From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA:
In May 1890, just before his departure from the asylum in Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh painted an exceptional group of four still lifes, to which both the Museum's Roses and Irises belong. These bouquets and their counterparts—an upright composition of irises (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) and a horizontal composition of roses (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)—were conceived as a decorative ensemble, like the earlier suite of sunflowers. Traces of pink along the tabletop and rose petals in the present painting, which have faded over time, offer a faint reminder of the formerly vivid "canvas of pink roses against a yellow-green background in a green vase."
To Willemien van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 23 December 1889.
My dear sister,
In haste I’m adding a line for you, it’s exactly a year since I had that attack, I certainly have no reason to complain about it too much, as things are going better at present. But from time to time, though, it’s to be feared that it may return. And this leaves the mind in a latent state of sensitivity.
I hope that you’ll quite like the canvas I’m doing for Mother and you at the moment. It’s a repetition of a painting for Theo, Women picking olives. For this past fortnight I’ve worked hard continuously.
Do you know the poetry I’ve written down for you opposite?
There’s a painting that Whistler did of his mother which is like that. But above all in our old Dutch paintings we find it sometimes. When I think of Mother she too appears like that to me.
Life isn’t always very jolly here, and my companions in misfortune quite often feel bored, but there’s a lot of resignation and patience here. But many of them do nothing, they remain self-absorbed all day, and I sometimes think that if they were in an asylum where manual work was compulsory they would feel better for it. More soon, I kiss you in thought.
Who is the maid my spirit seeks
Through cold reproof and slanders blight
Has she loves roses on her cheek
Is hers an eye of calm delight?
No, wan and sunk with midnight prayer
Are the pale looks of her I love
And if by times a light be there
That light was kindled from above
I choose not her mine hearts elect
Amongst those that seek their makers shrine –
In gems and garlands proudly decked
As if themselves were things divine
No heaven but faintly warms the breast
That beats beneath a broidered veil
And they who come in glittering dress
To mourn their frailty – yet are frail
Not so the form of her I love
And love because her bloom is gone
But ne’er was beauties bloom so bright
So touching as that forms decay
That like the altars wavering light
In holy lustre fades away.