From The Norton Simon Museum of Art:
Van Gogh suffered from delicate mental and physical health throughout his life. In the spring of 1889, following a series of nervous breakdowns, he committed himself to an asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There his work evolved away from the hallucinatory color of his Arles period toward the ever more vigorous brushwork and ever more liberally applied paint of his late manner. Here the flaming foliage of the mulberry tree, the rushing sky and hillside are so richly painted that the picture’s surface becomes a kind of bas-relief sculpture. Van Gogh was particularly pleased with this painting, remarking in letters to his siblings that he considered it his most successful treatment of its theme.
To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 18 February 1889.
My dear Theo,
As long as my mind was so out of sorts it would have been fruitless to try and write to you to reply to your kind letter. Today I’ve just returned home for the time being, I hope for good. There are so many moments when I feel completely normal, and actually it would seem to me that, if what I have is only a sickness peculiar to this area, I should wait quietly here until it’s over. Even if it were to happen again (which, let’s say, won’t be the case).
But here is what I’m saying once and for all to you and to Mr Rey. If sooner or later it were desirable that I should go to Aix, as has already been suggested – I consent in advance and will submit to it.
But in my capacity as painter and workman it isn’t permissible for anyone, not even you or the doctor, to take such a course of action without warning me and consulting me myself about it too, because as up to now I’ve always kept my relative presence of mind for my work, it’s my right to say then (or at least to have an opinion on) what would be best, to keep my studio here or to move completely to Aix. That in order to avoid the expenses and the losses of a move as much as possible, and not to do it except in the event of an absolute emergency.
It appears that the people around here have a legend that makes them afraid of painting and that people talked about that in the town. Good. As for me, I know that it’s the same thing in Arabia, and yet we have heaps of painters in Africa, don’t we? Which proves that with a little firmness one can alter these prejudices, or at least do one’s painting all the same. The unfortunate thing is that I’m rather inclined to be impressed, to feel the beliefs of other people myself and not always to laugh at the foundation of truth that there may be in the absurd.
Besides, Gauguin is like that too, as you were able to observe, and was himself also tired out at the time of his stay by some malaise or other.
As I’ve already been staying here for more than a year, and have heard people say pretty much all the bad things possible about me, about Gauguin, about painting in general, why shouldn’t I take things as they are and wait for the outcome here.
Where can I go that’s worse than where I’ve already been twice – the isolation cell. The advantages that I have here are, as Rivet would say – first – ‘they’re all sick’ here, and so at least I don’t feel alone.
Then, as you well know, I love Arles so much, although Gauguin is darned right to call it the filthiest town in all of the south.
And I’ve found so much friendship already from the neighbours, from Mr Rey, from everyone at the hospital for that matter, that really I’d prefer to be always ill here than to forget the kindness there is in the same people who have the most incredible prejudices towards painters and painting, or in any case have no clear and healthy idea whatsoever about it as we do.
Then at the hospital they know me now, and if this were to come on again it would pass in silence, and at the hospital they’d know what to do. I have absolutely no desire to be treated by other doctors, nor do I feel the need for it. The only desire I might have is to be able to continue to earn with my own hands what I spend.
Koning has written me a very kind letter, saying that he and a friend would probably come to the south with me for a long time. That in response to a letter I wrote him a few days ago. I no longer dare to urge painters to come here after what has happened to me, they run the risk of losing their heads like me. The same thing for De Haan and Isaäcson. Let them go to Antibes, Nice, Menton, it’s perhaps healthier.
Mother and our sister also wrote to me, the latter was very upset about the sick woman she was caring for. At home they’re very pleased about your marriage.
Be well aware that you mustn’t preoccupy yourself with me too much, nor fret yourself.
It must probably run its course, and we couldn’t change very much about our fate with precautions.
Once again, let’s try to seize our fate in whatever form it comes. Our sister wrote to me that your fiancée would come to stay with them for a while. That is well done. Ah well, I shake your hand most heartily, and let us not be discouraged. Believe me
Warm regards to Gauguin, I hope he’s going to write to me, I’ll write to him too.
Address next letter place Lamartine.