To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 26 August 1888.
My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your letter and for the 50-franc note it contained. Certainly, it isn’t impossible that our sister will come later and live with us. It’s a good sign as far as her taste goes that she likes sculpture; that really did please me.
Painting as it is now promises to become more subtle — more music and less sculpture — in fact, it promises colour. As long as it keeps this promise.
The sunflowers are progressing; there’s a new bouquet of 14 flowers on a green-yellow background, so it’s exactly the same effect — but in larger format, no. 30 canvas — as a still life of quinces and lemons that you already have, but in the sunflowers the painting is much simpler.
Do you remember that one day at the Hôtel Drouot we saw a bouquet of peonies by Manet? Pink flowers, very green leaves, painted in thick impasto and not glazed, like Jeannin’s. Standing out against a simple white background, I believe. Now there’s something that was really healthy.
As for stippling, making halos or other things, I find that a real discovery, but it can already be foreseen that this technique won’t become a universal dogma any more than another. Another reason why ,Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, Signac’s landscapes with coarse stippling, Anquetin’s boat, will in time become even more personal, even more original.
As far as my clothes are concerned, they were certainly starting to suffer — but only last week I bought a black velvet jacket of quite good quality for 20 francs, and a new hat, so that’s not at all urgent.
But I consulted this postman whom I painted, who has very often set up his little household and dismantled it again, moving house for roughly the price of the indispensable pieces of furniture, and he says that here you can’t get a good bed that will last, for less than 150 francs, if you want to have something solid, of course.
However, that hardly upsets the calculation that by saving the money for lodgings, at the end of a year you find you own furniture without having spent any more during the year. And as soon as I’m able, I won’t hesitate to do that.
If we were to refrain from setting ourselves up like that, Gauguin and I could drag on from year to year in small lodgings where one can’t fail to become dull-witted. I’m more or less that way already, because it goes back a long, long way. And at present that has even ceased to be a source of pain, and perhaps at first I won’t feel at home in my own home. Never mind. However, let’s not forget Bouvard et Pécuchet, let’s not forget À vau l’eau, because all of that is very, very profoundly true. Au bonheur des dames and Bel-ami, that’s no less true, however. It’s ways of seeing things — now, with the first one, we’re less in danger of behaving like Don Quixote; it’s possible, and with the last idea we go the whole hog.
Now I have the old peasant again this week.
Ah — MacKnight has cleared off at last — I don’t regret it in the least. His pal the Belgian didn’t seem greatly saddened by it either when he came yesterday to tell me about it, and we spent the evening together. He’s very reasonable in his ideas, and knows what he wants, at least. At the moment he’s doing timid Impressionism, but very much by the rules, very exact. And I told him that it was the best thing he could do, although he would lose 2 years on it perhaps, delaying his originality, but after all, I told him, it’s as necessary now to pass through Impressionism properly as it once was to go through a Paris studio. He accepted that absolutely in its entirety, precisely because that way you shock nobody, and you can’t later be accused of not being abreast of things. He’s thinking seriously of going to paint the coal-miners in the Borinage, and if he’s still here when Gauguin comes, not impossible then that we’ll ask him to do for us in the north what we’d do for him in the south — do our utmost to enable him to live more cheaply than on his own. More soon.