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578 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Friday, 24 February 1888.

metadata
No. 578 (Brieven 1990 580, Complete Letters 464)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 24 February 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b504 V/1962

Date
Theo wrote to his sister Willemien about Vincent in a letter of 24 and 26 February (FR b914). See Documentation, 24 and 26 February 1888. In the second part, written on the 26th, he quoted from the present letter from Vincent. This means that it must have been sent on 25 February at the latest. Since his letter of 21 February (577) Vincent had been to the museum and made three studies. Since all this would probably have taken a few days, we are dating the letter on or about Friday, 24 February 1888.

Additional
Theo quoted ll. 80-85 in his letter to Willemien of 24-26 February (see Date); it also emerges from this letter that letter 579 to Willemien was enclosed with the present one.

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
merci de ta bonne lettre ainsi que du billet de 50 francs.–
Je ne trouve pas jusqu’à présent la vie ici aussi avantageuse que j’eusse pu l’espérer,1 seulement j’ai trois études de faites2 ce qu’à Paris de ces jours-ci probablement je n’aurais pas su faire.
J’étais content de ce que les nouvelles de la Hollande étaient assez satisfaisantes. Pour ce qui est de Reid je serais peu étonné de ce qu’– (à tort pourtant) – il prît de mauvaise part que je l’aie dévancé dans le midi.3 Dire de notre part que nous n’aurions jamais eu avantage à le connaître serait relativement injuste puisque 1° il nous a fait cadeau d’un très-beau tableau (lequel tableau soit dit entre paranthèses on avait l’intention d’acquérir)4, 2° Reid a fait monter les Monticelli de valeur et puisqu’on en possède 5 il en résulte pour nous que ces tableaux ont haussé en tant que valeur5 – 3 il a été de bonne et agréable compagnie dans les premiers mois.–6
 1v:2
Maintenant de notre côté on a voulu le faire participer à une affaire plus importante que celle des Monticelli et il a fait semblant de n’y pas comprendre grand-chôse.7
Il me semble que pour avoir davantage encore le droit de rester maîtres de notre terrain en tant que quant aux impressionistes – pour qu’il n’y puisse avoir de doute concernant notre bonne foi à l’égard de Reid – on pourrait le laisser agir sans intervenir comme bon lui semblera pour les Monticelli de Marseille. Insistant sur ceci que les peintres décédés ne nous intéressent qu’indirectement au point de vue argent.
Et si tu es d’accord en ceci, à la rigueur tu peux de ma part aussi lui dire que s’il a l’intention de venir à Marseille pour y acheter des Monticelli il n’a rien à craindre de notre part mais qu’on a le droit de lui demander ses intentions à cet égard vu qu’on l’a dévancé sur ce territoire.–
 1v:3
Pour les impressionistes – il me semblerait juste que ce soit par ton intermediaire sinon par toi directement qu’ils soient introduits en Angleterre.– Et si Reid prenait les devants on aurait le droit de le considérer comme ayant agi envers nous de mauvaise foi, à plus forte raison depuis qu’on lui auraita laissé libre pour les Monticelli de Marseille.
Tu rendrais sûrement service à notre ami Koning en le laissant resterb avec toi8 – sa visite chez Rivet doit lui avoir prouvé que ce n’est pas nous qui l’ayons mal conseillé.9
En cas que tu voudrais le prendre – et il me semble que ce serait un debrouillage pour lui, seulement il faudrait clairement s’expliquer avec le père10 de façon que tu n’aies pas de responsabilités, indirectes mêmes.–
Si tu vois Bernard dis lui alors que jusqu’à présent j’ai à payer plus cher qu’à Pont aven11 mais qu’ici je crois qu’en restantc en garni avec les bourgeois il doit y avoir des économies à faire, ce que je cherche, et dès que j’aurai vérifié je lui écrirai ce qui me paraîtra la moyenne des dépenses.
Il me semble par moments que mon sang veuille bien plus ou  1r:4 moins se remettre à circuler, cela n’ayant pas été le cas dans les derniers temps à Paris, je n’en pouvais véritablement plus.–
Il faut que je prenne mes couleurs et mes toiles soit chez un épicier soit chez un libraire,12 qui n’ont pas tout ce qui serait désirable. Il faudra bien que j’aille à Marseille pour voir comment l’état de ces chôses serait par là. J’avais espérer trouver du beau bleu &c. et en somme je n’en désespère pas vu qu’à Marseille on doit pouvoir acheter les matières brutes de première main. Et je voudrais pouvoir faire des bleus comme Ziem – qui ne bougent pas tant que les autres, enfin nous verrons.–
Ne t’embêtes pas et donne une poignée de main aux copains pour moi.

b. à t.
Vincent

les etudes que j’ai sont une vieille femme Arlesienne, un paysage avec d.l. neige, une vue d’un bout de trottoir avec la boutique d’un charcutier.–13 Les femmes sont bien belles ici, c’est pas une blague14 – par contraire le musée d’Arles est atroce et une blague et digne d’etre à Tarascon15 – il y a aussi un musee d’antiquités,16 vraies celles-là.

