To Eugène Boch. Arles, Tuesday, 2 October 1888.
My dear friend Boch,
Many thanks for your letter, which gave me great pleasure. I congratulate you on not having hesitated this time — and on having tackled the Borinage. That’s a field in which you’ll be able to work for the whole of your life, the extraordinary landscape as well as the human figure!
The female thrutchers in pit-rags, in particular, are superb. If you ever go to Petit-Wasmes, would you find out if Jean Baptiste Denis (farmer) and Joseph Quinez (miner) are still living there, and tell them on my behalf that I’ve never forgotten the Borinage, and that I’ll always have a wish to see it again? Now I have to tell you some news, that is that I’ve at last furnished the house and that I immediately furnished a bedroom for Gauguin as well, or for whoever will come.
The house is much more cheerful now that it’s furnished. Afterwards I worked at full tilt, because the autumn is windless and superb. And so I have 7 square no. 30 canvases on the go. First of all the night café where I stayed, with lamp effects — painted at night.
3 views of the public garden in front of my house.
Here’s one of those views. A round cypress or Cedar bush in bottle green. In the lemony green lawn.
At the back, a row of oleanders and 2 small figures. A blue sky in raw cobalt. You can see that it’s much simpler than before.
And ploughed fields, a landscape with nothing but clods of earth, the furrows the colour of an old clog under the forget-me-not sky with white flecks.
And a view of my house and its surroundings under a sulphur sun, the sky hard, bright cobalt. That’s a difficult one!
And a view of the café on place du Forum, where we used to go, painted at night.
And lastly, a study of the Rhône, of the town under gaslight and reflected in the blue river. With the starry sky above — with the Great Bear — with a pink and green sparkle on the cobalt blue field of the night sky, while the light of the town and its harsh reflections are of a red gold and a green tinged with bronze. Painted at night.
The garden with the oleanders and the round bush is impasted like barbotine.
Your portrait is in my bedroom, with the one of Milliet the Zouave that I’ve just done. I’d very much like to ask you to do an exchange with me of one of your studies of the coal-mines. Wait, I’ll send you a study first then, which I’m sure will be one of those that will seem entirely unfamiliar to you. Because if you saw the night studies, you’d perhaps like them better than the studies of sunlight. Well, let me decide. Because I sincerely hope that our relationship, once embarked upon, will last for good. Because everything you do will be of extraordinary interest to me, since I so much love that sad region of the Borinage, which will always be unforgettable to me. If I come to Paris next year, then I’m more or less determined to push on as far as Mons. And perhaps to my own country, to do places there that I knew before. Thus, in the Borinage, Marcasse or St-Antoine at Petit-Wasmes. And then the Cour de l’Agrappe, at your place in Frameries.13 In short, it was in the Borinage that I began to work from nature for the first time. But I destroyed all that long ago, of course.
But it touches my heart that in the end all these places are going to be painted.
You’ll see how the ideas will come to you. I’m writing to you in great haste, but I wanted to reply right away. Included herewith a very bad croquis of the starry night. All these paintings are square no. 30 canvases.
Had you stayed here until now you’d have taken away other studies. Because I tell you, nature has been extraordinarily beautiful. More than once I’ve done a no. 30 canvas in a day, but then it was the case that from morning till sunset I didn’t move from the sitting except to eat a bite.
My brother wrote to me that he had seen you in passing. Ah well, next year I sincerely hope that we’ll meet again; above all don’t forget to write me your address if you move house, or give me your precise permanent address — at la Louvière, if I remember rightly. Because it will be excellent to work with continuity in the coal-fields and then, in order to see something entirely different, to come to the region of oleanders and the sulphur sun.
Is your sister also going to do miners? There’s certainly work for two people there. I believe that it’s very fortunate for you that the two of you both do painting in your house. Ah well, I have to go to work in the vineyard, near Montmajour. It’s all purplish yellow green under the blue sky, a beautiful, colour motif. Good handshake and good luck, and much success in your work.
Pardon my great haste; I don’t even have time to re-read the letter.