From Letter to Theo, Saint-Rémy 5/6 September 1889
Yesterday I began the portrait of the head attendant, and perhaps I shall do his wife too, for he is married and lives in a little house a few steps away from the establishment.
A very interesting face, there is a fine etching by Legros, representing an old Spanish grandee, if you remember it, that will give you an idea of the type. He was at the hospital in Marseilles through two periods of cholera, altogether he is a man who has seen an enormous amount of suffering and death, and there is a sort of contemplative calm in his face, so that I can't help being reminded of Guizot's face--for there is something of that in his head, but different. But he is one of the people, and simpler. Anyway, you will see it if I succeed with it and if I make a duplicate.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Monday, 19 November 1888.
My dear Theo,
Gauguin’s canvas, Breton Children, has arrived, and he’s altered it very, very well.
But although I quite like this canvas, it’s all the better that it should be sold, since the two he’s going to send you from here are thirty times better. I’m speaking of the women picking grapes and the woman with the pigs. The reason for this is that G. is beginning to overcome his liver or stomach trouble that has bothered him lately.
Now I’m writing to you in reply to what you were telling me, that you would frame a small canvas of a pink peach tree I think, to place it with those gentlemen.
I don’t want to leave any doubt about what I think of that.
First, if you yourself would like to place either a bad or good thing of mine there, my word if that will make you happier, then of course you have and will have carte blanche either now or later.
But if, on the other hand, it’s either for my pleasure or for my own benefit, I’d be of the opinion that it’s completely unnecessary.
If you were to ask me what would give me pleasure, it’s quite simply one single thing, that you keep for yourself what you like from what I do, in the apartment, and that you don’t sell any of it now.
The rest, the stuff that gets in the way, send it to me here for this good reason, that everything I’ve done from nature is chestnuts pulled out of the fire.
Gauguin, in spite of himself and in spite of me, has proved to me a little that it was time for me to vary things a bit – I’m beginning to compose from memory, and all my studies will still be useful to me for that work, as they remind me of former things I’ve seen.
So what does selling any of it matter if we’re not absolutely pressed for money?
For in addition, I’m sure even now that you’ll eventually see things that way.
As for you, you’re with the Goupils, but I certainly am not, after however working there for 6 years we were absolutely dissatisfied on both sides with everything, them with me, me with them. It’s an old story, but all the same that’s how it is.
So continue on your way, but as far as the business is concerned it seems to me incompatible with my previous behaviour to come back there with a canvas of such innocence as this little peach tree or some other thing like it. No. If in a year or two I have enough to make an exhibition of my own, let’s say thirty or so no. thirty canvases — And if I said to them, will you do it for me, Boussod would certainly send me packing. Knowing them alas a little too well, I think that I won’t approach them. Not that I’d ever try to ruin anything, on the contrary, you must admit that I urge on all the others there zealously.
But as for me, my word I have an old grudge against them.
Be sure and certain that I consider you, as a seller of Impressionist paintings, to be very independent of the Goupils, that it will therefore always be a pleasure for me to urge artists to go there. But I don’t want Boussod ever to have a chance to say ‘this little canvas isn’t too bad for this young beginner’, as if never before...
On the contrary, I won’t come back to them, I’d prefer never to sell than to enter into it other than very straightforwardly. Now they’re not people to act straightforwardly, so it isn’t worth beginning again. Be assured that the more clear-cut we are about this the more they’ll come to you to see them. You don’t sell them, so in showing my work you aren’t trading outside the firm of Boussod, V. & Cie. Thus you’re acting honestly, and that’s worthy of respect.
If one or the other wants to buy however, fine, all they have to do is approach me directly. But be sure of this: if we can withstand the siege my day will come. I cannot and must not at this moment do anything other than work.
One thing however perhaps, I’m going to reply to Jet Mauve, tell her a whole heap of things about Gauguin &c. &c., send her some croquis, and indirectly Tersteeg will prick up his ears again. Gauguin and I often talk about the need to hold exhibitions in London, and perhaps we’ll send you a letter for Tersteeg to read. The thing is, should Tersteeg have an energetic successor — that day is approaching — the latter won’t be able to work with anything but new paintings.
Handshake — we’ll need some more colours. I must also tell you that the month with the two of us together is going better on 150 each than I did on 250 just for myself. At the end of a year you’ll notice that this is working after all.
I can’t say anything more yet. I rather regret having the room full of canvases and having nothing to send when Gauguin sends his.
The thing is, regarding the impasto things, Gauguin has told me how to get rid of the grease by washing them from time to time.
What’s more, when that’s done I must work on them again to retouch them.
If I sent you any of them now, their colour would be duller than it will be later.
They all think that what I’ve sent was done too hastily. I wouldn’t deny it, and I’ll make certain changes.
It does me enormous good to have company as intelligent as Gauguin and to see him work. You’ll see that certain people are going to reproach G. for no longer doing Impressionism. His two latest canvases which you’re going to see are very firm in the impasto, there’s even some work with the knife in them. And that will put his Breton canvases into the shade a little, not all, but some of them.
I hardly have the time to write, otherwise I’d already have written to those Dutchmen. I’ve had a letter from Boch, you know that Belgian who has a sister in the Vingtistes. He’s enjoying working up there.
I really hope that we’ll always remain friends with Gauguin, and in business with him, and if he succeeds in setting up a tropical studio that would be magnificent.
But that will take more money by my calculations than by his.
Guillaumin has written to Gauguin, he seems very hard up but must have done some fine work. He has a child now, but he was terrified by the confinement and says he’ll always have ‘the red vision’ of it before his eyes. Only Gauguin has replied to him very well, saying that he, G., had seen it 6 times.
Jet Mauve is in much better health, and as you perhaps know has been living in The Hague since last August, near the Jewish cemetery, so almost in the country.
You won’t lose anything by waiting a little while for my work, and we’ll calmly leave our dear pals to scorn the present ones.
Fortunately for me I know what I want better than they believe and am, basically, extremely indifferent to the criticism of working hurriedly. In reply I’ve produced work these last few days even more hurriedly.
Gauguin was telling me the other day — that he’d seen a painting by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine. But — he likes mine better.
I’m not of that opinion — only don’t think that I’m weakening. I regret as always, as you know, the scarcity of models, the thousand obstacles to overcome that difficulty. If I were a completely different man and if I were wealthier I could force it, at present I’m not giving up and am plodding on quietly.
If at the age of forty I do a painting of figures like the flowers Gauguin was talking about I’ll have a position as an artist alongside anything.
In the meantime I can tell you anyway that the last two studies are rather funny. No. 30 canvases, a wooden and straw chair all yellow on red tiles against a wall (daytime). Then Gauguin’s armchair, red and green, night effect, on the seat two novels and a candle.
On sailcloth in thick impasto.
What I say about sending back studies, there’s no hurry at all, and I’m referring to the bad ones which, however, will serve me as documents — or those that are cluttering up your apartment. As to what I say in general about the studies, I’m set on just one thing: that the position is quite clear. Don’t trade on my behalf outside the firm; as for me, either I’ll never return to the Goupils, which is more than likely, or I’ll return straightforwardly, which is quite impossible.
One more handshake, and thanks for everything you’re doing for me.