From Museum of Modern Art, New York:
In the blazing heat of this Mediterranean afternoon, nothing rests. Against a ground scored as if by some invisible torrent, intense green olive trees twist and crimp, capped by the rolling, dwindling hillocks of the distant Alps, beneath a light-washed sky with a bundled, ectoplasmic cloud.
After van Gogh voluntarily entered the asylum at Saint-Rémy in the south of France in the spring of 1889, he wrote his brother Theo: "I did a landscape with olive trees and also a new study of a starry sky." Later, when the pictures had dried, he sent both of them to Theo in Paris, noting: "The olive trees with the white cloud and the mountains behind, as well as the rise of the moon and the night effect, are exaggerations from the point of view of the general arrangement; the outlines are accentuated as in some old woodcuts."
Van Gogh's letters make it clear that he created this particular intense vista of the southern French landscape as a daylight partner to the visionary nocturne of his more famous canvas, The Starry Night. He felt that both pictures showed, in complementary ways, the principles he shared with his fellow painter Paul Gauguin, regarding the freedom of the artist to go beyond "the photographic and silly perfection of some painters" and intensify the experience of color and linear rhythms.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Wednesday, 3 October 1888.
My dear Theo,
Included herewith a quite, quite remarkable letter from Gauguin, which I’ll ask you to put aside as being of extraordinary importance. I’m speaking of his description of himself, which touches me in my heart of hearts. It reached me with a letter from Bernard, which Gauguin will probably have read and of which he perhaps approves, in which Bernard again says that he wishes to come here, and proposes to me, in the names of Laval, Moret, another new one and himself, an exchange with the four of them. He also says that Laval will come too, and that those two others have a wish to come. I couldn’t ask for more, but when it’s a matter of several painters living communally, I stipulate first and foremost that there would have to be a father superior to impose order, and that naturally that would be Gauguin. That’s why I’d wish Gauguin to be here some time before them (in any case, Bernard and Laval won’t come until February, as Bernard has to go before his recruitment medical board). For my part, I wish for two things: I wish to earn back the money that I’ve already spent, to return it to you, and I wish Gauguin to have his peace and quiet to produce and to breathe as a truly free artist. If I earn back the money already spent and that you’ve been lending me for years, we’ll make the thing bigger and we’ll try to found a studio of renaissance, not of decline.
I’m fairly sure that we could count on Gauguin’s staying with us for good, and that there’ll be no loss on either side.
But by joining together in this way, we’ll each of us be more ourselves, and unity will bring strength.
By the way, it goes without saying that I shan’t do the exchange with G.’s portrait, because I think it’ll be too beautiful — but I’ll ask him to let us have it for his first month or in repayment of his fare.
But you can clearly see that if I hadn’t written to them rather strongly, this portrait wouldn’t exist, and Bernard has done one too, so:
Let’s agree that I was angry, let’s agree that it was wrong, but it’s still the case that Gauguin has given birth to a painting, and Bernard as well.
Ah — my study of the vineyards — I sweated blood and tears over it — but I have it — another square no. 30 canvas — once again for the decoration of the house.
I have no canvas left at all.
Do you know that if we have Gauguin, there we’ll be, at the start of a very important affair, which will open up a new era for us.
When I left you at the Gare du Midi, very upset and almost ill and almost an alcoholic as a result of overdoing it — I’ve always vaguely felt that last winter we put our very hearts into our discussions with so many interesting people and artists, but I didn’t dare to hope yet. After constant effort on your part and mine until now, it’s beginning to appear on the horizon: Hope.
It doesn’t make any difference whether you stay with the Goupils or not, you’ll stand solidly behind Gauguin and his crowd. That way, you’ll be one of the first apostle-dealers, or the first.
For myself, I can see my painting ahead, and also a labour among artists. Because if you, now, will try to obtain money for us — I myself will put everything that comes within my grasp towards production, and I’ll set an example of that myself.
Now all that, if we hold firm, will go to build something more durable than ourselves.
I have to reply to Gauguin and to Bernard this afternoon, and I’m going to tell them that whatever happens, we’ll begin by feeling firmly united and that I for one have confidence that this unity will be our strength against the inevitabilities of money and of health.
I’ll ask you to go and see Thomas all the same, because before Gauguin comes I’d like to buy some more things — the following.
dressing table with chest of drawers__40 francs
4 sheets__40 -
3 drawing boards__12 -
( Frames and stretching frames__50 )
( Colours and canvases__200)
Now that’s a lot, and none of it is absolutely indispensable. We can do without all of it. But the broader and more substantial character that I’d wish to give the thing would nevertheless demand it.
