From Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam:
This Pietà – the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead Christ – is based on a lithograph by Nanteuil after a painting by Eugène Delacroix. Van Gogh painted it in 1889, during his confinement at the hospital in Saint-Rémy. It is more a variation on the original than a true copy: the painter adopted both the subject and composition, but executed it in his own color and style.
As he wrote to Theo, the pretext for the painting was an accident which had occurred during his illness: “The Delacroix lithograph La Pietà, as well as several others, fell into my oils and paints and was damaged. This upset me terribly, and I am now busy making a painting of it, as you will see.” The stained lithograph has also survived.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 11 or Monday, 12 November 1888.
My dear Theo,
Thanks very much for sending me 100 francs and for your letter.
You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve had a letter from Jet Mauve thanking us for the painting.
A very nice letter, in which she talks of times gone by. I’ll reply to it and will send another few croquis in the letter. You’ll also be pleased to know that we have an addition to the collection of artists’ portraits. Laval’s self-portrait, extremely good.
Also a seascape by Bernard in exchange for canvases of mine.
The portrait of Laval is very self-assured, very distinguished, and will be precisely one of the paintings you speak of, which one takes before the others have recognized the talent. I think it excellent that you’re taking a Luce. Does he by any chance have his portrait? That’s in case there’s nothing extraordinarily interesting — portraits are always good. Gauguin’s working on a very original nude woman in some hay with some pigs. It promises to be very beautiful, with great style. He’s had a magnificent pot with 2 rats’ heads sent back from Paris.
He’s a really great artist and a really excellent friend.
If you could ever get a fine Bernard I strongly urge you to do so. Gauguin has a superb one. I’ve been working on two canvases.
A reminiscence of our garden at Etten with cabbages, cypresses, dahlias and figures. Then a Woman reading a novel in a library like the Lecture Française. A completely green woman. Gauguin gives me courage to imagine, and the things of the imagination do indeed take on a more mysterious character.
The consignment from Tasset arrived the day before yesterday, and we were very pleased with it.
Could Tasset also send, but it’s needed urgently:
1 very large tube of Vermilion (same size as the large flake whites)
3 tubes, the same size, of Prussian Blue.
We’d be infinitely obliged.
I’m pleased that Jet Mauve has written, and I dare to believe that little by little they’ll come round to the Impressionists after all.
A handshake in thought, and my regards to De Haan and Isaäcson.