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, 1 December 1888.
My dear Theo,
On my side, too, it’s more than time that I wrote to you with a rested mind for once. Thanks first of all for your kind letter and for the 100-franc note it contained. Our days pass in working, working always, in the evening we’re worn out and go to the café before retiring to bed early. That’s our existence. Naturally it’s winter here too, although the weather still continues to be very fine from time to time. But I don’t find it disagreeable to try to work from the imagination, since that permits me not to go out. Working in the heat of a stove doesn’t bother me, but the cold isn’t for me, as you know. Only I’ve spoiled that thing I did of the garden at Nuenen and I feel that habit is also necessary for works of the imagination. But I’ve done the portraits of an entire family, the family of the postman whose head I did before – the man, his wife, the baby, the young boy and the 16-year-old son, all characters and very French, although they have a Russian look. No. 15 canvases. You can sense how in my element that makes me feel, and that it consoles me to a certain extent for not being a doctor.
I hope to persevere with this and be able to obtain more serious sittings, which can be paid for with portraits.
And if I manage to do this entire family even better, I’ll have done at least one thing to my taste and personal.
At the moment I’m really in the shit, studies, studies, studies, and that’ll go on for some time yet – such a mess that it breaks my heart – and yet that’ll give me neatness when I’m 40. From time to time a canvas that makes a painting, such as that sower, which I too think is better than the first one.
If we can withstand the siege, a day of victory will come for us, even though we wouldn’t be among the people who are being talked about. It’s rather a case of thinking of that proverb, joy in town, grief at home.
What can you expect? Supposing that we still have a whole battle to fight, then we must try to mature calmly. You’ve always told me to do more quality than quantity. Now, nothing is preventing us from having a lot of studies classed as such, and consequently not having a whole heap of things for sale. And if sooner or later we’re obliged to sell, then selling at a slightly higher price the things that can hold their own from the point of view of serious research.
I think that – in spite of myself – I won’t be able to prevent myself sending you a few canvases shortly, say within a month. I say in spite of myself, for I’m convinced that the canvases gain from drying right through here in the south, to the point where the impasto is thoroughly hardened, which takes a long time – that’s to say a year. If I restrain myself from sending them that would certainly be best. For we don’t need to show them at the moment, I’m well enough aware of that.
Gauguin works a lot – I very much like a still life with yellow background and foreground. He’s working on a portrait of me which I don’t count as one of his undertakings that don’t come to anything.
At present he’s doing landscapes, and finally he has a good canvas of washerwomen, even very good as I see it.
You should receive two of Gauguin’s drawings in return for 50 francs which you sent him in Brittany. But old mother Bernard simply appropriated them. Speaking of indescribable stories, this is indeed one. I think that she’ll give them back though in the end. Beware of the Bernard family, but you should know that in my opinion Bernard’s work is very fine and that he’ll have some well-deserved success in Paris.
Very interesting that you met Chatrian. Is he blond or dark? I’d like to know that, since I know the two portraits.
In their work, it’s above all Madame Therèse and L’ami Fritz that I like.
As regards L’histoire d’un sous-maître, it seems to me that there’s more to find fault with than seemed possible to me at the time.
I think we’ll end up spending our evenings drawing and writing, there’s more to work on than we can do.
You know that Gauguin has been invited to exhibit at the Vingtistes. His imagination is already leading him to think of settling in Brussels, which would indeed be a means of finding himself in a position to see his Danish wife again. Since he has some success with the Arlésiennes in the meantime, I wouldn’t consider that as being absolutely without consequences.
He’s married and doesn’t much appear to be, in short I fear there may be an absolute incompatibility of character between his wife and himself, but naturally he’s more attached to his children, who judging from the portraits are very beautiful. We, on the other hand, aren’t too gifted in that respect. More soon, a handshake for you and for the Dutchmen.
Gauguin will write to you tomorrow, he’s waiting for a reply to his letter and sends his warm regards.
Gauguin wrote to Theo:
‘I should be obliged if you would send me part of the money for the paintings that have been sold. Taking everything into account I am obliged to return to Paris; Vincent and I can absolutely not live side by side without trouble, as a result of incompatibility of temperament, and both he and I need tranquillity for our work. He is a man of remarkable intelligence, whom I greatly respect and whom I leave with regret, but I repeat, it is necessary’