From Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo:
On 8 May 1889, Van Gogh reports for treatment at the asylum Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy, not far from Arles. For the first month he is not allowed to leave the grounds, but within the walls is an overgrown garden with pine trees, which proves to be a great source of inspiration for new studies and motifs.
For The garden of the asylum at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh chooses an unusual viewpoint, next to the wall of the hospital. Due to the diagonal path with a stone bench, the painting acquires a particularly spatial effect. The exuberantly flowering bushes and trees are depicted in a tangle of thickly painted brushstrokes. Despite the huge variety of shapes and colours, the composition has both depth and structure.
n September of the previous year, Van Gogh writes from Arles to his sister Wil about what the colours mean to him: ‘We need good cheer and happiness, hope and love. The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant colour, well arranged, resplendent’.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 11 September 1888.
My dear Theo,
When Gauguin comes to work with me, and when for his part he shows himself a little bit generous as far as his paintings are concerned — Well, then, won’t you then give work to two artists who without you would have nothing to do, and at the same time admitting that I believe you to be completely in the right when you say that as far as money’s concerned, you see no advantage in it. From another point of view you’ll be doing something like Durand-Ruel, who in the past, before other people recognized Claude Monet’s individuality, bought paintings from him. And Durand-Ruel didn’t earn from it either; at one point he had quantities of those paintings without being able to dispose of them. But after all, what he did will always remain well done, and today he can always say to himself that he won his case. If I saw a financial disadvantage, however, I wouldn’t mention it myself. But Gauguin will have to be loyal, but seeing that the arrival of his friend Laval has opened up another resource for him for the time being, I believe he’s hesitating between Laval and us.
I don’t blame him for it; only if G. doesn’t lose sight of his interest, it’s only right that you don’t lose sight of yours from the point of view of repayment in paintings. We can already see that Gauguin would have ditched us completely by now if Laval had had a sou or two. I’m very curious to know what he’ll say to you in his next letter, which you’ll certainly have before long.
There you have it, I’m sure that whether he comes or not, our friendship with him will endure, but that we must show a little firmness on our side. He won’t find anything better, unless it was precisely by taking advantage of what you’ve wished to do for him. Now, that he won’t dare to do. You should just know that if I don’t see him come I won’t be the least bit upset about it and that I won’t work any the less because of it; that if he comes he’ll be very welcome. But I can see so clearly that counting on him would be just what would do us in. He’ll be loyal if it’s to his advantage, now if he doesn’t come he’ll find something else, but he won’t find anything better and he’ll lose nothing by not trying to be clever.
I’ll need another 5 metres of ordinary canvas at 2.50 francs, but it goes without saying that Tasset, taking the weight of this package into account, should send either a metre more or a metre less, so that the carriage isn’t double.
I believe that now it’s a good opportunity for you to ask Gauguin bluntly when he writes to you, are you coming or are you not coming?
If you haven’t made up your mind, on neither side will we be bound to do the thing envisaged. If the plan for a more serious association isn’t to come about, no matter, but then each person must regain his freedom of action. My letter to Gauguin has gone off; I asked them for an exchange if they wish; I would so much like to have here Gauguin’s portrait of Bernard and Bernard’s of Gauguin.
Included herewith an article that will interest you; you’d be well advised to go to see that.
Ideas for work are coming to me in abundance, and that means that even though isolated I don’t have time to think or to feel. I’m going like a painting-locomotive. Now I believe that this is never going to stop. And my idea is that a living studio, you’ll never find one ready-made, but it’s created from one day to the next through work and staying patiently in the same place. I have a study of an old mill, painted in broken tones like the Oak on the rock; that study which you said you had framed with the sower. The idea of the sower still continues to haunt me. Exaggerated studies like the sower, like the night café8 now, usually seem to me atrociously ugly and bad, but when I’m moved by something, as here by this little article on Dostoevsky, then they’re the only ones that seem to me to have a more important meaning.
I have a third study now, of a landscape with factory, and an enormous sun in a red sky, above red roofs, in which nature seems to be in a rage, on a day of nasty mistral.
As far as the house is concerned, the fact that it will be habitable continues to soothe me very much. Will my work be worse because by staying in the same place I’ll see the seasons come and go on the same subjects? Seeing the same orchards again in spring, the same wheatfields in summer, I’ll inevitably see my work regularly before me in advance, and can plan better. And by keeping certain studies here to make an ensemble that will hold together, after a certain time that will make a calmer body of work for you. I feel that as far as that goes, we’re pretty well on the right road. I could only wish that you were nearer here.
Considering that I can’t bring the north closer to the south, what’s to be done?
So I say to myself that on my own I’m not capable of doing sufficiently important painting to justify your travelling to the south two or three times a year. But — if Gauguin came and if it was fairly well known that we were living here and helping artists to live and work, I still don’t see the impossibility of the south’s becoming for you, as for me, a second native country in some sense.
I’m very pleased to have finished my letter to Gauguin without saying that it bewilders me somewhat that he should hesitate between going to stay with Laval or with me. It would be unfair not to leave him total freedom to choose and to do as he can. But I wrote to him that I was sure that even if he didn’t come here because the journey wouldn’t be possible for him, then he wouldn’t be staying much longer at a hotel.
And that then it was two permanent studios instead of one.
I always come back to this, that once settled one works more calmly. And in that position one can always be of more help to others, too, if the opportunity arises. Bernard says that it makes him suffer to see how Gauguin is often prevented from doing what he can, after all, by purely material questions of paint, canvas, &c. But in any case, that won’t continue. Wouldn’t the worst thing that could happen to him be that he’d be forced to leave his paintings with his landlord as security for his debt, and to take refuge either with you or with me, travelling one way? But in that case, if he didn’t wish to lose his paintings, he must confront his landlord quite directly. A case like that, where the merchandise is in any case worth considerably more than the debt, can be heard as a matter of urgency by the president of the district civil court. If the landlord claims the right to keep everything, which he has no right to.