From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA:
At the end of 1889, Van Gogh painted three versions of this picture. He described the first as a study from nature "more colored with more solemn tones" (private collection) and the second as a studio rendition in a "very discreet range" of colors (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). The present work, the most resolved and stylized of the three, was intended for his sister and mother, to whom Van Gogh wrote: "I hope that the painting of the women in the olive trees will be a little to your taste—I sent [a] drawing of it to Gauguin, . . . and he thought it good. . . ."
To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday, 22 August 1889.
My dear Theo,
I thank Jo very much for writing to me, and knowing that you wish me to write you a line I’m letting you know that it’s very difficult for me to write, so disturbed is my mind. So I’m taking advantage of an interval.
Dr Peyron is really kind to me and really patient. You can imagine that I’m very deeply distressed that the attacks have recurred when I was already beginning to hope that it wouldn’t recur.
You’ll perhaps do well to write a line to Dr Peyron to say that working on my paintings is quite necessary to me for my recovery.
For these days, without anything to do and without being able to go into the room he had allocated me for doing my painting, are almost intolerable to me. I’ve received catalogue of the Gauguin, Bernard, Schuffenecker &c. exhibition, which I find interesting. G. also wrote me a kind letter, still a little vague and obscure, but anyway I must say that I think they’re quite right to have exhibited among themselves.
For many days I’ve been absolutely distraught, as in Arles, just as much if not worse, and it’s to be presumed that these crises will recur in the future, it is ABOMINABLE. I haven’t been able to eat for 4 days, as my throat is swollen. It’s not in order to complain too much, I hope, if I tell you these details, but to prove to you that I’m not yet in a fit state to go to Paris or to Pont-Aven unless it were to Charenton.
It appears that I pick up filthy things and eat them, although my memories of these bad moments are vague, and it appears to me that there’s something shady about it, still for the same reason that they have I don’t know what prejudice against painters here.
I no longer see any possibility for courage or good hope, but anyway it wasn’t yesterday that we found out that this profession isn’t a happy one.
All the same it gives me pleasure that you’ve received that consignment from here, the landscapes. Thank you above all for that etching after Rembrandt. It’s surprising, and yet it makes me think again of the man with the staff in the La Caze gallery. If you want to do me a very, very great pleasure, then send a copy of it to Gauguin. Then the Rodin and Claude Monet brochure is really interesting.
This new crisis, my dear brother, came upon me in the fields, and when I was in the middle of painting on a windy day. I’ll send you the canvas, which I nevertheless finished. And it was precisely a more sober attempt, matt in colour without looking impressive, broken greens, reds and rusty ochre yellows, as I told you that from time to time I felt a desire to begin again with a palette like the one in the north.
I’ll send you that canvas as soon as I can. Good-day, thank you for all your kindnesses, good handshake to you and to Jo, and naturally to Cor if he’s still there.
Mother and Wil have also written me a very nice letter.
Whilst not liking Rod’s book excessively, I’ve nevertheless done a canvas of that passage in which he speaks of the darkish mountains and huts.
(Our friend Roulin has written to me too.)