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585 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, on or about Friday, 16 March 1888.

metadata
No. 585 (Brieven 1990 587, Complete Letters 469)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 16 March 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b509 V/1962

Date
The letter was written after 11 March, the date two Zouaves were murdered in Arles (see n. 8). As Van Gogh writes (ll. 91-95), many Italians were hounded out of town over the next few days because of this. The letter must therefore date from a few days after the crime. Van Gogh also refers to the fact that Koning has moved in with Theo (ll. 37-40). This must have been shortly after 14 March (FR b915). Since Van Gogh says he will write to Bernard and Toulouse-Lautrec ‘on Sunday’, the letter must moreover have been written before Sunday, 18 March. For these reasons we have dated the letter on or about Friday, 16 March 1888.

Ongoing topics
Efforts to interest Tersteeg in modern art (580)
Entry for the 1888 Indépendants exhibition (582)
Gauguin’s illness (581)
Koning’s stay with Theo (578)

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Théo,
je te remercie beaucoup de ta lettre sur laquelle je n’avais même pas osé compter si vite pour ce qui est du billet de 50 fr. que tu y as ajouté.
Je vois que tu n’as encore guère de réponse de Tersteeg – je ne vois pas la nécessité d’insister de notre côté par une nouvelle lettre – toutefois si tu aurais quelque affaire officielle à traiter avec la maison B.V.&C° La Haye tu pourrais dans un P.S. faire sentir que tu sois plus ou moins étonné de ce qu’il ne t’aie point fait savoir qu’il a recue la lettre en question.– Pour ce qui est du travail j’ai rapporté une toile de 15 aujourd’hui, c’est un pont levis, sur lequel passe une petite voiture, qui se profile sur un ciel bleu – la riviere bleue également, des berges orangées avec verdure, un groupe de laveuses aux caracos & bonnets barriolés.1 Puis autre paysage avec un petit pont rustique & laveuses également.2 Enfin une allée de platanes près de la gare.3 En tout depuis que je suis ici 12 études.4
Le temps est variable, souvent du vent & des ciels brouillés – mais les amandiers commencent à fleurir généralement. En somme je suis bien content que les tableaux soient aux Indépendants.5
 1v:2
Tu feras bien d’aller voir Signac chez lui.6 j’étais bien content de ce que tu écrivais dans ta lettre d’aujourd’hui, qu’il a fait sur toi une impression plus favorable que la première fois. Dans tous les cas cela me fait plaisir de savoir qu’à partir d’aujourd’hui tu ne seras pas seul dans l’appartement. Dis bien le bonjour à Koning de ma part.– Est ce que ta santé est bien, pour ce qui est de la mienne cela va mieux, seulement c’est une vraie corvée de manger vu que j’ai de la fièvre et pas d’appetit mais cela n’est donc que passager et affaire de patience.
J’ai de la compagnie le soir puisque le jeune peintre Danois qui est ici est très bien; son travail est sec, correct et timide mais je ne déteste pas cela lorsque l’individu est jeune et intelligent. Il a dans le temps commencé des études de médecine, il connait les livres de Zola, de Goncourt, Guy de Maupassant, et il a assez d’argent pour se la couler douce.7 Avec cela un désir très sérieux de faire autre chôse que ce qu’il fait actuellement. Je crois qu’il ferait bien de différer son retour dans son pays d’un an, ou de revenir après une courte visite à ses concitoyens.
Mais, mon cher frère – tu sais je me sens au Japon.– Je ne te dis que cela, et encore, je n’ai encore rien vu dans la splendeur accoutumée.  1v:3 C’est pourquoi (tout en etant chagriné de ce que actuellement les dépenses sont raides et les tableaux des non valeurs), c’est pourquoi je ne déséspère pas d’une réussite de cette entreprise de faire un long voyage dans le midi. Ici je vois du neuf, j’apprends et étant traité avec un peu de douceur mon corps ne me refuse pas ses services. Je souhaiterais pour bien des raisons pouvoir fonder un pied à terre qui en cas d’ereintement pourrait servir à mettre au vert les pauvres chevaux de fiacre de Paris qui sont toi-meme et plusieurs de nos amis, les impressionistes pauvres.
J’ai assisté à l’enquête d’un crime commis à la porte d’un bordel ici; deux italiens ont tué deux zouaves.–8 J’ai profité de l’occasion pour entrer dans un des bordels de la petite rue dite “des ricollettes”.–9 Ce à quoi se bornent mes exploits amoureux vis à vis des Arlésiennes. La foule à manquée (le méridional selon l’exemple de Tartarin10 étant davantage d’aplomb pour la bonne volonté que pour l’action), la foule dis je, a manquée lyncher les meurtriers emprisonnés à l’hôtel de ville mais sa représaille a été que tous les Italiens et toutes les Italiennes, y compris les marmots Savoyards, ont dû quitter la ville de force.–11
 1r:4
Je ne te parlerais pas de cela si ce n’était pour te dire que j’ai vu les boulevards de cette ville plein de monde réveillé.– Et vraiment c’était bien beau.
J’ai fait mes trois dernières études au moyen du cadre perspectif que tu me connais.12 J’attache de l’importance à l’emploi du cadre puisqu’il ne me semble pas improbable que dans un avenir peu éloigné plusieurs artistes s’en serviront de même que les anciens peintres allemands et italiens sûrement et, je suis porté à le croire, pas moins les flamands s’en sont servis.
L’emploi moderne de cet instrument peut différer de l’emploi qu’anciennement on en a fait – mais – n’est ce pas de même qu’avec le procédé de la peinture à l’huile on obtient aujourd’hui des effets très différents de ceux des inventeurs du procédé, J. et Hubert. v. Eyck.–13 C’est pour dire que j’espère toujours ne pas travailler pour moi seul. Je crois à la nécessité absolue d’un nouvel art de la couleur, du dessin et – de la vie artistique. Et si nous travaillons dans cette foi-là, il me semble qu’il y ait des chances pour que notre espérance ne soit pas vaine. Tu sauras toujours qu’à la rigueur je suis en état de te faire parvenir des études, seulement pour les rouler c’est encore impossible. Je te serre bien la main. J’écris dimanche à Bernard et à de Lautrec puisque j’ai formellement promis. je t’enverrai d’ailleurs les lettres.14 Je regrette bien le cas de Gauguin, surtout parceque sa santé étant ébranlée, il n’a plus un temperament auquel les épreuves ne puissent faire que du bien, au contraire cela ne fera désormais que l’éreinter et cela doit le gêner pour travailler. A bientôt.

