To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, on or about Sunday, 26 August 1888.
My dear sister,
If you’ll let me write to you in French, that will really make my letter easier for me.
You please me much more by being moved by sculpture than by painting — all the more so since Theo assures me that you also have a good eye for paintings. Naturally, that couldn’t yet be a settled taste, which will never waver, but intuition, instinct, is already a great deal, and precisely what everyone doesn’t always have.
But all the same, I’m very curious to know what effect the Luxembourg will have on you.
Is it true, as I think in moments when I’m in a good mood, that what is alive in art, and eternally alive, is first the painter and then the painting?
Well, what difference does that make — but if one sees people working it’s still something one doesn’t find under glass in museums.
Poor Miss Harriet in Guy de Maupassant, she was right, perhaps. But was the painter wrong to go with the farm-girl? Perhaps not.
In life there’s always a fate that’s very annoying. And many painters die or go mad from despair, or become paralyzed in their production because nobody loves them personally. Have you read Whitman’s American poems yet? Theo should have them, and I really urge you to read them, first because they’re really beautiful, and also, English people are talking about them a lot at the moment. He sees in the future, and even in the present, a world of health, of generous, frank carnal love — of friendship — of work, with the great starry firmament, something, in short, that one could only call God and eternity, put back in place above this world. They make you smile at first, they’re so candid, and then they make you think, for the same reason. The prayer of Christopher Columbus is very beautiful.
What do you say about Monticelli’s bouquet of flowers that’s at Theo’s, and about Prévost’s Spanish woman? There are two real paintings of the south.
I myself think about Monticelli a great deal down here. He was a strong man — a little, even very, cracked — dreaming of sunshine and love and gaiety, but always frustrated by poverty, a colourist’s extremely refined taste, a man of rare breeding, carrying on the best ancient traditions. He died in Marseille, rather sadly and probably after going through a real Gethsemane. Ah well, I myself am sure that I’ll carry him on here as if I were his son or his brother.
We were talking just now about a fate that seemed sad to us. But isn’t there another, delightful fate? And what is it to us if there is or isn’t a resurrection, when we see a living man rise up immediately in a dead man’s place? Taking up the same cause, carrying on the same work, living the same life, dying the same death. When friend Gauguin’s here, and we go to Marseille, I firmly intend to walk there on the Canebière, dressed exactly like him, as I’ve seen his portrait, with an enormous yellow hat, a black velvet jacket, white trousers, yellow gloves and a reed cane and with a great southern air.
And I’ll find Marseillais who knew him when he was alive, and if you’ve read in Tartarin what fên de brût is....... We’ll make quite a noise on that occasion. Monticelli is a painter who did the south all in yellow, all in orange, all in sulphur. Most painters, because they’re not colourists, properly speaking, don’t see these colours there, and declare that a painter who sees with other eyes than theirs is mad. (In the Luxembourg you’ll see Montenards that aren’t yellow, and I like them very much all the same. But it’s likely that Montenard would find what I do totally contemptible.) All that is to be expected, of course. So I’ve already prepared especially a painting all in yellow of sunflowers (14 flowers) in a yellow vase and against a yellow background (it’s yet another one, in addition to the previous one with 12 flowers against a blue-green background). And I expect one day to exhibit that one in Marseille. And you’ll see that there’ll be some Marseillais or other who will remember what Monticelli once said and did. Has Theo shown you the barbotine yet? It’s really fine. Enjoy yourself, I kiss you in thought.