For example, the 4 additional sheets — I already have 4 — will make it possible for us to put Bernard up for nothing, seeing that we’ll put a palliasse or a mattress on the floor for me or for him, as we choose. The kitchen stove will heat the studio for us at the same time.
But, you’ll say — and these colours...... Ah, well, yes, I blame myself for it — but after all, I have the self-esteem to wish to make a certain impression on Gauguin with my work. I can’t help wishing to work on my own as much as possible before he comes. His arrival will change me in my way of painting, and I’ll gain by it, I dare believe — but all the same, I’m rather attached to my decoration, which is almost barbotine. And these recent days are superb.
There are 10 no. 30 canvases on the go now.
Gauguin’s fare, then. We’d have to add it on top. But if Thomas isn’t willing to act a little generously, Gauguin’s fare first and foremost, to the detriment of your pocket and of mine. FIRST AND FOREMOST.
All this expenditure that I’ve mentioned would all be for the purpose of making a good impression on him at the time of his arrival. I’d like him to have a sense of the thing right away, and I’d like us to have — you for the money and I for the setting up and arrangement — made the studio complete, and such that it’s a setting worthy of Gauguin, the artist, who’s going to be its head.
It would be a good move, like the one back then, when Corot, seeing Daumier at bay, gave him enough to live on, in such a way that the other was well pleased with everything. But it can already work now, just as it is. The fare’s the essential thing, and my colours can wait, although I dare believe that one day I’ll earn more with them than they’re costing us.
I wouldn’t disapprove in the very least if Gauguin gave you a monopoly in his work, and if right away, right away we raised his prices — nothing under 500. He should have confidence in you — well, he’ll have it. I feel that we’re working on a big, good enterprise that has nothing in common with the old way of doing business. As for colours, it’s almost certain that with Gauguin we’ll grind it ourselves. I’ve painted the vineyards entirely with Tanguy’s colours, and it works well, the coarser grain’s no problem at all. If we continue to approach things from the right point of view, that’s to say of people and not of material things, it still seems not entirely improbable to me that our material problems may smooth themselves out.
Because one matures in the storm.
I’m continuing to frame studies, because they’re part of the furnishings and give things character.
If Gauguin gives the monopoly, and does so both officially, as you’re with the Goupils, and in private, as your friend and someone in your debt, then in return Gauguin will be able to feel himself head of the studio, and control the money as he’ll see fit, and if it can be done, help Bernard, Laval, others, in exchange for studies or paintings, while I’ll be under the same conditions, I’ll give studies in return for 100 francs and my share of canvas and colours.
But the more Gauguin feels that by joining us he’ll have the position of head of a studio, the sooner he’ll recover and the keener he’ll be to work. Now the more finished the studio is, and firmly established for the use of many passing visitors, the more ideas will come to him, and the ambition to make it truly alive. Since they’re talking about nothing else at Pont-Aven at the moment, they’ll talk about it in Paris, too; and once again, the better it is, the more firmly established it is, so much the better, before long, will be the general impression created, and the chance that it will work.
Ah, well, it’ll turn out as it’ll turn out. I only say that from now, in order to avoid future arguments, if it works in such a way that Laval, Bernard do in fact come, it won’t be me but it will be Gauguin who’ll be the head of the studio. As far as internal arrangements are concerned, I believe that we’ll be in agreement in any case.
I hope that on Friday I’ll have your next letter. Bernard’s letter is once again full of the conviction that Gauguin is a truly great master, and an absolutely superior man in terms of character and intelligence.
Good handshake, and more soon.
The vines that I’ve just painted — are green, purple, yellow — with bunches of violet grapes, with black and orange shoots. On the horizon, some blue-grey willows, and the press-house far, far away, with a red roof, and silhouette of town in the distance, lilac.
In the vineyard, little figures of ladies with red sunshades and other little figures of grape-pickers with their cart.
A blue sky above and a foreground of grey sand. It makes a pendant for the garden with the round bush and the oleanders.
I believe that you’d prefer these 10 canvases to the whole of the last consignment, and I dare hope to do as many again during the autumn. It’s becoming even richer day by day. And when at leaf-fall — I don’t know if that happens here in the first days of November, as at home — when all the foliage of the trees is yellow, it will be something marvellous, against the blue. Ziem has shown us these glories many times already. Then a short winter — and afterwards we’ll be back to the orchards in blossom again.