To Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Thursday, 9 May 1889.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter. You’re quite right to say that Mr Salles has been perfect in all of this, I’m much obliged to him.
I wanted to tell you that I think I’ve done well to come here, first, in seeing the reality of the life of the diverse mad or cracked people in this menagerie, I’m losing the vague dread, the fear of the thing. And little by little I can come to consider madness as being an illness like any other. Then the change of surroundings is doing me good, I imagine. As far as I know the doctor here is inclined to consider what I’ve had as an attack of an epileptic nature. But I haven’t made any enquiries.
Have you by chance yet received the crate of paintings, I’m curious to know if they’ve suffered more, yes or no.
I have two others on the go — violet irises and a lilac bush. Two subjects taken from the garden.
The idea of my duty to work comes back to me a lot, and I believe that all my faculties for work will come back to me quite quickly. It’s just that work often absorbs me so much that I think I’ll always be absent-minded and awkward in getting by for the rest of life too.
I won’t write you a long letter — I’ll try to answer the letter from my new sister, which greatly touched me, but I don’t know if I’ll manage to do it.
Handshake, and ever yours,
My dear sister,
Thanks very much for your letter, in which I above all looked for news of my brother. And I find it very good. I can see that you have already observed that he loves Paris and that this surprises you a little, you who don’t like it, or rather who above all like the flowers there, such as, I suppose, for example, the wisterias which are probably beginning to flower. Could it not be the case that in liking a thing one sees it better and more accurately than in not liking it.
For him and for me Paris is certainly already a cemetery in a way, where many artists have perished, whom we knew directly or indirectly.
Certainly Millet, whom you’ll learn to like a lot, and with him many others, have tried to get out of Paris. But Eugène Delacroix, for example, it’s difficult to portray him ‘as a man’ other than as a Parisian.
All this to urge you — with all caution, admittedly — to believe in the possibility that there are homes in Paris, and not just apartments. Anyway — fortunately you are now his home yourself.
It’s quite odd perhaps that the result of this terrible attack is that in my mind there’s hardly any really clear desire or hope left, and I’m wondering if it is thus that one thinks when, with the passions somewhat extinguished, one comes down the mountain instead of climbing it. Anyway my sister, if you can believe, or almost, that everything is always for the best in the best of worlds then you’ll also be able to believe, perhaps, that Paris is the best of the towns in it.
Have you noticed yet that the old cab-horses there have big, beautiful heartbroken eyes, like Christians sometimes. Whatever the case, we’re not savages nor peasants, and we perhaps even have a duty to love civilization (so-called). Anyway, it would probably be hypocritical to say or believe that Paris is bad when one lives there. The first time one sees Paris it may be, besides, that everything there seems against nature, dirty and sad. Anyway, if you don’t like Paris, above all do not like painting nor those who directly or indirectly are engaged in it, for it’s only too doubtful whether that’s beautiful or useful.
But what can you do, there are people who love nature while being cracked or ill, those are the painters, then there are some who love what is done by the hand of man, and those even go as far as liking paintings. Although there are a few people here who are seriously ill, the fear, the horror that I had of madness before has already been greatly softened. And although one continually hears shouts and terrible howls as though of the animals in a menagerie, despite this the people here know each other very well, and help each other when they suffer crises. They all come to see when I’m working in the garden, and I can assure you are more discreet and more polite to leave me in peace than, for example, the good citizens of Arles.
It’s possible that I’ll stay here for quite a long time, never have I been so tranquil as here and at the hospital in Arles to be able to paint a little at last. Very near here there are some little grey or blue mountains, with very, very green wheatfields at their foot, and pines.
I shall count myself very happy if I manage to work enough to earn my living, for it makes me very worried when I tell myself that I’ve done so many paintings and drawings without ever selling any. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to consider this an injustice, I don’t know anything at all about it.
Thanking you again for writing to me, and being very happy to know that now my brother doesn’t return to an empty apartment when he comes home in the evening, I shake your hand in thought, and believe me