Van Gogh made twenty-one paintings in Saint-Rémy that were "translations" of the work of Jean-François Millet. Van Gogh did not intend for his works to be literal copies of the originals. Speaking specifically of the works after Millet, he explained, "it's not copying pure and simple that one would be doing. It is rather translating into another language, the one of colors, the impressions of chiaroscuro and white and black."
To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Sunday, 3 November 1889.
My dear Theo,
Enclosed I’m sending you a list of colours I need as soon as possible.
You gave me very great pleasure by sending me those Millets, I’m working on them zealously. I was growing flabby by dint of never seeing anything artistic, and this revives me. I’ve finished The evening and am working on The diggers and the man who’s putting his jacket on, no. 30 canvases, and The sower, smaller. The evening is in a range of violets and soft lilacs, with light from the lamp pale citron, then the orange glow of the fire and the man in red ochre. You will see it. It seems to me that doing painting after these Millet drawings is much rather to translate them into another language than to copy them. Apart from that I have a rain effect on the go, and an evening effect with tall pines.
And also a leaf-fall.
My health is very good – except often a lot of melancholy however – but I feel much much better than when I came here, and even better than in Paris. Also, as for the work the ideas are becoming firmer, it seems to me. But then I don’t quite know if you’d like what I’m doing now. For despite what you say in your previous letter, that the search for style often harms other qualities, the fact is that I feel myself greatly driven to seek style, if you like, but I mean by that a more manly and more deliberate drawing. If that will make me more like Bernard or Gauguin, I can’t do anything about it. But am inclined to believe that in the long run you’d get used to it.
For yes, one must feel the wholeness of a country – isn’t that what distinguishes a Cézanne from something else. And Guillaumin, whom you mention, he has so much style and a personal way of drawing. Anyway, I’ll do as I can.
Now that most of the leaves have fallen the landscape looks more like the north, and then I really feel that if I went back to the north I would see it more clearly than before. Health is a big thing, and a lot depends on it, as regards work too.
Fortunately those abominable nightmares no longer torment me.
I hope to go to Arles in the next few days.
I’d very much like Jo to see The evening, I think that I’ll send you a consignment shortly, but it’s drying very badly because of the dampness of the studio. Here the houses have scarcely any cellar or foundations, and one feels the damp more than in the north.
At home they’ll have moved by now, I’ll add 6 canvases for them to the next consignment. Is it necessary to have them framed, perhaps not, for it isn’t worth it. Above all, don’t frame the studies I send you from time to time, that can be done later, pointless for them to take up too much room.
I’ve also done a canvas for Mr Peyron, a view of the house with a tall pine tree.
I hope that your health and Jo’s continue to be good.
I’m so happy that you’re no longer alone, and that everything’s more normal than before.
Is Gauguin back, and what’s Bernard doing?
More soon, I shake your hand firmly, and Jo’s, and our friends’, and believe me
I’m trying to simplify the list of colours as much as possible – thus I very often use the ochres as in the old days.
I know very well that the studies drawn with long, sinuous lines from the last consignment weren’t what they ought to become, however I dare urge you to believe that in landscapes one will continue to mass things by means of a drawing style that seeks to express the entanglement of the masses. Thus, do you remember Delacroix’s landscape, Jacob’s struggle with the angel? And there are others of his! For example the cliffs, and the very flowers you speak of sometimes. Bernard really has found perfect things in there. Anyway, don’t be too swift to adopt a prejudice against it.
Anyway, you’ll see that there’s already more character in a large landscape with pines, red ochre trunks defined by a black line than in the previous ones.