To Anna van Gogh-Carbentus. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, between about Monday, 8 July and about Friday, 12 July 1889.
If you say that you’re a mother approaching 70 then it must be true, but one would certainly not tell it from your writing, for it struck me that it’s exceptionally firm. What’s more, Theo and Wil wrote to me that you seem to be getting young again – and I think that’s very good and is sometimes needed in life. The news about Cor – no wonder you’re taken up with it and it will be hard on both sides to have to part. To my mind, though, he’s absolutely right not to hesitate to accept this position, since it seems that one can get through the world better and more happily at a distance from those great dung-heap cities, not only London, Paris, but Amsterdam, Rotterdam and so many others in Europe, than in their vicinity. There is more that’s natural in the world and good than one would suppose here in our continent. And I think Cor’s being consistent going there. I’ve often heard talk, not about the Transvaal precisely, but about Australia, for instance, by those who came from there and always longed to go back.
The same about Haiti, say, about Martinique where Gauguin, who was with me in Arles, had been. And I dare suppose that the Transvaal will have one thing and another in common with Australia. Anyway, one has a chance to be able to develop and to be able to use one’s energy better than in the European circumlocution.
Now, my dear mother, as regards the sorrow that we have and retain about parting and loss, it seems to me that it’s instinctive, that without it we wouldn’t be able to accept partings, and it will probably serve us on later occasions to recognize and find one another again. Things simply can’t stay in one place. And yet the apples never fall far from the tree, and stinging nettles won’t spring from their pips just yet. For the rest, though, I don’t know.
I’ve had good reports from Theo and Jo; meanwhile it surprises me less than anyone that he’s coughing etc. Sometimes I wish they lived outside Paris and not on the 4th or 5th floor etc., and yet I wouldn’t dare presume to urge a change, because Theo has a certain need for movement, business and friends in Paris itself. His wife should see to it that he returns to his old Dutch diet as far as possible, since he’s been deprived of it for 10 years or so at a stretch, and fed on restaurant food without any family life. I have every hope she’ll understand this, and perhaps already has understood.
The main thing is possibly this: do you remember a story in that book ‘De pruuvers’, where there’s an account of a sick person who watched the maid sweep the floor every morning and thought that she — had ‘something reassuring’? That’s the main thing to which recovery can be attributed to a quite significant degree in the most dissimilar and utterly divergent illnesses. So, cruel as this may be, I should simply leave the disquiet about whether or not Theo’s constitution is strong to her, and let her worry and work at it for a year or so before we concern ourselves about it, and it occurs to me that our appearing not in the least anxious about it could turn out to be a sign of our own confidence in ‘something reassuring’ in nature in general.
It occurs to me that in the summer here it’s not much hotter than at home as regards being bothered by it, since the air here is clearer and purer. What’s more, we very often have a strong wind, the mistral. I’ve painted in the wheatfields during the hottest part of the day without it bothering me much. But one can sometimes see that the sun can be quite strong from the way the wheat turns yellow quickly. But the fields at home are infinitely better farmed, more regularly than here, where the rockiness of the soil in many places means it’s not suitable for everything.
There are very beautiful fields of olive trees here, which are grey and silvery in leaf like pollard willows. Then I never tire of the blue sky. One never sees buckwheat or rape here, and generally speaking there’s rather less variety than at home. And I’d so much like to paint a field of buckwheat in flower or rape in flower, or flax. But I’ll probably find the opportunity to do it later in Normandy or Brittany. Then here one also never sees the mossy peasant roofs on the barns or cottages like at home, and no oak coppices and no spurry and no beech hedges with their red-brown leaves and whitish tangled old stems.
Also no proper heathland and no birches, which were so beautiful in Nuenen.
But what are beautiful in the south are the vineyards, where they’re on the flat land or the hillsides. I’ve seen it, and come to that sent Theo a painting of it, where a vineyard is all purple, crimson and yellow and green and violet like the Virginia creeper in Holland. I like to see a vineyard as much as a wheatfield. Then the hills here, full of thyme and other aromatic plants, are very beautiful, and because of the clarity of the air one can see from the heights so much further than at home.
Well, I’ll end by telling you that I think you’re delighted that your son Theo has at last got round to marrying. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about his health, but in your place I would see to it that I got his wife and him to come and visit you twice a year instead of once. This would be good for you and them, particularly now that Cor’s leaving. In his business it can’t do him any harm at all for his thoughts to have some distraction, and his wife, rest assured, won’t take it amiss of you if you awaken a desire in him to come to Holland with her now and then. Don’t forget that we have as many reasons for ingratitude as for gratitude to the Paris business, and in your capacity of Mother approaching 70 you may assert that sometimes.
I kiss you in thought, and with a handshake for Cor I wish him the best of good luck in his enterprise. Believe me always