In Van Gogh's version of The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt), Christ is depicted symbolically through the sun to evoke the healing powers of faith. Christ is further referenced in two ways by the setting and circumstance. First, miraculously, he brought Lazarus back to life again. It also foretold Christ's own death and resurrection. The painting includes the dead Lazarus and his two sisters. White, yellow and violet were used for Lazarus and the cave. One of the women is in a vibrant green dress and orange hair. The other wears a striped green and pink gown and has black hair. Behind them is the countryside of blue and a bright yellow sun.
To Anna van Gogh-Carbentus. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 23 December 1889.
Towards the end of the year I come to bid you good-day once more. You’ll say that I’ve forgotten it many times. It’s a year since I became ill, and it’s difficult for me to express the extent to which I have or haven’t recovered. I often have terrible self-reproach about things in the past, my illness being pretty much my own fault, and in any event it’s doubtful whether I can make amends for faults in any way. But reasoning or thinking about this is sometimes so difficult, and sometimes my feelings overwhelm me more than in the past. And then I can think so much of you and of the past. You and Pa have been so much, so very much to me, possibly more even than to the others, and I don’t seem to have had a happy nature. I started to realize that in Paris, how much more than I Theo did his best to help Pa practically, so much so that his own interests often went by the board because of it. That’s why I’m so thankful now at present that Theo finally found a wife and is waiting for his baby. Anyway, Theo had more self-denial than I, and that’s deep in his character. And when Pa was no longer with us and I went to him in Paris, then the poor chap attached himself so much to me that I came to understand how much he had loved Pa. And now, I say this to you and to Wil and not to him, it’s a good thing I didn’t stay in Paris because we should, he and I, have become all too much bound up in each other. And that’s not what life’s for. I can’t tell you how much better I think it is for him as it is now than before; he had too many tiring things on his mind, and his health suffered for it.
When I was first ill I couldn’t accept the idea that I had to go into an asylum.
And now at present I admit that I should have been treated earlier, but it’s human to err in that.
A French writer says that all painters are mad to some degree, and although there’s a great deal to be said against that, it’s certain that one is too easily alienated by it. Be this as it may, here, where I don’t have to concern myself with anything etc. — I imagine that the standard of my work is getting better.
And so I go on with relative calm and do my best at my work and don’t count myself among the unfortunates.
At the moment I’m working on a painting of a path between the mountains and a small stream that works its way between the stones. The rocks are solid lilac grey or pink, with bushes here and there: box and a sort of broom, that have all sorts of colours, green, yellow, red, brown, because of the autumn. And the stream in the foreground white and foaming like soapsuds, and further up reflecting the blue of the sky.
And now it’s certain that the work they’re making here at present is very different — more colourful and more forthrightly drawn than what people used to do in Holland in the time of Schelfhout, say. And yet the one is so much a consequence of the other. For example, you knew the old Van de Sande Bakhuyzen and Jules Bakhuyzen. I thought of their work only recently, that with all the apparent difference there’s still so little change in people’s ideas.
Anyway I believe that Jules Bakhuyzen, say, would understand perfectly what I paint these days, that ravine with the stream, and another painting — of the park at the asylum — large pine trees against an evening sky.
I hope Theo sent you my studies, but I’m already working on another rather large painting for you of women harvesting olives. The trees grey-green with a pink sky and purplish soil. All the colours more subdued than usual.
I had hoped to send it before long, but it’s drying slowly.
As I told you, I often regret that I’m sometimes so alienated; I resist it, but it makes me so unfit to do many things that were actually my duty. There’s literally nothing wrong with my health, but last year’s shock means I would still dread going outside an asylum. I’ve sometimes imagined that if I abandoned painting and had some hard life or other, as a soldier going to the east, say, that would make me better. But it’s already rather too late for that, and I’m afraid they’d turn me down. I think this half in jest, half in earnest. For the moment the work’s going well, but of course my thoughts, always fixed on colours and drawing, continue to go round in a rather small circle.
So I want to live by the day — trying to get from one to the next. And for that matter my fellow painters also often complain that the profession makes one so powerless. Or that it’s the powerless who practise it.
How much you must be thinking about Theo and Jo and the forthcoming event; I hope with all my heart that it goes well. I’m glad to be able to imagine what your house is like after Wil’s description.
Is there any more news from Cor? It’s very good that you’re close to Anna and will see your grandchildren around you. Give everyone at Anna’s my very best wishes at the ending of the year.
The weather here has been quite mild the last few days. Although many days of frost and wind, too, but then the sun shines more strongly than in Holland. Do you remember that Rappard once said ‘it’s sometimes refreshing’ when he’d had typhoid fever and later stayed with us. I sometimes think about that when I feel much stronger and at times more clear-headed than last year.
Now I wish you a happy Christmas and a good New Year. Embraced in thought by
I’ll write to Wil next time, because it’s time for the post.