From Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo:
For Van Gogh, the cypress is the ultimate symbol of Provence. ‘The cypresses still preoccupy me’, he writes to his brother Theo, ‘I’d like to do something with them like the canvases of the sunflowers, because it astonishes me that no one has yet done them as I see them. It’s beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk. And the green has such a distinguished quality’.
Van Gogh paints Country road in Provence by night shortly before leaving the asylum at Saint-Rémy. This is not an existing landscape, but instead composed at his own discretion, presumably as a final reminder of Saint-Rémy and as a summary of the many impressions he acquired during his stay in Provence.
Van Gogh experiments with his use of colour and brushwork in Saint-Rémy. Many works are composed of graceful forms and swirling lines. That is also the case here. The short, rhythmic wavy brushstrokes placed side by side give the painting great dynamism.
To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saturday, 4 January 1890.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter. Although I just wrote to you yesterday I’m replying immediately.
The fact is that I’ve never worked more calmly than in my latest canvases – you’re going to receive a few at the same time as this letter, I hope. For the moment I’ve been caught unawares by a great discouragement. But since this attack ended in a week, what’s the good of telling oneself that it can in fact recur? First we don’t know, nor can we foresee how and in what form.
So let’s continue the work as much as possible as if nothing were amiss. I’ll soon have the opportunity to go outside when the weather isn’t too cold, and then I’d rather like to try to finish the work undertaken here.
To give an idea of Provence it’s vital to do a few more canvases of cypresses and mountains.
The ravine and another canvas of mountains with a path in the foreground are types of this. And especially the Ravine that I still have here because it isn’t dry. As well as the view of the park too, with the pines. It took me all the time to observe the character of the pines, cypresses &c. in the pure air here, the lines that don’t change and which one finds again at every step.
It’s perfectly true that last year the crisis recurred at various times – but then, too, it was precisely by working that the normal state returned little by little. It will probably be the same on this occasion too. So act as if nothing were amiss, for we can do absolutely nothing about it.
And what would be infinitely worse is to let myself slide into the state of my companions in misfortune who do nothing all day, week, month, year, as I’ve told you many times and repeated again to Mr Salles, making him promise never to recommend this asylum. The work makes me retain a little presence of mind still, and makes it possible that I can get out one day.
At the moment I have the paintings ripe in my mind, I see in advance the places that I still want to do in the coming months. Why would I change means of expression.
Once I’m back from here, let’s suppose, we’ll have to see a little if there’s really nothing to be done with my canvases, I would have a certain number of mine, a certain number of other people’s, and perhaps I’d try to do a little dealing. I don’t know in advance, but I see no reason not to do more of the canvases here that I’ll need were I to get out of here. Once again, I can foresee absolutely nothing, I see no way out, but I also see that my stay here cannot be prolonged indefinitely. Then, in order not to hurry anything or break it off suddenly, I’d wish to continue as usual as long as I’m here.
Yesterday I sent 2 canvases to Marseille, i.e. I made a present of them to my friend Roulin, a white farmhouse among the olive trees and a wheatfield with a background of lilac mountains and a dark tree, as in the large canvas I sent you. And I’ve given Mr Salles a little canvas with pink and red geraniums on a completely black background, like I used to do in Paris.
As regards the money you sent, 10 francs of it were owing to Mr Peyron, which he’d advanced me last month, I gave 20 francs in New Year’s gifts, and I took 10 for the postage on the canvases and other expenses, so 10 francs still remain in the cash-box.
At the moment I’ve just done a little portrait of one of the lads from here which he wanted to send to his mother, that’s to say I’ve already started work again, and Mr Peyron would probably not have allowed me to if he saw any obstacles there. What he said to me was ‘let’s hope that this doesn’t happen again’ – so absolutely the same thing as always. He talked to me with great kindness and these things scarcely surprise him, but since there’s no ready remedy it’s time and circumstances alone that can perhaps have influence.
I’d very much like to go to Arles one more time, not immediately, but towards the end of February for example, first to see friends, which always cheers me up, and then to test whether I’m capable of risking the journey to Paris.
Am very pleased that our sister has come. Warm regards to her and to Jo, and as for you and me, let’s not worry ourselves. In any event, it didn’t last as long as the other year, and so we can still hope that little by little time will make all of this pass. Well, be of good heart, and good handshake