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."
Theo van Gogh and Jo Bonger to Vincent van Gogh. Paris/Amsterdam, on or about Sunday, 6 January 1889. Printed announcement of engagement.
Theodorus van Gogh
Reception Wednesday, 9 January
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 7 January 1889.
My dear Theo,
Perhaps I won’t write you a really long letter today, but anyhow a line to let you know that I returned home today. How I regret that you were troubled for such a little thing, forgive me, for I am after all probably the primary cause of it. I hadn’t foreseen that it would lead to you being told about it. Enough.
Mr Rey came to see the painting with two of his doctor friends, and they at least understand darned quickly what complementaries are. Now I’m planning to do Mr Rey’s portrait and possibly other portraits as soon as I’ve accustomed myself a little to painting once again.
Thank you for your last letter, I do indeed always feel your presence, but on your side you should also know that I’m working on the same thing as yourself. Ah, how I wish that you’d seen the portrait of Bruyas by Delacroix and the whole museum at Montpellier where Gauguin took me. How people have already worked in the south before us! In truth, it’s quite difficult for me to believe that we’ve gone so far astray as that.
As to it being a hot country — my word, I can’t help but think of a certain country Voltaire speaks of — and without even counting the simple castles in the air. Those are the thoughts that come to me as I return home.
I’m very eager to know how the Bongers are, and if relations with them continue to be good, which I hope they do.
If you think it all right — now that Gauguin has left — we’ll go back to 150 francs a month. I think I’ll see calmer days here again than in the course of the past year. What I’ll need very much for my instruction are all the reproductions of Delacroix’s paintings that one can still get in that shop where they sell lithographs of ancient and modern artists &c. for 1 franc, I think. I definitely don’t want the most expensive ones.
How are our Dutch friends De Haan and Isaäcson? Give them my warm regards.
I just think that we must still keep calm regarding my own painting. If you want some I can certainly send them to you now, but when calm returns to me I hope to do something else. In any case, as regards the Independents, do what seems best to you and what the others will do. But you’ve no idea how much I regret that your journey to Holland hasn’t already been made. Ah well, we can’t change any of the facts, but make up for it as far as possible by correspondence or however you can, and tell the Bongers how much I regret having, perhaps unwittingly, caused a delay. I’ll write to Mother and Wil one of these days, I must also write to Jet Mauve.
Write to me soon, and be completely reassured as to my health, it will cure me completely to know that things are going well for you. What is Gauguin doing? As his family are in the north, and as he’s been invited to exhibit in Belgium and has some success in Paris at the moment, I like to think that he’s found his way. Good handshake, I’m quite happy all the same that this is a thing of the past. Another vigorous handshake.
My dear brother,
I hope that it won’t amaze you too much that although I wrote to you this morning I’m adding a few words this same evening. For I’ve been unable to write for several days, but you can clearly see that that’s over now.
I’ve written a line to Mother and to Wil, which I addressed to our sister with the sole aim of reassuring them, should you have happened to mention to them that I had been ill. For your part, simply tell them that I’ve been a bit ill like the time when I had the clap in The Hague, and that I got myself treated at the hospital. But that it’s not worth the trouble of mentioning, since I got off with a fright and that I was only in the aforesaid or mentioned hospital for a few days. Thus you’ll doubtless find yourself in agreement with the short note that I’ve made them swallow down there at home in Holland.
And by so doing it will be pretty difficult for them to get worked up about it. In fact, they’ll imagine that I almost had the clap. I hope that you’ll find this stratagem innocent enough.
Also you’ll see from this that I haven’t yet forgotten how to jest sometimes.
I’m going to get back to work tomorrow, I’ll begin by doing one or two still lifes to get back into the way of painting.
Roulin has been excellent to us, and I dare believe that he’ll remain a staunch friend whom I’ll still need quite often, for he knows the country well. We dined together today.
If ever you want to make the house physician Rey very happy, this is what would give him great pleasure:
he has heard about a painting by Rembrandt, The anatomy lesson. I told him that we’d get an engraving of it for his study. I hope to do his portrait as soon as I feel a little stronger.
Last Sunday I met another doctor who, in theory at least, knows what Delacroix and Puvis de Chavannes are all about, and who’s very curious to know about Impressionism. I dare hope to get to know him better.
I think that this engraving of The anatomy lesson is published by François Buffa and Sons, and that the net price should be between 12 and 15 francs. It would be best to frame it here to avoid transportation costs.
I can assure you that a few days in the hospital were very interesting, and that one perhaps learns how to live from the sick.
I hope that I’ve just had a simple artist’s bout of craziness and then a lot of fever following a very considerable loss of blood, as an artery was severed.
But my appetite came back immediately, my digestion is good, and the blood is recovering day by day, and likewise serenity is returning to my mind day by day. So please deliberately forget your sad journey and my illness.
Painting is the profession you know, and my goodness we’re perhaps not wrong to try to keep our hearts human.
You can see that I’m doing what you asked me to, that I’m writing what I feel and what I think. For your part, follow up this meeting with the Bongers calmly, I hope that it will continue as a solid friendship, and that perhaps it’s even more.
If I remain here it’s because I might not be able to transplant myself for the moment. After a little while we can review the pros and cons of the situation and do the calculations again.
I shake your hand firmly.