Vincent van Gogh - The Sower after Jean-Francois Millet 1889

The Sower after Jean-Francois Millet 1889
The Sower after Jean-Francois Millet
Oil on canvas 80.8 x 66.0 cm. Saint-Rémy: Late October, 1889
Collection Niarchos

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The Sower Jean-Francois Millet
The Sower
Jean-Francois Millet
Fine Arts Museum, Boston

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."

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Hendrik Christiaan Bonger, Hermine Louise Bonger-Weissman and Anna van Gogh-Carbentus to Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam/Breda/Paris, Thursday, 18 April 1889. Printed announcement of marriage.
Mr and Mrs H.C. Bonger-Weissman have the honour to announce the marriage of their daughter, Miss Johanna Bonger, to Mr Theodore van Gogh.
18 April 1889.
Amsterdam, Weteringschans 121

Mrs T. van Gogh-Carbentus has the honour to announce the marriage of her son, Mr Theodore van Gogh, to Miss Johanna Bonger.
18 April 1889.
Breda (Netherlands)
Paris, 8, cité Pigalle

To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 21 April 1889.
My dear Theo
You’ll probably be back in Paris when this letter arrives. I wish you and your wife lots of happiness.
Thanks very much for your kind letter and for the 100-franc note it contained.
Out of the 65 francs which I owe him, I’ve paid my landlord only 25 francs, having had to pay 3 months’ rent in advance on a room where I shan’t live but where I’ve stored my furniture, and having in addition had around ten francs in various removal expenses &c.
Then, since my clothes were in not too brilliant a state – so that when I went out into the street it became necessary to have something new – I took a 35-franc suit and 4 francs for 6 pairs of socks. Thus I have only a few francs left out of the note, and at the end of the month I must pay the landlord again, although we could make him wait a few days, more or less. At the hospital, after having settled the bill up to today, there’s still almost enough for the rest of the month from the money I still have on deposit there. At the end of the month I’d still wish to go to the mental hospital at St-Rémy or another institution of that kind, which Mr Salles has told me about.
Forgive me for not going into details to weigh up the pros and the cons of such a course of action. It would strain my mind a great deal to talk about it.
It will, I hope, suffice to say that I feel decidedly incapable of starting to take a new studio again and living there alone, here in Arles or elsewhere – it comes down to the same thing – for the moment – I’ve nevertheless tried to make up my mind to begin again – for the moment not possible. I’d be afraid of losing the faculty of working, which is coming back to me now, by forcing myself to have a studio, and also having all the other responsibilities on my back.
And for the time being I wish to remain confined, as much for my own tranquillity as for that of others.
What consoles me a little is that I’m beginning to consider madness as an illness like any other and accept the thing as it is, while during the actual crises it seemed to me that everything I was imagining was reality. Anyway, in fact I don’t want to think or talk about it. Excuse the explanations – but I ask you, and Messrs Salles and Rey, to act so that at the end of the month or the beginning of the month of May I may go there as a confined boarder.
Beginning again this painter’s life I’ve led up to now, isolated in the studio sometimes, and without any other source of entertainment than to go to a café or a restaurant with all the criticism of the neighbours &c., I can’t do it. Going to live with another person, even another artist – difficult – very difficult – one takes too great a responsibility upon oneself. I dare not even think of it.
Anyhow, let’s begin with 3 months, afterwards we’ll see. Now the cost of board must be around 80 francs and I’ll do a little painting and drawing. Without putting as much fury into it as the other year.
Don’t get upset about all this.
So there you have it, these days have been sad, moving house, transporting all my furniture, packing up the canvases which I’ll send you, but above all it seemed sad to me that all that had been given to me by you with so much brotherly affection, and that for so many years, it was however you alone who supported me, and then to be obliged to come back to tell you all this sad story... but it’s difficult for me to express that as I felt it.
The kindness you have had for me isn’t lost, since you have had it and you still have it, so even if the material results should be nil, you still have that all the more, but I can’t say that as I felt it.
Now you well understand that if alcohol was certainly one of the great causes of my madness, then it came very slowly and would go away slowly too, should it go, of course. Or if it comes from smoking, same thing.
But I would hope only that it – this recovery... The frightful superstition of certain people on the subject of alcohol, so that they prevail upon themselves never to drink or smoke. We’re already advised not to lie or steal and not to commit other great or small crimes, and it becomes too complicated if it was absolutely indispensable not to possess anything but virtues in a society in which we’re very indubitably rooted, be it good or bad.
I assure you that these strange days in which many things seem odd to me because my brain is shaken up, I don’t hate père Pangloss in all of this.
But you’ll do me a service by tackling the question forthrightly with Mr Salles and Mr Rey.

It would seem to me that with a boarding cost of around seventy-five francs a month there must be a way of confining me such that I have all I need.
Then I’d very much wish, if the thing is possible, to be able to go out in the daytime to go and draw or paint outside. Seeing as I go out here every day now, and I think that may continue.
I warn you that by paying more I’d be less happy. The company of the other sick people, you understand, isn’t at all disagreeable to me, on the contrary it distracts me. Ordinary food suits me perfectly well, especially if, like here, I could be given a little more wine than usual down there, half a litre instead of a quarter, for example. But a separate apartment, it remains to be seen what the rules of an institution like that will be. Be aware that Rey is overburdened with work, overburdened. If he or Mr Salles writes to you, it’s better to do exactly what they say.
Anyway, my dear fellow, we must accept it, the illnesses of our time, all in all it’s only fair that having lived for years in relatively good health, sooner or later we have our share of them. As for me, you’ll feel a little that I wouldn’t exactly have chosen madness if there had been a choice, but once one has something like that one can’t catch it any more. However, in addition there will still perhaps be the consolation of being able to continue to work on some painting a little. What will you do so as not to say to your wife either too many good or too many bad things about Paris and of a heap of things? Do you feel in advance completely able to keep exactly the right measure always, from every point of view?
I shake your hand heartily in thought, I don’t know if I’ll write to you very, very often, because all my days aren’t clear enough to write somewhat logically. All your kindnesses for me, I’ve found them greater than ever today.
I can’t tell you it as I feel it, but I assure you that that kindness has been of great worth, and if you don’t see its results, my dear brother, don’t be upset about it, you will still have your kindness. Only transfer this affection onto your wife as much as possible.
And if we correspond a little less you’ll see that if she is as I think she is, she will console you. That’s what I hope.
Rey is a really good fellow, terribly hard-working, always at the daily grind. What people today’s doctors are!
If you see Gauguin or if you write to him, give him my kind regards.
I’ll be very happy to have a little news of what you say about Mother and Sister and whether they’re well, tell them to take my story, my word, as a thing they mustn’t upset themselves about excessively, for I’m relatively unfortunate, but in spite of that, after all, I perhaps still have some almost ordinary years ahead of me: it’s an illness like any other, and currently almost all those we know among our friends have something. So is it worth talking about? I regret causing trouble to Mr Salles, to Rey, especially also to you, but what can one do – the mind isn’t steady enough to begin again like before – so it’s a matter of no longer causing scenes in public, and naturally being a little calmer now, I feel completely that I was in an unhealthy state, mentally and physically. And people were kind to me then, those I remember and the rest, anyhow I’ve caused anxiety, and if I’d been in a normal state all of this wouldn’t have happened in that way. Adieu, write when you can.
Ever yours,
Vincent