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
Thanks for your kind letter and the 50-franc note.
So far I’m not finding living here as profitable as I might have hoped,1 but I’ve finished three studies,2 which I would probably not have been able to do in Paris these days.
I was glad the news from Holland was fairly satisfactory. As far as Reid goes, I wouldn’t be very surprised if — (wrongly, however) — he took it badly that I went to the south before him.3 For us to say we’d never have benefited from knowing him would be relatively unfair since, 1, he made us a gift of a very fine painting (which painting, let it be said by the way, we intended to acquire),4 2, Reid made Monticellis go up in value, and since we own 5 of them the result for us is that these paintings have increased in value5 — 3, he was good and pleasant company in the first months.6  1v:2
Now for our part we wanted him to take part in a bigger deal than the Monticelli one, and he pretended not to understand very much about it.7
It seems to me that in order to be even more clearly entitled to stay masters on our own terrain regarding the Impressionists — so that there can be no doubt about our good faith towards Reid — we could leave him alone and let him do as he thinks fit regarding the Marseille Monticellis. Making the point that dead painters are only of indirect interest to us from the monetary point of view.
And if you agree with this, if need be you can tell him on my behalf too that if he intends to come to Marseille to buy Monticellis he has nothing to fear from us, but that we’re entitled to ask him his intentions in this regard, given that we came to this territory before he did.  1v:3
About the Impressionists — it would seem fair to me that they should be introduced into England through you, if not by you in person. And if Reid made a move first, we’d be justified in thinking he had acted in bad faith towards us, all the more so since we’d have left him free regarding the Marseille Monticellis.
You would definitely be doing our friend Koning a favour if you let him stay with you8 — his visit to Rivet must have proved to him that it wasn’t we who advised him badly.9
If you did feel like taking him in — and it seems to me that it would get him out of a mess, you’d just have to get things straight with his father,10 so that you wouldn’t have any responsibilities, even indirect ones.
If you see Bernard tell him that so far I’m having to pay more than at Pont-Aven,11 but that I think if you live here in furnished rooms with middle-class people it must be possible to save money, which I’m trying to do, and as soon as I’ve found out I’ll write and tell him what seem to me the average expenses.
At times it seems to me that my blood is more or  1r:4 less ready to start circulating again, which wasn’t the case lately in Paris, I really couldn’t stand it any more.
I have to buy my colours and canvases from either a grocer or a bookseller,12 who don’t have everything one might wish for. I’ll definitely have to go to Marseille to see what the state of these things is like there. I had hoped to find some beautiful blue &c., and in fact I haven’t given up, seeing that in Marseille you should be able to buy raw materials first hand. And I’d like to be able to do blues like Ziem — which don’t change as much as the others, well, we’ll see.
Don’t worry, and give the pals a handshake for me.