t. à t.
Vincent

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
I thank you very much for your letter, which I hadn’t even dared to expect so soon as regards the 50-franc note you included with it.
I see you’ve had no response yet from Tersteeg — I don’t see the need to press the point from our end in a new letter — however, if you had some official business to transact with the firm of Boussod Valadon & Cie in The Hague you could make it clear in a P.S. that you’re quite surprised that he hasn’t let you know that he received the letter in question. As far as work goes, I brought home a no.15 canvas today, it’s a drawbridge, with a little carriage going across it, outlined against a blue sky — the river blue as well, the banks orange with greenery, a group of washerwomen wearing blouses and multicoloured bonnets.1 And another landscape with a little rustic bridge and washerwomen as well.2 Lastly an avenue of plane trees near the station.3 12 studies altogether since I’ve been here.4
The weather’s changeable, often windy and cloudy skies — but the almond trees are starting to blossom everywhere. All in all I’m very pleased that the paintings are at the Independents.5  1v:2
You’ll do well to go and see Signac at his place.6 I was very pleased at what you wrote in today’s letter, that he made a better impression on you than the first time. In any case I’m happy to know that from today you won’t be on your own in the apartment. Be sure to say hello to Koning for me. Is your health good? As far as mine goes, it’s better, but eating’s a real chore as I have a fever and no appetite, but it’s just a passing thing and a question of patience.
I have company in the evening, because the young Danish painter who’s here is very nice; his work is dry, correct and timid, but I’m not averse to that when the person is young and intelligent. At one time he’d begun to study medicine, he knows the works of Zola, De Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant, and he has enough money to have an easy time of it.7 Besides that he has a very serious wish to do something different from what he’s doing at present. I think he’d do well to put off returning home for a year, or to come back after a short visit to his compatriots.
But, my dear brother — you know, I feel I’m in Japan. I say no more than that, and again, I’ve seen nothing yet in its usual splendour.  1v:3 That’s why (even while being worried that at the moment expenses are steep and the paintings of no value), that’s why I don’t despair of success in this enterprise of going on a long journey in the south. Here I’m seeing new things, I’m learning, and being treated with a bit of gentleness, my body isn’t refusing me its services. For many reasons I’d like to be able to create a pied-à-terre which, when people were exhausted, could be used to provide a rest in the country for poor Paris cab-horses like yourself and several of our friends, the poor Impressionists.
I attended the inquiry into a crime committed at the door of a brothel here; two Italians killed two Zouaves.8 I took advantage of the opportunity to go into one of the brothels in the little street called ‘des Récollets’.9 Which is the limit of my amorous exploits vis-à-vis the Arlésiennes. The crowd almost (the southerner, following Tartarin’s example,10 being braver in good intentions than in action), the crowd, I’m telling you, almost lynched the murderers locked up in the town hall, but its revenge was that all the Italians, men and women, including the young chimney-sweeps, had to leave the town under duress.11  1r:4
I wouldn’t talk to you about that if it weren’t to tell you that I’ve seen the boulevards of this town full of excited people. And really, that was quite beautiful.
I made my last three studies with the help of the perspective frame you know about.12 I attach importance to the use of the frame, because it doesn’t seem unlikely to me that several artists will use it in the not too distant future, just as the old German and Italian painters, certainly, and, I’m inclined to believe, the Flemish artists too, used it.
The modern use of this tool may differ from the use people made of it in the past — but — isn’t it also true that with the process of painting in oils we nowadays achieve very different effects from those of the inventors of the process, J. and Hubert van Eyck?13 This is to say that I still hope not to work for myself alone. I believe in the absolute necessity of a new art of colour, of drawing and — of the artistic life. And if we work in that faith, it seems to me that there’s a chance that our hopes won’t be in vain. You’ll still know that I’m in a position to send you some studies if need be, only it’s still impossible to roll them up. I shake your hand firmly. On Sunday I’ll write to Bernard and Lautrec because I solemnly promised to. Anyway, I’ll send you the letters.14 I’m really sorry about Gauguin’s situation, especially since, now that his health has been undermined, he no longer has a constitution that could only benefit from being put to the test, on the contrary, it will just wear him out now, and that will surely make it difficult for him to work. More soon.

