Van Gogh made twenty-one paintings in Saint-Rémy that were "translations" of the work of Jean-François Millet. Van Gogh did not intend for his works to be literal copies of the originals. Speaking specifically of the works after Millet, he explained, "it's not copying pure and simple that one would be doing. It is rather translating into another language, the one of colors, the impressions of chiaroscuro and white and black."
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Saturday, 3 November 1888.
My dear Theo,
Gauguin and I thank you very much for sending 100 francs, and also for your letter.
Gauguin is very happy that you like his consignment from Brittany, and that others who’ve seen it have liked it too.
At the moment he’s working on some women in a vineyard, entirely from memory, but if he doesn’t spoil it or leave it there unfinished it will be very fine and very strange. Also a painting of the same night café that I too have painted.
I’ve done two canvases of a leaf-fall, which Gauguin liked I think, and am now working on a vineyard, all purple and yellow.
Then I have an Arlésienne at last, a figure (no. 30 canvas) knocked off in one hour, background pale lemon — the face grey — the clothing dark dark dark, just unmixed Prussian blue. She’s leaning on a green table and is sitting in a wooden armchair — coloured orange.
Gauguin has bought a chest of drawers for the house, various household utensils and 20 metres of very strong canvas, a whole lot of things we needed, which it was more convenient to have anyway. Only we’ve made a note of all that he paid, which comes to nearly 100 francs, which we’d pay him back at New Year, or in the month of March for example, and then the chest of drawers &c. would belong to us of course.
I consider this quite right in fact, since he intends to put some money aside when he sells. Up to the moment (let’s say in a year) when he’ll have enough to risk a second trip to Martinique.
We’re working a great deal, and our life together is going very well.
I’m very happy to know that you’re not alone in the apartment.
De Haan’s drawings are very fine, I like them a lot. Now doing that with colour, arriving at the same degree of expression without resorting to black and white chiaroscuro, my goodness, that’s not easy. And he’ll even arrive at another type of drawing if he carries out his plan of passing through Impressionism like a school, regarding his new attempts at colour absolutely as studies. But as I see it he’s right several times over to do all that.
Only there are several people who call themselves Impressionists who don’t have his knowledge of the figure, and it’s precisely that, that knowledge of the figure, that will later come back up to the surface and that he’ll always benefit from. I very much want to get to know them one day, De Haan and Isaäcson. If ever they came here, Gauguin would certainly say to them: go to Java and do some Impressionism. Because Gauguin, while he works hard here, always has a nostalgic longing for hot countries. And there you are, it’s undeniable that if one came to Java, for example, with the preoccupation to work there with colour, one would see a heap, a whole heap, of new things. Then in those brighter countries under the stronger sun, the shaded parts as well as the shadow cast by objects and figures become completely different, and the coloration is so intense that one’s tempted quite simply to suppress it. That’s already happening here. Anyway, I won’t press the point about the importance of the question of tropical painting, De Haan and Isaäcson, I’m already sure, will sense its importance.
In any case, to come here at some time or another would do them no harm, they’ll certainly find interesting things.
Gauguin and I are going to dine at home today, and we feel sure and certain that we will manage this as often as it seems preferable or cheaper to us.
So as not to delay this letter I’ll finish it for today. I hope to write to you again soon.
Your arrangement for the money is absolutely fine.
I think that you’d like the leaf-fall that I’ve done.
It’s lilac poplar trunks cut by the frame where the leaves begin.
These tree-trunks, like pillars, line an avenue where old Roman tombs coloured lilac-blue are lined up to right and left. Now the ground is covered as if by a carpet with a thick layer of orange and yellow leaves — fallen. Some are still falling, like snowflakes.
And in the avenue dark figurines of lovers. The top of the painting is a very green meadow and no sky, or almost none.
The second canvas is the same avenue but with an old fellow and a fat woman, round as a ball.
But if only you’d been with us on Sunday! We saw a red vineyard, completely red like red wine. In the distance it became yellow, and then a green sky with a sun, fields violet and sparkling yellow here and there after the rain in which the setting sun was reflected.
We shake your hand firmly in thought, and more soon, I’ll write to you again as soon as I can, and also to our Dutchmen.