To Arnold Koning. Arles, on or about Tuesday, 22 January 1889.
My dear friend Koning,
Thank you for sending me New Year’s greetings from the far north of our old native country. I received your postcard in the hospital in Arles, where I was quartered at the time because of an attack of brain or some other fever that had already pretty much passed off. And as regards the causes and effects of the illness in question, we’ll do best to leave it to possible discussions by the Dutch catechists as to whether or not I have been or still am — mad, fancy myself mad, or regarded as mad in a flight of fancy consisting only of sculpture.
And if not, whether I already was before that time; am or am not at present, or will be hereafter.
Having thus informed you more than enough about my mental and physical state... it will appear less odd to you that I didn’t reply to you sooner. But meanwhile we mustn’t forget to stick to our guns.
And starting from there, I ask you: what are you doing in painting at the moment, and how are you working with colour?
I’ve seen absolutely nothing of your studies sent to Theo (I believe), despite urging you to make an exchange. Is this to do with Theo, who possibly had other things on his mind, or with the not inconsiderable distance between us?
Did you know that Theo is engaged and will marry an Amsterdam girl quite soon?
After this question about your work, a few words about mine. At present I have a portrait of a woman on the go, or rather on the easel. Which I’ve called ‘la berceuse’, or as we say in Dutch with Van Eeden (you know, who wrote that book I got you to read) — or would simply call in Van Eeden’s Dutch ‘our lullaby’, or the woman by the cradle.
It’s a woman dressed in green (bust olive green and the skirt pale Veronese green). Her hair is entirely orange and in plaits. The complexion worked up in chrome yellow, with a few broken tones, of course, in order to model. The hands that hold the cradle cord ditto ditto. The background is vermilion at the bottom (simply representing a tiled floor or brick floor). The wall is covered with wallpaper, obviously calculated by me in connection with the rest of the colours. This wallpaper is blue-green with pink dahlias and dotted with orange and with ultramarine. I believe I’ve run fairly parallel to Van Eeden in this, and consequently don’t regard his style of writing as unparallel to my style of painting in the matter of colour. Whether I’ve actually sung a lullaby with colour I leave to the critics, particularly to those aforementioned. But we’ve talked enough about this in the past, haven’t we? About the eternal question of colour that guides us, in so far as our composure can go.
In any event, on leaving the hospital I painted my own doctor’s portrait. And haven’t yet altogether lost my equilibrium as a painter. But obviously I’ve painted a lot more other studies or paintings in all this time. Among other things this summer, two flower-pieces with nothing but Sunflowers in a yellow earthenware pot. Painted with the three chrome yellows, yellow ochre and Veronese green and nothing else.
For the time being I’m still in Arles and at your disposal for further correspondence by letter or painted study. Theo went to see Breitner recently,11 and said of his work that he thought Breitner the best painter and thinker among you over there.
Regards, my dear friend, with a handshake in thought.
2 Place Lamartine
If you see Breitner, you may let him read this epistle or tell him about it just as I write it, without bringing too much of your own imagination into play.