From National Gallery of Canada:
Arriving in Paris in spring 1886, Van Gogh was exposed to Impressionist and New-Impressionist painting for the first time. He abandoned his dark, sombre palette, which he had used in the Netherlands, and began using bright colours. Among his early Parisian paintings are several still lifes of flowers which reveal, in their rich application of colour, the influence of Adolphe Monticelli, a contemporary painter from Marseilles whose work Van Gogh admired and collected.
To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Monday, 12 February 1883.
Although I wrote only yesterday, another word today after all, firstly to thank you for your letter and for the money.
But also because the symptom of ‘rather depressed’ in your patient worries me.
It may be my imagination, if so all the better, nothing would please me more, for if there’s no significant melancholy and it disappears of its own accord that is so much the better.
But if it persists and you see that something is wrong — and I for one think that’s the course it will take — be careful, for then the situation will be more serious and the only physician for that won’t be the doctor but you.
If the depression or anxiety persists, the cause, I fear, is that the patient — notwithstanding all the proofs of sincere loyalty, and precisely because of everything you’ve done for her — is tormented by the thought that sooner or later she’ll be parted from you.
We are brothers, are we not?, and friends — and we may say candidly what we think, and if I act indiscreetly by saying what I think, forgive me my indiscretion. But such cases can take — and very rapidly — a very sombre turn if one doesn’t act in good time. Especially as to morale, the patient is so weak and stressful and exhausted — though outwardly calm — that she’s now going through a crisis of the mind, much more serious in my view than any effect on the body. So if that small cloud of melancholy persists, if a je ne sais quoi stands in the way of the rest that’s absolutely necessary for recovery, if it turns out that she’s thinking of something that she doesn’t say aloud — then in my view there’s no doubt, precisely because of her weak and stressful condition, that she’s in mortal fear, I repeat mortal fear, over the question of whether you love her or not.
Has deep inside her a sea of love that seethes and is agitated and doesn’t express that precisely because she doubts whether you love her unless you tell her so, freely and frankly.
This inner turmoil can be so strong (even though the cloud of outward melancholy is terribly small and scarcely apparent to you, and even less so to strangers) — this turmoil can be so strong that recovery isn’t possible, and severe consequences are to be expected if she isn’t reassured on that point at all costs.
Now I know that, out of discretion, one doesn’t want to speak now, but only after the recovery is complete and she’s freely and completely herself.
Or doesn’t want to repeat oneself and thinks, I’ve done enough for her to understand that I’m her friend and that she can count on everything that’s in me to help her.
Yet, I repeat, if the depression persists — and more than anything else that makes rest simply impossible, and without rest there can be no improvement — then speak to her again as your heart dictates. Dear brother, I speak not wildly but from my own soul and my own experience. I can tell you this about the case I was involved in. When the woman had given birth and had survived the extremely difficult delivery, she was terribly weak but still safe at first, and the child alive and peaceful.
12 hours after the birth I was with her and found her utterly exhausted. When she saw me she sat up and became as cheerful and lively as if nothing had happened, and her pleasure in life and thankfulness radiated from her eyes. And she wanted to get better and promised me that.
(How it’s sometimes necessary to have such a thing promised and how it’s necessary to want to get better — you’ve already realized that yourself, for I see it in a previous letter. You saw that correctly.)
But — a few days later I had a letter from her that I didn’t rightly understand and that disappointed me. It said something along the lines of ‘that now I would no doubt be
with another woman’ &c. In short, very strange and even absurd since, not yet fully recovered, I’d only just come out of hospital myself. I understood enough, though, to realize
that she was delirious and upset. I went back to see her immediately, that is as soon as I could; I wasn’t allowed to visit during the week, so the next Sunday, a week later
to be precise. I found her looking withered — literally like a tree with fresh greenery that a dry, cold wind has swept over, making the buds shrivel.
And in reaction the child ill as well and looking wizened. In the child’s case it was jaundice, according to the doctor, but the little eyes were also affected by something else and as if blind, and the woman, who did not have jaundice, looked withered, yellow, grey, I don’t know what else. In short, evidently in that week, everything had, I can’t put it any other way, withered and wilted. So much so that I was shocked.
What to do? How did it happen and what to say? She herself told me she could not rest and was evidently thoroughly melancholic — without the slightest reason, without anything having happened since the first Sunday. Well, I thought, something must be done here, and although I didn’t know for sure what was going on I gave it a try.
