To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Tuesday, 18 June 1889.
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your letter of yesterday. I too cannot write as I would wish, but anyway we live in such a disturbed age that there can be no question of having opinions that are firm enough to judge things.
I would have very much liked to know if you now still eat together at the restaurant or if you live at home more. I hope so, for in the long run that must be the best. As for me, it’s going well – you’ll understand that after almost half a year now of absolute sobriety in eating, drinking, smoking, with two two-hour baths a week recently, this must clearly calm one down a great deal. So it’s going very well, and as regards work, it occupies and distracts me – which I need very much – far from wearing me out.
It gives me great pleasure that Isaäcson found things in my consignment that please him. He and De Haan appear very faithful, which is sufficiently rare these days for it to be worthy of appreciation. And that, as you say, there was another who found something in the yellow and black figure of a woman, that doesn’t surprise me, although I think that its merit lies in the model and not in my painting.
I despair of ever finding models. Ah, if I had some from time to time like that one, or like the woman who posed for the Berceuse, I’d do something quite different.
I think you did the right thing by not exhibiting paintings of mine at the exhibition by Gauguin and others. There’s reason enough for me to abstain from doing so without offending them as long as I’m not cured myself.
For me it’s beyond doubt that Gauguin and Bernard have great and real merit.
It’s still perfectly understandable, though, that for beings like them, really alive and young, who must live and try to carve out their path, it’s impossible to turn all their canvases to the wall until it pleases people to admit them somewhere in the official pickle. One causes a stir by exhibiting in the cafés, which I don’t say isn’t in bad taste. But for myself, I have that crime on my conscience, and to the point of doing it twice, having exhibited at the Tambourin and at avenue de Clichy. Not counting the disturbance caused to 81 virtuous cannibals of the good town of Arles and to their excellent mayor.
So in any case, I am worse and more blameworthy than they are in that regard (causing a stir quite involuntarily, my word).
Young Bernard – according to me – has already made a few absolutely astonishing canvases in which there’s a gentleness and something essentially French and candid, of rare quality. Anyway, neither he nor Gauguin are artists who could look as if they were trying to go to the World Exhibition by the back stairs. You can be sure of that. It’s understandable that they couldn’t keep silent. That the Impressionists’ movement has had no unity is what proves that they’re less skilled fighters than other artists like Delacroix and Courbet. At last I have a landscape with olive trees, and also a new study of a starry sky.
Although I haven’t seen the latest canvases either by Gauguin or Bernard, I’m fairly sure that these two studies I speak of are comparable in sentiment. When you’ve seen these two studies for a while, as well as the one of the ivy, I’ll perhaps be able to give you, better than in words, an idea of the things Gauguin, Bernard and I sometimes chatted about and that preoccupied us. It’s not a return to the romantic or to religious ideas, no. However, by going the way of Delacroix, more than it seems, by colour and a more determined drawing than trompe-l’oeil precision, one might express a country nature that is purer than the suburbs, the bars of Paris. One might try to paint human beings who are also more serene and purer than Daumier had before him. But of course following Daumier in the drawing of it. We’ll leave aside whether that exists or doesn’t exist, but we believe that nature extends beyond St-Ouen.
Perhaps, while reading Zola, we are moved by the sound of the pure French of Renan, for example.
And after all, while Le Chat Noir draws women for us after its own fashion, and above all Forain does so in a masterly way, we do some of our own, less Parisian but no less fond of Paris and its elegances, we try to prove that something else quite different exists.
Gauguin, Bernard or I will all remain there perhaps, and won’t overcome but neither will we be overcome. We’re perhaps not there for one thing or the other, being there to console or to prepare for more consolatory painting. Isaäcson and De Haan may not succeed either, but in Holland they’ve felt the need to state that Rembrandt did great painting and not trompe l’oeil, they also felt something different.
If you can get the Bedroom lined it’s better to have it done before sending it to me.
I have no more white at all at all. You’ll give me a lot of pleasure if you write to me again soon. I so often think that after a while you’ll find in marriage, I hope, the means to gain new strength, and that a year from now your health will have improved.
What I’d very much like to have here to read from time to time would be a Shakespeare. There’s one priced at one shilling, Dicks' Shilling Shakespeare, which is complete. There’s no shortage of editions, and I think the cheap ones have been changed less than the more expensive ones. In any case I wouldn’t want one that cost more than three francs.
Now, whatever is too bad in the consignment, put it completely to one side, pointless to have stuff like that; it may be of use to me later to remind me of things. Whatever is good will show up better by being part of a smaller number of canvases. The rest, if you put them in a corner, flat between two sheets of cardboard with old newspapers between the studies, that’s all they’re worth.
I’m sending you a roll of drawings.
Handshakes to you, to Jo and to our friends.
The drawings Hospital in Arles, the weeping tree in the grass, the fields and the olive trees, are a continuation of those from Montmajour from back then. The others are hasty studies done in the garden.
There’s no hurry for the Shakespeare, if they don’t have an edition like that, it won’t take an eternity to have one sent.
Don’t be afraid that I would ever venture onto dizzy heights of my own free will, unfortunately, whether we like it or not, we’re subject to circumstances and to the illnesses of our time. But with all the precautions I’m now taking, it will be difficult for me to relapse, and I hope that the attacks won’t start again.