From Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
In May 1889 van Gogh checked into an insane asylum. This landscape belongs to a series of pictures based on the view from his barred window there. The scene is much as the artist described it in a letter to his brother, Theo, on August 30th: “…a field of yellow stubble that they are ploughing, the cut part of the ploughed earth with the strips of yellow stubble, background of hills.” The distant windmills, however, were an addition from van Gogh’s imagination, an indication that he painted the scene from memory several months later.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 22 January 1889.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter and for the 50-franc note it contained. Naturally I’m now covered until the arrival of your letter after the 1st. What happened as regards that money was absolutely sheer chance and a misunderstanding for which neither you nor I are responsible. To telegraph, as you rightly say, I couldn’t do by the same sheer chance, for I didn’t know if you were still in Amsterdam or back in Paris. It is, with the rest, over now, and one more proof of the proverb that misfortunes never come singly. Yesterday Roulin left (naturally my dispatch of yesterday was sent before the arrival of your letter this morning). It was touching to see him with his children on the last day, above all with the very little one when he made her laugh and bounce on his knees and sang for her.
His voice had a strangely pure, moved timbre which to my ear contained a sweet, distressed wet-nurse’s song and something like a distant echo of the clarion of revolutionary France. He wasn’t sad, though, on the contrary, he had put on his brand-new uniform, which he’d received the same day, and everyone was making much of him.
I’ve just finished a new canvas which has an almost chic little look to it, a willow basket with lemons and oranges — a cypress branch and a pair of blue gloves, you’ve already seen some of these fruit-baskets of mine.
Listen — what you know I’m trying to do, myself, is to recoup the money that my training as a painter has cost, neither more nor less. That’s my right, along with earning my bread each day.
It would appear just to me that it should come back, I don’t say into your hands, since we’ve done what we’ve done together, and we find it so upsetting to talk of money. But may it go into the hands of your wife, who anyway will join with us to work with the artists.
If I’m not yet busying myself with selling directly it’s because my tally of paintings isn’t yet complete, but it’s coming along and I’ve set to work again with this iron resolve. I have good and bad luck in my production, but not bad luck alone. If, for example, our Monticelli bouquet is worth 500 francs to an art lover, and it’s worth that, then I dare assure you that my sunflowers are also worth 500 francs to one of those Scots or Americans. Now, to be sufficiently heated up to melt those golds and those flower tones, not just anybody can do that, it takes an individual’s whole and entire energy and attention.
When I saw my canvases again after my illness, what seemed to me the best was the bedroom.
It seems to me that your apartment would be cluttered if I were to send all of this to you in Paris, especially after your wife will be staying there too. Then it would get the canvases known that would have lost their bloom and be talked about downstairs as if they were nothing, before the time and the hour.
The sum we’re working with is certainly quite respectable, but a lot of it runs away and we must above all be watchful to ensure that not everything slips through the net from year to year. It’s also the fact that even if the month goes on I’m always trying to strike more or less a balance through production, at least relative. So many annoyances certainly make me a little anxious and fearful, but I’m not yet in despair.
The trouble I foresee is that much prudence will be required to prevent the expenses we have when selling from exceeding the sale itself when the day comes. As regards that, how many times have we been in a position to see that sad thing in the lives of artists.
I have the portrait of Roulin’s wife on the go that I was working on before being ill.
In it I had ranged the reds from pink to orange, which rose into the yellows as far as lemon with light and dark greens. If I could finish that, it would give me great pleasure but I fear she won’t want to pose any more, with her husband away. You’re right in seeing that Gauguin’s departure is terrible, right because it pushes us back down when we had created and furnished the house to take in friends in bad times.
Only we’ll keep the furniture &c. all the same. And although today everyone will be afraid of me, that may disappear with time.
We’re all mortal and subject to all possible illnesses, what can we do about it when the latter aren’t precisely of a pleasant kind. The best thing is to try to recover from them. I find remorse, too, in thinking of the trouble that I’ve occasioned on my side, however involuntarily it may be — to Gauguin. But prior to the last days I could see only one thing, that he was working with his heart divided between the desire to go to Paris to carry out his plans, and life in Arles. What will the outcome of all that be for him? You’ll feel that although you have a good salary we still lack capital, except in goods, and that we need to be even more powerful to really change the sad position of the artists we know. But then one often just comes up against distrust on their part, and the fact that they’re always plotting among themselves, which always arrives at the result of — emptiness. I think that at Pont-Aven 5 or 6 of them had already formed a new group, perhaps broken up already.
They aren’t dishonest, but that’s a thing without name and one of their defects as ‘enfants terribles’. Now the main thing will be that your marriage isn’t delayed. By marrying you’re putting Mother’s mind at rest and making her happy, and anyway what your position in life and business rather necessitates. Will that be appreciated by the society to which you belong? Perhaps no more than the artists suspect that from time to time I’ve worked and suffered for the community... So from me, your brother, you won’t wish for the absolutely banal congratulations and the assurances that you’ll be transported straight to paradise.
And with your wife you’ll cease to be alone, which I’d so wish for our sister Wil too.
I still hope that perhaps, if we can’t make her meet and marry a doctor, we might at least perhaps be able to make her meet a painter.
That, after your own marriage, would be what I would wish for now more than all the rest.
Once your marriage is done, there will perhaps be others in the family, and in any case, you’ll see your path clear and the house will no longer be empty. Whatever I think on a few other points, our father and our mother have been exemplary as married people.
And I’ll never forget Mother on the occasion of our father’s death, when she said only one small word, which for me made me begin to love our old mother again more than before. Anyway, as married people our parents were exemplary, like Roulin and his wife to quote another specimen.
Well, go straight ahead along that road.
During my illness I again saw each room in the house at Zundert, each path, each plant in the garden, the views round about, the fields, the neighbours, the cemetery, the church, our kitchen garden behind — right up to the magpies’ nest in a tall acacia in the cemetery.
That’s because I still have the most primitive memories of all of you, of those days; to remember all this there’s now only Mother and me. I shan’t go on since it’s better that I don’t try to restore everything that passed through my mind then.
Know only that I’ll be very happy when your marriage has taken place.
Listen now, if as regards your wife it would perhaps be good for a painting of mine to be at the Goupils’ from time to time, then I’ll drop my old grudge that I have against them in the following way. I said that I didn’t want to return there with too innocent a painting. But you can exhibit the two canvases of sunflowers there if you wish.
Gauguin would be pleased to have one of them, and I very much enjoy doing Gauguin quite a big favour. So, he wants one of those two canvases, well I’ll do one of them over again, the one he wants.
You’ll see that these canvases will catch the eye. But I’d advise you to keep them for yourself, for the privacy of your wife and yourself.
It’s a type of painting that changes its aspect a little, which grows in richness the more you look at it. Besides, you know that Gauguin likes them extraordinarily. He said to me about them, among other things:
‘that — ... that’s... the flower’.
You know that Jeannin has the peony, Quost has the hollyhock, but I have the sunflower, in a way. And all in all it will give me pleasure to continue the exchanges with Gauguin, even if sometimes it costs me dear too.
Did you see, during your fleeting visit, the portrait in black and yellow of Mrs Ginoux?
That’s a portrait painted in 3 quarters of an hour.
I must finish for the moment.
The delay in sending the money is sheer chance, and thus neither you nor I could do anything about it.