To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 25 September 1888.
My dear Theo,
I have to thank you very much for Tasset’s consignment of canvases and colours, which arrived in good condition and this time in postal parcels.
I already told you in my last letter that autumn had shown itself in rain and bad weather. That inconvenienced me a bit, but in the sunny intervals I still managed to finish a no. 30 canvas of ploughed fields.
A blue sky with white clouds. An immense field of an ashy lilac, furrows, innumerable clods of earth, the horizon of blue hills and green bushes and small farmsteads with orange-coloured roofs. It’s another of those that’ll take a long time to dry; with impasto paintings you have to do the same as with the strongest wine, it has to ferment. So I’ve ordered a frame in white deal for that one.
As long as autumn lasts I won’t have enough hands, canvas or colours to paint the beautiful things that I see. I’m also working on the portrait of Milliet, but he poses badly, or else it’s my fault, which I don’t believe, however, because I badly need some studies of him because he’s good-looking, very jaunty, very easy-going in his appearance, and he’d suit me down to the ground for a painting of lovers.
I’ve already promised him a study for his trouble, but there you are, he can’t keep still.
On top of that, he hardly has any time, since he’ll have to say his tender farewells to all the tarts and other pond-life in the Arles stewpond, now that his prick has gone back to the garrison, as he puts it.
I don’t object to that at all; however, I regret that he has a nervous movement in his legs when he poses. He’s a good lad, but he’s only 25 years old, 10 fewer than me for Christ’s sake — and in ten years — according to Ziem, I’m afraid if he carries on like that, being unable to get a hard-on any more, he may join the ambitious.
I shouldn’t be surprised if deep down he was annoyed at having to leave, and perhaps he’s exceeding his budget and that’s the reason he’s forced to go back to Africa. I know only one serious fault in him, that’s liking Mr Georges Ohnet’s L’abbé Constantin, and I’ve told him that he would do a thousand times better to read Guy de Maupassant’s Bel-ami. What does père Tanguy say now about coarse colours?
I think I should warn you right away that I’ll need another 5 or even 10 metres of canvas.
And that at the same time I’ll also need
3 large tubes like the silver
zinc white, 10 of Prussian blue
6 large tubes ditto ditto Chrome I lemon
6 ,, ,, ditto ditto ,, II
2 ,, ,, ditto ditto ,, III
6 ,, ,, ditto ditto Veronese Green
6 medium tubes Geranium Lake
12 zinc white, large tubes
12 silver ,,
That’s approximately in proportion to the canvas.
As I’ve just received the consignment of both canvas and colours, you’ll understand how little urgency there is, but that’s only the minimum of what I calculate I’ll need during the autumn and leaf-fall, which will surely be amazing and which, as you know, lasts only a week. I’m sure I’ll be able to get some good work done then, and I wouldn’t like to be right out of yellow and blue at that time.
In case you’re hard up, I can manage perfectly well without the expensive blues and the carmine. 1 tube of Prussian blue goes as far as 6 ultramarine or cobalt and costs 3 times less.
Now, it fades to a certain extent, but by using zinc white and using it unmixed, I can do without the rest, if it comes to it.
Delacroix swore by that vulgar blue, and used it a lot.
So I’m alerting you to this state of affairs, although we’re a good way away from that famous leaf-fall. As long as the autumn lasts, I need to work like a team of mules if I want to recoup what our furnishing has cost. I wanted to do more sunflowers too, but they were already over. Yes, during the autumn I’d very much like to do a dozen or so square no. 30 canvases, and that may very well be achieved, as far as I can see.
I have a terrible clarity of mind at times, when nature is so lovely these days, and then I’m no longer aware of myself and the painting comes to me as if in a dream. I am indeed somewhat fearful that that will have its reaction in melancholy when the bad season comes, but I’ll try to get away from it by studying this question of drawing figures from memory. I’m always frustrated in my best abilities by the lack of models, but I don’t dwell on it — I do landscape and colour without worrying where that will take me. I know this, that if I went to beg models: but please pose for me, I beseech you, I would be behaving like Zola’s good painter in L’oeuvre. And certainly Manet, for example, didn’t do that. And Zola doesn’t say in his book what those people did who saw nothing supernatural in the painting.
But let’s not criticize Zola’s book. I’ll send you five drawings by Bernard, of the same kind as the others. I wrote to him that, Gauguin not having stated categorically whether he’ll come or not come, I couldn’t offer Bernard hospitality for free, or even paid for with paintings or drawings.
That his board alone here would, in any case, cost him a little more than board and lodging at the place where he is at present. Unless, though, we were to make savings eating at the studio, with or without Gauguin.
But that in any case, I wasn’t urging him to come. That, as I definitely plan to spend the winter here, his company would of course be very welcome to me, but that above all, it was important that he do his sums carefully.
If in the next few days, Gauguin writes to you categorically, either to you or to me, we could still see about Bernard. It seems to me that it would definitely suit Bernard’s book here, but his father would have to be a touch more magnanimous towards him. Because Bernard takes pains. However, I don’t like these drawings as much as the previous ones. At the beginning of next month there’ll be another heap of things falling on my back all together:
the frames and stretching frames that I’m having made here for the decoration of the house, at the same time as the month’s rent and the charwoman.
But I can put off taking delivery of the frames and stretching frames, and so I’ll get by, I hope, in any case.
The only hope I have is that by working really hard, by the end of a year I’ll have enough paintings to be able to show myself — if I wish, or if you so desire — at that time of the exhibition. I’m not keen on it, but what I’m certainly keen on is to show you something that isn’t entirely bad.
I would not exhibit, but should we have work by me in the house that would prove that we’re neither cowards nor idlers, I’d be content. But the main thing seems to me to be that I shouldn’t put myself to less trouble than painters who work specifically for that.
Whether we exhibit, whether we don’t exhibit, we must be productive, and after that we have the right to smoke our pipe in peace.
But this year we’ll be productive, and I’m doing all I can to make sure that the new series is better than the first two consignments.
And among the studies there’ll be some, I hope, that may be paintings, that is, ...
For the starry sky, I still very much hope to paint it, and perhaps one of these evenings I’ll be in the same ploughed field, if the sky is twinkling brightly.
Tolstoy’s book, Ma religion, was published in French as long ago as 1885, but I’ve never seen it in any catalogue. He doesn’t seem to believe much in resurrection, either of the body or of the soul. In particular, he seems not to believe much in heaven — so he argues things like a nihilist — but — in a certain sense in opposition to them — he attaches great importance to doing well whatever one does, since that’s probably all one has. And even if he doesn’t believe in resurrection, he appears to believe in the equivalent — the continuance of human life — the march of humanity, the man and the work almost inevitably carried on by the humanity of the next generation. In short, it mustn’t be ephemeral consolations that he offers. A gentleman himself, he became a manual worker, knows how to make boots, knows how to mend stoves, knows how to handle a plough and dig the earth. Now I know nothing about any of that, but I know how to respect a human soul with enough energy to remake itself like that. Dear God, we’ve well and truly no reason to complain about living in times when there seem to be nothing but idlers, when we live at the same time as such specimens of poor mortals who don’t even believe very strongly in heaven itself.
He believes — I’ve perhaps written you it already, in non-violent revolution, through the need for love and religious feeling which must manifest itself in people as a reaction against scepticism and desperate and appalling suffering.
More soon. As your last letter was on Friday, if I had your next news by Friday as well, that would be darned good. But there’s no hurry, it’ll be fine just as it turns out.