To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 17 or Tuesday, 18 December 1888.
My dear Theo,
Yesterday Gauguin and I went to Montpellier to see the museum there, and especially the Bruyas room — there are many portraits of Bruyas, by Delacroix, by Ricard, by Courbet, by Cabanel, by Couture, by Verdier, by Tassaert, by others too. After that there are paintings by Delacroix, Courbet, Giotto, Paul Potter, Botticelli, T. Rousseau, very fine.
Bruyas was a benefactor to artists, and this is all I’ll say to you: in the Delacroix portrait, he’s a gentleman with a beard, red hair, who looks damnably like you or me, and who made me think of that poem by Musset... everywhere I touched the earth, an unfortunate man dressed in black came to sit beside us, a man who looked at us like a brother. It would have the same effect on you, I’m sure.
I’d really ask you to go and see, at that bookshop where they sell lithographs of ancient and modern artists, if you could manage to get the lithograph after Delacroix’s ‘Tasso in the madhouse’ without great expense, since it would seem to me that this figure (by Delacroix) must have some relationship to this fine Bruyas portrait. They have other Delacroixs there, a study of a mulatto woman (which Gauguin once copied), the Odalisques, Daniel in the lions’ den.
By Courbet, first, The village girls, magnificent, a nude woman seen from the back, another on the ground, in a landscape. Second, The woman spinning (superb), and a whole load more Courbets. Anyway, you must know that this collection exists, or else know people who have seen it, and consequently be able to talk about it. So I shan’t insist on the museum (except for the Barye drawings and bronzes!)
Gauguin and I talk a lot about Delacroix, Rembrandt &c.
The discussion is excessively electric. We sometimes emerge from it with tired minds, like an electric battery after it’s run down.
We’ve been right in the midst of magic, for as Fromentin says so well, Rembrandt is above all a magician and Delacroix a man of God, of God’s thunder and bugger off in the name of God.
I’m writing this to you with reference to our friends, the Dutchmen De Haan and Isaäcson, who have so sought and loved Rembrandt, in order to encourage you to pursue the researches. One mustn’t get discouraged about that. You know the strange and superb portrait of a man by Rembrandt at the La Caze gallery, I told Gauguin that, for me, I saw in it a certain family or racial resemblance to Delacroix, or to him, Gauguin.
I don’t know why, but I always call that portrait ‘the traveller’ or ‘the man coming from far away’.
That’s an equivalent and parallel idea to what I’ve already told you, always to look at the portrait of old Six. The fine portrait with the glove for your future, and the Rembrandt etching, Six reading by a window in a ray of sunlight, for your past and your present.
That’s the stage we’re at.
Gauguin said to me this morning, when I asked him how he felt: ‘that he could feel his old self coming back’, which gave me great pleasure.
As for me, coming here last winter, tired and almost fainting mentally, I too suffered a little inside before I was able to begin to remake myself.
How I’d like you to see that museum in Montpellier some day, there are some really beautiful things there!
Say so to Degas, that Gauguin and I have been to see the portrait of Bruyas by Delacroix at Montpellier, for we must boldly believe that what is, is, and the portrait of Bruyas by Delacroix resembles you and me like a new brother.
As regards setting up a life with painters as pals, you see such odd things and I’ll end with what you always say, time will tell.
You can tell all this to our friends Isaäcson and De Haan, and even boldly read them this letter, I would already have written to them if I’d felt the necessary electric force. On behalf of Gauguin as well as myself, a good, hearty handshake to you all.
If you think that Gauguin or I have a facility in our work, the work isn’t always accommodating. And for the Dutchmen not to get discouraged in their difficulties any more than we do, that’s what I wish for them, and for you too.