To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Sunday, 4 May 1890.
My dear brother,
Thanks for your kind letter and for the portrait of Jo, which is very pretty and is very successful as a pose. Well, I’ll be very simple and as practical as possible in my reply. First, I categorically reject what you say that I should be accompanied throughout the journey. Once on the train I no longer run any risk, I’m not one of those who are dangerous – even supposing I have a crisis, aren’t there other passengers in the carriage, and besides, don’t they know what to do in all the stations in such a case? You’re giving yourself worries here that weigh on me so heavily that it might directly discourage me.
I’ve just said the same thing to Mr Peyron, and I pointed out to him that crises like the one I’ve just had have always been followed by three or four months of complete calm. I wish to take advantage of this period to move – I want to move in any event, my desire to leave here is now absolute.
I don’t feel competent to judge the way they treat patients here, I don’t feel any desire to enter into the details – but please remember that I warned you around 6 months ago that if I was seized by a crisis of the same nature I’d wish to change asylums. And I’ve delayed too long already, having allowed an attack to go by in the meantime, I was then right in the middle of work, and I wanted to finish canvases in progress, otherwise I would no longer be here by now. Right, so I’m going to tell you that it seems to me that a fortnight at the most (a week, though, would please me more) should be enough to take the necessary steps to move. I shall have someone accompany me as far as Tarascon – even one or two stations further if you insist. Once I’ve arrived in Paris (I’ll send a telegram when I leave here) you would come and pick me up at the Gare de Lyon. Now it would seem preferable to me to go and see this doctor in the country as soon as possible, and we’d leave the luggage at the station.
So I would only stay at your place for let’s say 2 or 3 days, then I’d leave for this village. Where I would start off by lodging at the inn.
This, it seems to me, is what you could do in the next few days– without delay – write to our future friend, that doctor: ‘my brother would very much like to make your acquaintance, and as he would prefer to consult you before prolonging his stay in Paris, hopes that you will approve of his spending a few weeks in your village, where he will come to make some studies; he has complete confidence that he will reach an understanding with you, believing that with a return to the north his illness will abate, whereas by staying on in the south his condition would be in danger of becoming more acute.’
There, you could write to him like that, we’d send him a telegram the day after my arrival in Paris, or the day after that, and he’d probably wait for me at the station. The surroundings here are starting to weigh on me more than I could express – my word, I’ve waited patiently for over a year – I need air, I feel damaged by boredom and grief. Then work is pressing, I’d be wasting my time here. Why then, I ask you, do you fear accidents so much – it isn’t that that ought to frighten you, my word, since I’ve been here I’ve seen people fall over or lose their mind every day – what’s more serious is to try and take misfortune into account. I assure you that it’s already something to resign oneself to living under guard, even in the event of it being sympathetic, and to sacrifice one’s freedom, to stand outside society and to have only one’s work, without distraction. That has carved out wrinkles that won’t be rubbed off in a hurry. Now that it’s beginning to weigh too heavily upon me here, I think that it’s only right to put a stop to it.
So please write to Mr Peyron that he should let me leave, let’s say on the 15th at the latest. If I waited I would let the good moment of calm between two crises pass, and leaving now I’ll have the free time necessary to make the other doctor’s acquaintance. Then, if in a while from now the illness were to recur it would be foreseen, and according to how serious it was we could see if I can continue at liberty or if I must stick myself in an asylum for good. In the latter case – as I told you in my last letter I would go into an institution where the patients work in the fields and in the workshop. I think that even more than here I’d then find subjects for painting.
Consider, then, that the journey costs a lot, that it’s pointless and that I do have the right to change asylums if I please, it isn’t my absolute freedom that I’m demanding. I’ve tried to be patient up to this point, I haven’t done any harm to anyone, is it fair to have me accompanied like a dangerous animal? No thank you, I protest. If a crisis occurs, they know what to do in every station, and then I’d let them do it.
But I dare believe that my composure won’t desert me. I have so much distress at leaving like this, that the distress will be stronger than the madness, I’ll therefore have the necessary nerve, I dare believe. Mr Peyron says vague things, to free himself from responsibility he says, but that way we’d never, never get to the end of it, the thing would drag on and on, and in the end we’d get angry with each other.
As for me, my patience is at an end, at an end, my dear brother, I can’t go on, I must move, even if as a stopgap.
However, there really is a chance that the change will do me good – work is going well, I’ve done 2 canvases of the fresh grass in the park, one of which is extremely simple. Here’s a hasty croquis of it. The trunk of a pine tree violet pink, and then grass with white flowers and dandelions, a little rose bush and other tree-trunks in the background, in the uppermost part of the canvas. I’ll be out of doors there. I’m sure that the desire to work will devour me and make me insensible to everything else and in a good mood. And I’ll let myself go there, not without consideration but without dwelling on regrets for things that might have been.
They say that in painting one must seek nothing and hope for nothing but a good painting and a good talk and a good dinner as the height of happiness, not counting the less brilliant interludes. Perhaps it’s true, and why refuse to take what is possible, especially if by doing so one gives the illness the slip.
Good handshake to you and to Jo, I think I’m going to do a painting for myself after the subject of the portrait, it may not be a resemblance perhaps, but anyway I’ll try. More soon, I hope – and come on, spare me this forced travelling companion.