friend with him now, I never see any of his work, yesterday I showed him and his friend four or five new studies, which they looked at in icy silence. I think for their part they’re preparing a big surprise, which I hope will be a good one. Because it would please me greatly to see that they’d found a direction. Handshake to you and to Mourier if, that is, he hasn’t yet moved into the studio like Gérôme’s.
Ever yours,