Vincent van Gogh - Street in Saintes-Maries 1888

Street in Saintes-Maries 1888
Street in Saintes-Maries
Oil on canvas 38.3 x 46.1 cm. Arles: early June, 1888
Private collection

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, on or about Wednesday, 2 September 1885.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and 150 francs enclosed. I also received the two new Lhermittes today. He’s a master of the figure. He’s able to do what he likes with it — conceiving the whole neither from the colour nor from the local tone, but rather proceeding from the light — as Rembrandt did — there’s something astonishingly masterly in everything he does — in modelling, above all things, he utterly satisfies the demands of honesty.
A great deal is said about — Poussin. Bracquemond talks about him, too. The French call Poussin their greatest ever painter among the old masters. Well it’s certain that what’s said about Poussin, whom I know so very little about, I find in Lhermitte and in Millet. But with this distinction, that it seems to me Poussin is the original grain, the others are the full ear. For my part, then, I rate today’s superior.

This last fortnight I’ve had a great deal of trouble with the reverend gentlemen of the priesthood, who gave me to understand — of course with the best of intentions and, no less than others, believing that it was their duty to interfere — who gave me to understand that I shouldn’t be too familiar with people beneath my station — who, having spoken to me in those terms, spoke in a very different tone to the ‘people of lower station’, that’s to say with threats that they mustn’t allow themselves to be painted. This time I simply went straight to the burgomaster and told him exactly what had happened, and pointed out that this was none of the priests’ business and that they should stick to their own province of more abstract things. In any event, I’m not encountering any more opposition for the time being, and I think it quite possible that that’s how it will remain. A girl I’d often painted was having a child and they thought it was mine, although it wasn’t me. However, knowing the facts of the matter from the girl herself and it being a case in which a member of the priest’s congregation in Nuenen had behaved extremely badly, they can’t get their teeth into me, at least not this time. But you see that it isn’t easy to paint people at home and draw them as they go about their business. Anyway — they won’t easily win in this case, and this winter I do hope to keep the very same models, who are of the old Brabant stock through and through.
Even so, I have a few more new drawings.
But now, in the last few days, I could not get anyone in the fields. Fortunately for me, the priest isn’t yet, but is nonetheless beginning to become, quite unpopular. It’s a bad business, though, and if it were to continue I’d probably move. You’ll ask what’s the point of being a disagreeable person — sometimes you have to be. If I’d discussed it meekly they’d have ground me down without mercy. And when they hinder me in my work, sometimes the only way I know is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The priest went so far as to promise the people money if they didn’t allow themselves to be painted — however, the people replied very pertly that they’d rather earn it from me than go cap in hand to him. But you see, they only do it for the sake of earning money and I don’t get anything done for nothing around here.
You ask me whether Rappard has ever sold anything. I know he’s flusher at present than before, that for a long time, for instance, he had a nude model day after day, that for the purposes of a painting of a brickworks he’s now rented a small house actually on the spot and altered it so that he had light from above — I know that he’s been on another trip through Drenthe and that he’s also going to Terschelling. That all of this is pretty expensive, and the money for it has to come from somewhere. That although he may have money of his own, he must be earning as well, because otherwise he couldn’t do what he’s doing. It may be that his family is buying or friends, that’s possible, but at any rate somebody must be.
But this evening I’m much too occupied with Lhermitte’s drawings to go on writing any more about other things.
When I think about Millet or about Lhermitte — then — I find modern art as great — as Michelangelo and Rembrandt — the old infinite, the new infinite too — the old genius, the new genius. Perhaps someone like Chenavard doesn’t see it like this — but for my part I’m convinced — that in this regard one can believe in the present.
The fact that I have a definite belief as regards art also means that I know what I want to get in my own work, and that I’ll try to get it even if I go under in the attempt. Regards.
Yours truly,