From the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France:
This picture was painted during the artist's most frenetic creative period, a few weeks before his tragic death. Van Gogh had left Provence in May 1890, at the end of his voluntary stay at the asylum in Saint-Rémy. He moved to Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris. On 10 June, he wrote to his brother Theo that "he was doing two studies of houses out in the countryside". Corot, Daubigny, Pissarro and Cézanne had already evoked the peaceful charm of Auvers. Van Gogh would transform it into a volcanic land where the houses seem to have been twisted by an earthquake.
Here the painter subjects the landscape to a veritable transmutation driven by psychic forces. The peaceful thatched cottages, which can still be seen in old photographs, seem to have been lifted by some powerful telluric force that has dilated them. The wild, swirling design makes the roof undulate, sends the tree branches up in spirals, transforms the clouds into arabesques... Moreover, the image is worked in thick impasto with real furrows gouged into the paint.
It is clear that this artist is not overwhelmed as the Romantics were by the awe-inspiring landscape. On the contrary, it is he who torments and inflames the lowliest hovel and the smallest cypress tree. Just as in Starry Night (New York, MoMA) from 1889, all the elements in the landscape unite in distorting their contours and give the whole scene a supernatural air.
To Anna van Gogh-Carbentus. Auvers-sur-Oise, Thursday, 5 June 1890.
Thank you very much for your last letter, which I haven’t answered yet. Wil told me that you’d been to Nuenen again, which I can understand so very well, and am already longing to hear from you how you found things there and visited old friends. Time passes quickly, although some days drag. And it was with much interest that I heard that Wil’s been working in the Walloon hospital. I didn’t actually intend to go back to Paris again; I would have stayed there another year had it not been that the last time I wasn’t well I definitely had to attribute it in part to the effect that other people’s illness had on me. Why I decided that it was time to change surroundings, if I wanted to preserve my capacity for work, such as it is, and what remains to me of common sense. I wrote that to Dr Peyron this very day. I’d had words with him about it, but we still parted on good terms, and he’d asked Theo for news of me. I was very fond of him, and for his part he made a distinction to my advantage between me and others of his patients.
And it’s the case that if I ever wanted to go back it would be as if I were with friends.
But the pleasure of seeing Theo again and meeting Jo, who seems to me sensible and warm-hearted and uncomplicated, and my new little namesake, and further to be back among painters and immersed again in all the conflict and discussion and above all work in the painters’ little world of their own, all this distraction has a favourable effect, it seems to me, in so far as the symptoms of the malady (which are like its thermometer) have disappeared altogether recently — although I’ve learned that one may not make too much of that.
The doctor here has been very kind to me; I can go to his home as often as I like, and he’s very well informed about what’s going on among painters these days. He’s very nervous himself; most probably that hasn’t improved since his wife’s death. He has two children, a girl of 19 and a boy of 16. He tells me that in my case working is still the best way to keep on top of it.
Well, in the last fortnight or 3 weeks that I was in St-Rémy I worked from early in the morning until the evening without stopping. And only stayed in Paris for a few days, and got started again straightaway here.
Theo was waiting for me at the station, and my first impression was that he looked paler than when I left. But talking to him and seeing how he was at home, I was encouraged — although he was coughing — but it really is true that he has not got worse during that time. So even if it were to remain the same, I would almost dare believe that this might already be counted as something gained. And next year he’ll get stronger rather than weaker. It’s a matter of patience, his constitution and the circumstances of his life. I heard some details about Cor from them. Give him my warmest regards when you write and tell him that I’m back again. I’d write to him, but it’s such a very different profession, his and mine.
Theo’s holidays are approaching and so you’ll be seeing them again quite soon. They’re also planning to come here for a couple of days, because we only saw each other briefly and hurriedly.
It’s cripplingly expensive in the village here, but Gachet, the doctor, tells me it’s just the same in all the villages around here, and he’s really feeling the pinch himself compared with before. And to start with I need to stay close to a doctor whom I know. And I can pay him in paintings, and I wouldn’t be able to do that with somebody else, should something happened so that I needed his help.
Well, I’ll say goodbye now because I have to go out. Hoping that you and Wil will receive this in good health, and embraced in thought.