Vincent van Gogh - Wheat Field Behind Saint-Paul Hospital 1889

Wheat Field Behind Saint-Paul Hospital 1889
Wheat Field Behind Saint-Paul Hospital
Oil on canvas 24.0 x 33.7 cm. Saint-Rémy: November-December, 1889
Richmond, Va.: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday, 2 July 1889.
My dear Theo,
Enclosed I’m sending you a letter from Mother, naturally you know all the news it contains. I think it’s very logical of Cor to go there. What is different there from staying in Europe is that down there one doesn’t have to undergo the influence of our large cities, as one does here, so old that everything in them seems to be in its dotage and tottering. So instead of seeing one’s vital forces and natural, native energy evaporate in circumlocution, it’s possible that one might be happier far from our society. Even if it were otherwise, the fact remains that it’s to act uprightly and in accordance with his upbringing for him not to hesitate to accept this position. So now it isn’t to tell you all this news that you know that I’m sending you the letter. But it’s for you to observe in it a little how remarkably firm and regular the writing is when one thinks that it’s true what she says, that she’s ‘a mother approaching 70’. And as you’ve already written to me, and our sister has too, that she seems to have got younger, I see it myself from this very clear writing and in her tighter logic in what she writes, and the simplicity with which she appreciates facts. I believe now that this rejuvenation has obviously come to her from the fact that she’s happy that you’ve got married, which she’d wanted for so long; and I congratulate you that your marriage can give you and Jo the rather rare pleasure of seeing your mother growing young again. It’s really for that that I’m sending you this letter. Because, my dear brother, it’s sometimes necessary later to remember – and it’s so timely that, at the very moment when she’ll have the great pain of being separated from Cor – and it will be hard on her, that – she should be consoled by knowing that you’re married. If the thing were possible you shouldn’t wait fully a whole year before returning to Holland, for she’ll be longing to see you again, you and your wife.

At the same time, having married a Dutchwoman, that could in a few years, sooner or later, warm up business relations with Amsterdam or The Hague again.
Anyway, once again I haven’t seen a letter from Mother indicating so much inner serenity and calm contentment as this one – not for many years. And I’m sure that this comes from your marriage. It’s said that pleasing one’s parents brings a long life. I now thank you very much for the consignment of colours, deduct them from the order placed since, but if it’s at all possible, not for the quantity of white. I thank you also very cordially for the Shakespeare. It will help me not to forget the little English I know – but above all it’s so beautiful.
I’ve begun to read the series I know the least well, which before, being distracted by something else or not having the time it was impossible for me to read, the series of the kings. I’ve already read Richard II, Henry IV and half of Henry V. I read without reflecting on whether the ideas of the people of that time are the same as ours, or what becomes of them when one places them face to face with republican or socialist beliefs &c. But what touches me in it, as in the work of certain novelists of our time, is that the voices of these people, which in Shakespeare’s case reach us from a distance of several centuries, don’t appear unknown to us. It’s so alive that one thinks one knows them and sees it. So what Rembrandt alone, or almost alone, has among painters, that tenderness in the gazes of human beings we see either in the Pilgrims at Emmaus, or in the Jewish bride, or in some strange figure of an angel as in the painting you had the good fortune to see – that heartbroken tenderness, that glimpse of a superhuman infinite which appears so natural then, one encounters it in many places in Shakespeare. And then serious or gay portraits like the Six, like the traveller, like the Saskia, it’s above all full of that. What a good idea Victor Hugo’s son had of translating all of it into French so that it’s thus within the reach of all. When I think of the Impressionists and of all these present-day questions of art, how many lessons there are precisely for us in there.
So from what I’ve just read the idea comes to me that the Impressionists are right a thousand times over. Yet even they must think about it for a long time and always. If it follows from that that they have the right or the duty to do themselves justice, and if they dare call themselves primitives, certainly they’d do well to learn to be primitive as people a little, too, before pronouncing the word primitive like a title that would give them rights to whatsoever. But those who would be the cause of the Impressionists being unhappy, well naturally the case for them is serious, also when they make light of it.
And then it would appear that waging a battle seven times a week couldn’t go on.
It’s amazing, though, how L’abbesse de Jouarre, when you think of it, holds its own even beside Shakespeare.
I think that Renan treated himself to that in order to be able to say beautiful words for once in full and at his ease, because these are beautiful words.
So that you may have an idea of what I have on the go I’m sending you ten or so drawings today, all after canvases on the go.
The latest one begun is the wheatfield where there’s a little reaper and a big sun. The canvas is all yellow with the exception of the wall and the bottom of purplish hills. The canvas with almost the same subject differs in coloration, being a greyish green and a white and blue sky.

How I think of Reid as I read Shakespeare, and how I’ve thought of him several times when I was iller than at present. Finding that I’d been infinitely too harsh and perhaps discouraging towards him in claiming that it was better to love painters than paintings. It isn’t up to me to make distinctions like that, not even when faced with the problem that we see our living friends suffering so much from the lack of enough money to feed themselves and pay for their colours, and on the other hand the high prices that are paid for the canvases of dead painters. In a newspaper I was reading a letter from a collector of Greek objects to one of his friends, which contained this phrase ‘you who love nature, I who love all that the hand of man has made, this difference in our tastes deep down creates the unity in it’. And I found that better than my reasoning.
I have a canvas of cypresses with a few ears of wheat, poppies, a blue sky, which is like a multicoloured Scottish plaid. This one, which is impasted like the Monticellis, and the wheatfield with the sun that represents extreme heat, also thickly impasted, I think that this would explain to him more or less, however, that he couldn’t lose much by being our friend. But that’s true on our side too, and precisely because we were perhaps right to disapprove of his method we ought on our side to take a step towards reconciliation. Anyway, I daren’t yet write now for fear of saying too many foolish things, but when I’m more certain of my pen I’d very much like to write to him one day. It’s the same for other friends, but I really have told myself that I should wait as long as possible before being able, even in the best of circumstances, to arrive at this ‘being a little more certain of myself’.
I still have canvases in Arles that weren’t dry when I left, I very much want to go and get them one of these days in order to send them to you. There are half a dozen of them. The drawings appear to me to have little colour this time, and this is very probably due to the over-smooth paper.
Anyway, the Weeping tree and the Courtyard of the hospital at Arles are more coloured, but that though will give you an idea of what I have on the go. The canvas of the reaper will become something like the Sower of the other year.
As later the books of Zola will remain beautiful precisely because they have life.
What also has life is the fact that Mother is happy that you’re married, and I think that this cannot be disagreeable to yourselves, you and Jo. But the separation from Cor will be so hard for her that it’s difficult to imagine. It is precisely in learning to suffer without complaining, learning to consider pain without repugnance, that one risks vertigo a little; and yet it might be possible, yet one glimpses even a vague probability that on the other side of life we’ll glimpse justifications for pain, which seen from here sometimes takes up the whole horizon so much that it takes on the despairing proportions of a deluge. Of that we know very little, of proportions, and it’s better to look at a wheatfield, even in the state of a painting. I shake your hands firmly and will have news of you soon I hope. Good health to you both.
Ever yours,