To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Thursday, 4 or Friday, 5 October 1888.
My dear Theo, Thanks very much for your letter. How happy I am for Gauguin; I won’t search for expressions to tell you so — let’s be of bold good heart!
Now I’ve just received Gauguin’s portrait done by himself and Bernard’s portrait by Bernard, with B.’s portrait on the wall in the background of G.’s portrait, and vice versa.
The Gauguin is immediately remarkable, but I myself like Bernard’s very much, it’s nothing but an idea of a painter, some cursory tones, some blackish lines, but it’s as stylish as real, real Manet. The Gauguin is more studied, taken further.
That’s what he says in his letter, and for me it certainly has above all the effect of representing a prisoner. Not a hint of cheerfulness. It’s not flesh in the very least, but we can boldly put that down to his intention to make something melancholy; the flesh in the shadows is lugubriously tinged with blue. And now at last I have a chance to compare my painting with that of the pals.
My portrait that I’m sending to Gauguin in exchange stands up beside it, I’m sure. I wrote to Gauguin in reply to his letter that if I too was allowed to enhance my personality in a portrait, trying to show in my portrait not only myself but an Impressionist in general, I had conceived this portrait as being that of a bonze, a simple worshipper of the eternal Buddha.
And when I put Gauguin’s conception and mine side by side, my portrait is equally serious but less desperate. What Gauguin’s portrait says to me, first and foremost, is that he mustn’t go on that way, he must console himself, he must become the richer Gauguin of the negresses again.
I’m very pleased to have these two portraits, which faithfully depict for us the pals at this time — they won’t stay like that, they’ll return to the more serene life. And I have the clear sense that the duty has been imposed on me of doing all I can to reduce our poverty.
That counts for nothing in the profession of painting. I feel that he’s more Millet than I am, but I’m more Diaz than he is, and like Diaz, I’ll try to please the public so that some sous may come into the community. I’ve spent more than them; seeing their painting, that makes absolutely no odds to me, they’ve worked in too much poverty to make it catch on. Because wait — I have better things than what I’ve sent you, and more saleable, and I feel that I can continue to make more. I have confidence in that, at last. I know that it’ll do certain people good to find poetic subjects — the starry sky — The vine-branches — the furrows — the poet’s garden.
Well then, I believe your duty as well as mine is to wish for comparative wealth, precisely because we’ll have some very great artists to feed. But at present you’re as happy, or at least happy in the same way as Sensier, if you have Gauguin, and I sincerely hope that he’ll go for it. It’s not urgent, but in any case I believe that he’ll like the house as his studio well enough to agree to be its head. Let’s wait half a year and see what comes of it.
Bernard has sent me another collection of ten or so drawings, with a gallant piece of verse — the whole thing’s entitled ‘at the brothel’.
You’ll see these things soon, but I’ll send you the portraits after looking at them for some time. I hope you’ll send me your letter soon; I’m very hard up because of the stretching frames and frames that I’ve ordered.
What you say about Fréret pleases me. But I dare believe that I’ll do things that will please him more, and you, too.
Yesterday I painted a sunset.
Gauguin looks ill and tormented in his portrait!! Look, that won’t last, and it will be very curious to compare this portrait to the one of himself that he’ll do in half a year. One day you’ll also see the portrait of me that I’m sending to Gauguin, because he’ll keep it, I hope.
It’s all ashy against pale Veronese (no yellow). The clothing is that brown jacket trimmed with blue, but in which I’ve exaggerated the brown into purple, and the width of the blue trim.
The head is modelled in light-coloured thick impasto against a light-coloured background with almost no shadows. But I’ve slightly slanted the eyes in the Japanese manner. Write to me soon, and the best of luck. How happy old Gauguin will be!
Good handshake, and thank Fréret for coming, which pleased me greatly. More soon.
As for what Gauguin says about ‘Persian’, it’s true, I don’t believe it would be shocking, placed in the Dieulafoy Museum; it could be placed there with no problem.
But but but... I belong neither to high society nor even to society..... and — I prefer both the Greeks and the Japanese to the Persians and Egyptians. For all that, I’m not saying that Gauguin’s wrong to work in the Persian style.
But I’ll have to get used to it.