To Willemien van Gogh. Arles, on or about Monday, 12 November 1888.
My dear sister,
One thing that has given me great pleasure is that I’ve finally received a reply from Mrs Mauve.
As I want to write to her one of these days I’d ask you to send me her current address immediately and without error. Her letter was dated from The Hague, but she doesn’t say if she’ll stay there; personally I thought she was still living in Laren.
She says she’s also had a nice letter from you.
I received your letter dated from Middelharnis, and I thank you very much for it. It’s good that you’ve at last begun to read Au bonheur des dames &c. There are so many things in it, as there are in Guy de Maupassant as well.
I’ve already replied to you that I didn’t like Mother’s portrait enormously. I’ve now just painted a reminiscence of the garden at Etten, to put in my bedroom, and here’s a croquis of it. It’s quite a big canvas.
Now here are the colours. The younger of the two women walking is wearing a Scottish shawl with green and orange checks and carrying a red parasol. The old one has a blue-violet shawl, almost black. But a bunch of dahlias, some lemon yellow, others variegated pink and white, explode against this sombre figure.
Behind them a few emerald-green cedar or cypress bushes. Behind these cypresses one catches a glimpse of a bed of pale green and red cabbages, surrounded by a border of little white flowers. The sandy path is a raw orange, the foliage of two beds of scarlet geraniums is very green. Finally, in the middle ground is a maidservant dressed in blue who’s arranging plants with a profusion of white, pink, yellow and vermilion-red flowers.
There you are, I know it isn’t perhaps much of a resemblance, but for me it conveys the poetic character and the style of the garden as I feel them.
In the same way, let’s suppose that these two women walking are you and our mother. Let’s even suppose then that there may be not the slightest, absolutely not the slightest vulgar and fatuous resemblance, the deliberate choice of colour, the dark violet violently blotched with the lemon yellow of the dahlias, suggests Mother’s personality to me.
The figure in the Scottish plaid with the orange and green checks standing out against the dark green of the cypress, this contrast even more exaggerated by the red parasol, gives me an idea of you, vaguely a figure like those in Dickens’s novels.
I don’t know if you’ll understand that one can speak poetry just by arranging colours well, just as one can say comforting things in music. In the same way the bizarre lines, sought out and multiplied, and snaking all over the painting, aren’t intended to render the garden in its vulgar resemblance but draw it for us as if seen in a dream, in character and yet at the same time stranger than the reality.
I’ve now also painted a woman reading a novel.
Abundant very black hair, a green bodice, sleeves the colour of wine lees, the skirt black, the background completely yellow, library shelves with books. She’s holding a yellow book in her hand.
That’s all for today. But I remember that I haven’t yet told you that my friend Paul Gauguin, an Impressionist painter, now lives with me and that we’re very happy together, he encourages me a lot often to work purely from the imagination.
Give Mother my warm regards, and write without fail and by return with Mrs Mauve’s address. I kiss you and Mother in thought.