Ever yours,
Vincent
notes
1. The Langlois bridge with washerwomen (F 397 / JH 1368 ).
2. The Gleize bridge with washerwomen (F 396 / JH 1367 ).
3. Avenue of plane trees (F 398 / JH 1366 ).
4. Among these twelve studies, aside from the three works just mentioned, were the eight studies referred to in letter 583: An old woman of Arles (F 390 / JH 1357 ), Landscape with snow (F 290 / JH 1360 ), View of a butcher’s shop (F 389 / JH 1359 ), Landscape with snow (F 391 / JH 1358 ), Sprig of almond blossom in a glass (F 392 / JH 1361 ), Sprig of almond blossom in a glass with a book (F 393 / JH 1362 ), Basket of oranges (F 395 / JH 1363 ) and a study, possibly Bowl of Potatoes (F 386 / JH 1365 ). The twelfth work was Pollard willows with setting sun (F 572 / JH 1597 ) (see letter 584, n. 7).
5. Van Gogh exhibited three works with the Indépendants; see letter 582, n. 9.
6. In 1888 Signac lived at 130 boulevard de Clichy, where he also had his studio. Theo could have visited him there, or it might have been in his mother’s house in Asnières, where Signac often received his friends.
7. Christian Mourier-Petersen – whom Van Gogh refers to as ‘young’, but who was actually only five years younger than him – had studied medicine for some time in Copenhagen prior to 1880. He came from a family of landowners and had the considerable sum of 6000 Danish Kroner available for his planned three-year ‘Grand Tour’ to the south of Europe. See Larsson 1993, pp. 12-13.
8. At eleven o’clock in the evening of 11 March the Zouaves Louis-Edouard Dupont and Jean Destanque were stabbed to death in the doorway of the brothel at 30 rue des Récollets after a row with three Italian labourers. The investigation of the crime (and hence also Van Gogh’s brothel visit) took place in the afternoon of Monday, 12 March. See further n. 11 below.
9. Rue des Récollets opened off rue de la Cavalerie, where Van Gogh’s boarding-house was.
10. The central character in Daudet’s novels Tartarin de Tarascon (1872) and Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885); see letter 583, n. 9.
11. The local newspapers L’Homme de Bronze and Le Forum Républicain reported on the occurrence at length in their editions of Sunday, 18 March. L’Intransigeant of 19 March 1888 also covered it. The incident brought the whole town of Arles up in arms. When the offenders were rounded up, the buildings where they were locked up were besieged by a crowd of angry inhabitants. They also drove virtually all the Italians out of the town, prompted in part by anger that they took a lot of jobs while there was high unemployment among the local population. The murdered Zouaves were buried with great ceremony on Wednesday, 14 March, and the event attracted crowds of people.
For the ‘petits ramoneurs savoyards’ see www.hautesavoiephotos.com.
12. For Van Gogh’s knowledge and use of the perspective frame see letter 235, n. 10 and cat. Amsterdam 2011. See for the three studies: nn. 1-3 above.
13. In the fifteenth century artists made the paint thicker and more stable by adding special oil. Jan van Eyck was certainly one of the first artists to use this technique, but contrary to what is often asserted he did not invent it.
14. These letters were enclosed with letter 588.