I pretended to be angry and said, well, is this how you keep your promise!, and I repeated the promise that she’d get better, and I showed I was very displeased that the child was ill and said that it was her fault, and I asked what that letter meant and, in a word, since I understood that this was an abnormal situation, I spoke abnormally, that is fairly sharply, although I felt nothing other than deep compassion. The result was a sort of awakening like that of a sleep-walker, and before I left, of course not without adjusting my tone, I had her repeat the promise to get better, and as quickly as possible.
Dear brother, from that moment on she recovered rapidly, and soon afterwards I collected her and the child from the hospital. The child continued ailing for a long time — perhaps because in the first days the mother thought more about me than about the child — but now of course it’s as healthy as a young rabbit and looks as clearly as a young rabbit from eyes that were originally shut tight. When I came to collect her and was waiting for her in a small waiting room in the hospital, as the woman came in with the child on her arm, all at once there again came over her that heart-rending quality that Ary Scheffer paints or Correggio.
Again, if I’m mistaken in thinking that there’s a kind of delirium or inner conflict (unfounded naturally) in your patient too, so much the better. But should symptoms of melancholia persist, have her promise again that she’ll get better, and show her plainly that you want her to get better and that you simply can’t do without her. You see, we sometimes feel a certain delicacy about saying it like that because it appears selfish, but don’t feel embarrassed about it now, because it’s her salvation, and not selfish in such a case. For when two people are so attuned to each other that they can no longer be at ease and calm alone, then there’s no question of egoism any more, for the two no longer need to become one since they are that already. That must express itself, however, and with a sick person this need for an outpouring of the heart can be such an absolute need that recovery depends upon it.
And even now that I’m continuing to talk about it (forgive me for going on, for I can’t help but say fully what I think in this matter), for days I’ve pictured your patient in my imagination (perhaps mistakenly, though — I don’t know for sure of course, and these are the kinds of thing one can’t help linking together) as being in the same sort of condition as my woman in the days after her confinement was over.
I’ve been imagining that since receiving your letter in which you describe the operation, and it has left me no peace, so to speak. And when I now read ‘rather depressed’ I couldn’t help writing about it. Almost from the beginning even, each time I tried to imagine your patient’s state of mind — when I think how the series of calamities that have struck her must have bewildered her — I believe her condition to be beyond the reach of any remedy except that of love in the fullest sense of the word.
Without you regard her as lost, I can think of no rescue, no renewal of the future for her, without you. And although I find some expressions in your letters from which I see, or at least believe I see, that as regards the future you’re in doubt as to the question of whether or not she will love you now and for ever — for my part I have only a single thought on that point, namely this, she loves you, and as to you I have only one question: have you already told her that you love her now and for ever, or have you said nothing about that, either out of discretion or because you were afraid to hurt her? Of course I speak of these intimate matters (which incidentally I regard as so intimate that I would not speak of them without a special reason) only because I see this resemblance between your patient and mine then:
1) both have undergone a difficult operation and weren’t entirely calm throughout that operation, despite the chloroform;
2) shortly before the operation both had huge shocks to the mind through anxiety and tension and unrest, and their morale suffered almost more than a nervous system can bear;
3) for both, rest for the soul and body is absolutely necessary for recovery and recuperation.
It seems to me that these resemblances are worth noting.
And now you speak of a symptom of melancholy. And I thought it might be of use to you to hear how that became very serious in my patient, and very threatening and dangerous within a few days even, and how — when her mind was put at rest, she was reassured precisely through the certainty of a new love, and thus felt hope and appetite for the future — she soon recovered in body, at any rate from the operation.
Before that time I, for my part, had already assured her with all the strength in me that I wouldn’t abandon her, less through words, though, than through one or two things that I did for her as best I could, but through words as well. Despite that, doubt and unease suddenly arose in her, but they disappeared when I again did my best to calm her down.
Do you still remember how I took the view in a previous letter that there were objections to your having mentioned a job? — I had already glimpsed something dimly in my mind — now you write about the beginnings of melancholy — well, I was afraid of that. I hope quite wrongly, but if the melancholy persists and the unrest and the je ne sais quoi that blocks recovery, then in my view it’s a new assurance of your love and faithfulness that will reassure her and prepare her for recovery. Yes, in my view her life may depend on it. Adieu, old chap. I write to you to the best of my knowledge and out of unfeigned sympathy and serious interest — indeed you know that, and that it’s my deepest desire that everything may go well. Thanks again for your letter and the enclosure. My letter about ‘rather depressed’ has unintentionally become so long that there’s no room to write about anything else. Believe me, with a handshake and best wishes,
Up to today my eyes were closed by fluid each night or morning when I awoke, but last night nothing in either for the first time. There’s nothing to be seen other than that the white was a little cloudy and red, and what they call blue bags under the eyes, and that’s nearly gone too.