Yours truly,
Vincent

The studies I have are an old woman of Arles, a landscape with snow, a view of a stretch of pavement with a butcher’s shop.13 The women really are beautiful here, it’s no joke14 — on the other hand, the Arles museum is dreadful and a joke, and fit to be in Tarascon15 — there’s also a museum of antiquities,16 they’re genuine.
notes
1. Van Gogh started out paying 5 francs and later 4 francs a day for board and lodging. From 1 May onwards, when he had his studio in the Yellow House and consequently took up less space, he only paid 3 francs. See letters 587 and 603.
2. See for these studies the postscript and n. 13.
3. In the spring of 1887, following his stay with the brothers in rue Lepic (see n. 6 below), the Scottish art dealer Alexander Reid, a friend of Theo and Vincent in Paris, had set up as an ‘agent en chambre’ (a dealer working from home) at 6 place d’Anvers in Paris. Alongside his job at Boussod, Valadon & Cie he also dealt on his own account in work by Puvis de Chavannes and others, and, one of the few people to do so, Monticelli. See Fowle 2000, p. 93.
Fowle thought it likely that Reid had gone to Marseille himself as early as 1886 or 1887 to look for work by Monticelli, or in any event that he had contacts there (Fowle 1993, p. 36). In view of the Van Gogh brothers’ interest in this artist, Reid evidently saw Vincent’s departure for the south of France as a threat to his monopoly in this field.
4. Reid’s gift was probably Monticelli’s Vase of flowers (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 306 . Van Gogh mentions this several more times. See also Fowle 2000, p. 94.
5. Van Gogh is referring to the following five works by Monticelli, which are mentioned in the correspondence: Vase of flowers (see n. 4), Woman with a parasol (letter 686, n. 17) and Woman at the well (letter 686, n. 16), Italian girl (letter 830, n. 7) and Arabs and horseman (letter 594, n. 7). See also exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 206, n. 13.
6. Reid, who had been working for Boussod, Valadon & Cie since June or July 1886, presumably lived with Theo and Vincent in rue Lepic for some time. This was probably a period of some six months between the summer of 1886 and the spring of 1887. See Fowle 2000, p. 93.
7. It transpires from the continuation of the letter that Vincent and Theo had plans to sell the work of the French modern artists in England in association with Reid; he, though, proved to have other ideas. To prevent Reid from muscling in on their territory, Vincent suggested leaving the trade in Monticellis in Marseille to him. He pursues the matter in letter 580. From letter 589 it emerges that it had been agreed with Reid that the Van Gogh brothers would help him find paintings for his stock, but that they had since fallen out with him because of the way he treated artists: Vincent accused Reid of being concerned with nothing but making money.
a. Read: ‘l’aurait’.
b. Read: ‘habiter’.
8. The Dutch painter Arnold Koning was in Paris from September 1887 to the end of May 1888. After Vincent went to Arles, Koning stayed with Theo in the apartment in rue Lepic for a short time. See also the letter from Theo to Willemien van Gogh (Documentation, 24 and 26 February 1888). Koning moved in with Theo soon after 14 March (FR b915); he returned to the Netherlands on 30 May 1888 (FR b1077).
9. Louis Rivet was Theo’s doctor in Paris; he had his practice at 6 rue de la Victoire. Koning evidently had health problems; we do not know what his ailments were.
10. Arnold Hendrik Koning, a lawyer in Winschoten.
11. Pont-Aven, a small village in Brittany, was discovered by painters around 1865, and grew to become a well-known artists’ colony. Bernard had been to Pont-Aven in August 1886 and had met Paul Gauguin there. The latter had been staying there again since late January 1888, as he had told Van Gogh (letter 581). The group of artists who worked there in Gauguin’s style is known as the School of Pont-Aven. See exhib. cat. Paris 2003. The cost of living in Brittany and the south of France had evidently been a subject of discussion between Bernard and Van Gogh.
c. Read: ‘habitant’.
12. We do not know which bookshops in Arles sold paint and canvas. Not long afterwards, Van Gogh says that he knows a grocer who sells artists’ supplies; this was probably Jules Armand. See letter 583, n. 8. It may well also have been possible to buy artists’ materials in Bompard fils’ wallpaper (papiers peints) shop at 14 place de la République; it is clear from the local newspapers that work by local artists was regularly displayed in the shop window. On the basis of accounts given by Jeanne Calment, who said she met Van Gogh through her cousin, it has been assumed that Van Gogh bought his canvas in the fabric shop run by Jeanne’s aunt, the Widow Calment. However, there is no evidence of this.
13. These three studies are respectively: An old woman of Arles (F 390 / JH 1357 ), Landscape with snow (F 290 / JH 1360 ) and View of a butcher’s shop (F 389 / JH 1359 ). There is another Landscape with snow (F 391 / JH 1358 ), but that must be the painting referred to in letter 582, where Van Gogh talks about a ‘whitened landscape’.
14. The beauty of the women of Arles was legendary and a popular topic in nineteenth-century art, literature and theatre. See exhib. cat. Arles 1999 and Dorn 1990, p. 152. Michelet had also written about it in L’amour, which Van Gogh knew well: ‘In Paris a young man sees a beautiful young girl with regular features. He falls in love. He marries, and is eager to get to know the place his wife comes from, the town of Arles ... He sees a hundred, a thousand young girls who are just as pretty. It is the beauty of a whole population, the beauty of Arles, that he has loved’ (Un jeune homme voit dans Paris une belle demoiselle de traits réguliers. Il est épris. Il épouse, puis est curieux de connaître le pays de sa femme, la ville d’Arles ... Il voit cent filles et mille aussi jolies. C’est la beauté d’un peuple entier, la beauté arlésienne qu’il a aimée). Michelet, L’amour, p. 313.
15. Van Gogh is referring to the Musée Réattu in Arles, in the former Grand-Prieuré. Baedecker describes it as ‘a small collection of paintings, many of them copies, so called after its founder, a painter from Arles’ (une petite collection de tableaux, dont beaucoup de copies, ainsi nommée de son fondateur, un peintre arlésien). Baedeker 1889-2, p. 213. Van Gogh’s sarcastic reference to Tarascon leads us to suppose that he had meanwhile become familiar with the picture of it that Alphonse Daudet sketched in his satirical novel Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon (1872). It emerges from letter 609 that Van Gogh knew this book, and he must also have read the sequel, Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885), at about this time (see letter 583, n. 9).
16. The Musée Lapidaire was housed in a former church opposite Saint-Trophime at place de la République. The museum was ‘especially rich in ancient and Christian sarcophagi, made of marble and with bas-reliefs, that came from the Alyscamps’ (surtout très riche en sarcophages antiques et chrétiens, en marbre et à bas-reliefs, provenant des Aliscamps). Baedeker 1889-2, p. 212.