From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
In October 1889 Van Gogh resumed painting of a fever ward titled Ward in the Hospital in Arles. The large study had been unattended for a while and Van Gogh's interest was sparked when he read an article regarding Dostoevsky's book "Souvenirs de la maison des morts" ("Memories of the House of the Dead").
Van Gogh described the painting to his sister Wil, "In the foreground a big black stove around which some grey and black forms of patients and then behind the very long ward paved in red with the two rows of white beds, the partitions white, but a lilac- or green-white, and the windows with pink curtains, with green curtains, and in the background two figures of nuns in black and white. The ceiling is violet with large beams."
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 9 September 1888.
My dear Theo,
I’ve just put the croquis of the new painting, the ‘Night café’, in the post — as well as another one that I did some time ago. I’ll perhaps end up making some Japanese prints. Now yesterday I worked at furnishing the house. Just as the postman and his wife told me, the two beds, if you want something sturdy, will come to 150 francs each. I found that everything they’d told me about prices was true. As a result I had to change tack, and this is what I did: I bought one bed in walnut and another in deal, which will be mine, and which I’ll paint later.
Then I bought linen for one of the beds, and I bought two palliasses. If Gauguin or somebody else were to come, there you are, his bed will be made in a minute. From the start, I wanted to arrange the house not just for myself but in such a way as to be able to put somebody up.
Naturally, that ate up most of my money.
With what was left, I bought 12 chairs, a mirror, and some small indispensable things. Which in short means that next week I’ll be able to go and live there.
For putting somebody up, there’ll be the prettiest room upstairs, which I’ll try to make as nice as possible, like a woman’s boudoir, really artistic. Then there’ll be my own bedroom, which I’d like to be exceedingly simple, but the furniture square and broad.
The bed, the chairs, table, all in deal. Downstairs, the studio and another room, also a studio, but a kitchen at the same time.
One of these days you’ll see a painting of the little house itself, in full sunshine or else with the window lit and the starry sky.
Then you’ll be able to believe you own your country house here in Arles. Because I myself am enthusiastic about the idea of arranging it in such a way that you’ll like it, and that it’ll be a studio in a style absolutely meant to be that way. Let’s say that in a year you come to spend a holiday here and in Marseille, it will be ready then — and the way I envisage it, the house will be just full of paintings from top to bottom.
The room where you’ll stay then, or which will be Gauguin’s if Gauguin comes, will have a decoration of large yellow sunflowers on its white walls.
Opening the window in the morning, you see the greenery in the gardens and the rising sun and the entrance of the town.
But you’ll see these big paintings of bouquets of 12, 14 sunflowers stuffed into this tiny little boudoir with a pretty bed and everything else elegant. It won’t be commonplace. And the studio — the red floor-tiles, the white walls and ceiling, the rustic chairs, the deal table, with, I hope, decoration of portraits. That will have character à la Daumier — and it won’t, I dare predict, be commonplace.
Now I’m going to ask you to look for some Daumier lithographs for the studio, and some Japanese prints, but it’s not at all urgent, and only when you find duplicates of them. And some Delacroixs too, ordinary lithographs by modern artists.
It’s not the least little bit urgent, but I have my idea. I really want to make of it — an artists’ house but not precious, on the contrary, nothing precious, but everything from the chair to the painting having character.
So for the beds I bought local beds, two wide double beds, instead of iron beds. It gives a look of solidity, durability, calm, and if it takes a bit more bed-linen, that’s too bad, but it must have character.
Most fortunately I have a charwoman who’s very loyal; without that I wouldn’t dare begin the business of living in my own place. She’s quite old and has a mixed bunch of kids, and she keeps my tiles nice and red and clean.
I wouldn’t be able to explain to you how pleased I am to find a big, serious job this way. Because I hope it’ll be a true decoration that I’m going to undertake there.
So, as I’ve already told you, I’m going to paint my own bed, there’ll be 3 subjects. Perhaps a naked woman, I haven’t decided, perhaps a cradle with a child; I don’t know, but I’ll take my time.
I now no longer feel any hesitation about staying here, because ideas for work are coming to me in abundance. I now plan to buy some article for the house every month. And with patience, the house will be worth something for the furniture and the decorations.
I must warn you that very shortly I’ll need a big order for colours for the autumn, which I believe is going to be absolutely marvellous. And on reflection, I’ll send you the order enclosed herewith. In my painting of the night café I’ve tried to express the idea that the café is a place where you can ruin yourself, go mad, commit crimes. Anyway, I tried with contrasts of delicate pink and blood-red and wine-red. Soft Louis XV and Veronese green contrasting with yellow greens and hard blue greens.
All of that in an ambience of a hellish furnace, in pale sulphur.
To express something of the power of the dark corners of a grog-shop.
And yet with the appearance of Japanese gaiety and Tartarin’s good nature.
But what would Mr Tersteeg say about this painting? He who, looking at a Sisley — Sisley, the most tactful and sensitive of the Impressionists — had already said: ‘I can’t stop myself thinking that the artist who painted that was a little tipsy’. Looking at my painting, then, he’d say that it’s a full-blown case of delirium tremens.
I find absolutely nothing to object to what you speak of, to exhibit sometime at the Revue Indépendante, as long as I’m not a cause of obstruction for the others who usually exhibit there. Only we’d then have to tell them that I’d like to reserve a second exhibition for myself, after this first one of what are in fact studies.
Then next year I’d give them the decoration of the house to exhibit, when there would be an ensemble. Not that I insist, but it’s so that the studies shouldn’t be confused with compositions, and to say beforehand that the first exhibition would be one of studies.
Because there’s still hardly more than the sower and the night café that are attempts at composed paintings.
As I write, the little peasant who looks like a caricature of our father is just coming into the café.
The resemblance is amazing, all the same. The receding profile and the weariness and the ill-defined mouth, especially. It continues to seem a pity to me that I haven’t been able to do him.
I’m adding to this letter the order for colours, which isn’t exactly urgent. Only I’m so full of plans, and then the autumn promises so many superb subjects that I simply don’t know if I’m going to start 5 or 10 canvases.
It’ll be the same thing as in the spring, with the orchards in blossom, the subjects will be innumerable. If you gave père Tanguy the coarser paint, he’d probably do that well. His other fine colours are really inferior, especially for the blues.
I hope, when preparing the next consignment, to gain a little in quality.
I’m doing comparatively less, and coming back to it longer. I’ve kept back 50 francs for the week; thus there has already been 250 for the furniture. And I’ll recoup them anyway, doing it this way. And from today you can say to yourself that you have a sort of country house, unfortunately a bit far away. But it would cease to be very, very far if we had a permanent exhibition in Marseille. We’ll see that in a year, perhaps. Handshake and