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598 To John Peter Russell. Arles, Thursday, 19 April 1888.

metadata
No. 598 (Brieven 1990 600, Complete Letters 477a)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: John Peter Russell
Date: Arles, Thursday, 19 April 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
New York, Guggenheim Museum. Thannhauser Collection. Inv. no. 78.2514 T18.

Date
Van Gogh remarks that he met MacKnight and Mourier-Petersen ‘last Sunday’ (l. 6); that must have been Sunday, 15 April because on 19 April 1888 MacKnight mentioned this meeting in a letter to Eugène Boch (see n. 2). Since Van Gogh also writes that it is raining (l. 5) – something he likewise mentioned in his letter to Bernard (see letter 599) – and the weather reports record heavy rain on 19 April 1888 (Météo-France), we have dated the letter that day.

Additional
The letter was written in English.

Ongoing topics
The proposed exchange with Russell (589)
Disagreement with Reid (578)

original text
 1r:1
My dear Russell,
I ought to have answered your letter ever so long ago1 but working pretty hard every day, at night I feel so often to weary to write. As it rains to day I avail myself of the opportunity. Last Sunday I have met Macknight and a Danish painter and I intend to go to see him at Fonvieille next monday.2 I feel sure I shall prefer him as an artist to what he is as an art critic, his vieuws as such being so narrow that they make me smile.
I heartily hope for you that you will be able to leave Paris for good soon3 and no doubt leaving Paris will do you a world of good in all respects. As for me I remain enraptured with the scenery here, am working at a series of blooming orchards.4 And unvoluntarily thought often of you because you did the same in Sicily.5 I wished you would one day or another, when I shall send over some work to Paris, exchange a Sicilian study with me – in case you should have one to spare.–6
 1v:2
You know I thought and think such a deal of those of yours. I don’t gainsay that your portraits are more serious and higher art but I think it meritory in you and a rare quality that together with a perfection as appeared to me the Fabian and Mc Knight portraits,7 you are at the same time able to give a Scherzo, the adagio con expressione, the gay note in one word, together with more manly conceptions of a higher order. And I so heartily hope that you will continue to give us simultanément both the grave and elaborate works and those aforesaid scherzos.– Then let them say if they like that you are not always serious or that you have done work of a lighter sort.– So much the worse for the critics & the better for you.
I have heard nothing of our friend Mr Reid. I felt rather anxious on his account because I feel sure that he was on a false track. My brother has received a letter of him but pretty unsatisfactory.8
 1v:3
I was very much taken in by him during the first 6 weeks or 2 months9 but after that period he was in pecuniary difficulties and in the same acted in a way that made on me the impression that he had lost his wits.
Which I still think was the case and consequently he’s not responsable even if his doings then were pretty unfair. He is very nervous – as we all are – and can’t help being so.– He is prompted to act in his crisis of nerves to make money – – – whilst painters would make pictures.....
So much to say that I consider the dealer stronger in him than THE ARTIST though there be a battle in his conscience concerning this – of the which battle I do not yet know the result. So much – pour votre gouverne – as I had the pleasure of introducing him to you, feel bound to warn you with the same sympathy however for him because I found him artistic in pleading the Monticelli cause.–10 In the which I took and take my part. Witnessing the very scenery which inspired Monticelli I maintain this artists rights to public though too late appreciation.
 1r:4
Surely Monticelli gives us not, neither pretends to give us, local colour or even local truth. But gives us something passionate and eternal – the rich coulour and rich sun of the glorious South in a true colourists way parralel with Delacroix’ conception of the South.11 Viz. that the South be represented now by contraste simultané of colours12 and their derivations and harmonies, and not by forms or lines in themselves as the ancient artists did formerly, by pure form greeks & Michel Ange, or by pure line or delineation Rafael, Mantegna, Venetian primitifs. (Botticelli, Cimabue, Giotto, Bellini.) Contrariwise the thing undertaken by P. Veronese & Titian – Colour.13 The thing undertaken by Velasquez and Goya to be continued and – more fully or rather more universally done by the more universal knowledge we have & possess of the colours of the prism and their proprieties.14
Hoping to write to you again and to hear of you pretty soon,

Yours very truly,
Vincent

translation
 1r:1
My dear Russell,
I ought to have answered your letter ever so long ago1 but working pretty hard every day, at night I feel so often too weary to write. As it rains to day I avail myself of the opportunity. Last Sunday I have met Macknight and a Danish painter and I intend to go and see him at Fontvieille next Monday.2 I feel sure I’ll prefer him as an artist to what he is as an art critic, his views as such being so narrow that they make me smile.
I heartily hope for you that you will be able to leave Paris for good soon3 and no doubt leaving Paris will do you a world of good in all respects. As for me I remain enraptured with the scenery here, am working at a series of blooming orchards.4 And unvoluntarily thought often of you because you did the same in Sicily.5 I wished you would one day or another, when I shall send over some work to Paris, exchange a Sicilian study with me – in case you should have one to spare.6  1v:2
You know I thought and think such a deal of those of yours. I don’t gainsay that your portraits are more serious and higher art but I think it meritory in you and a rare quality that together with a perfection as appeared to me the Fabian and MacKnight portraits,7 you are at the same time able to give a Scherzo, the adagio con espressione, the gay note in one word, together with more manly conceptions of a higher order. And I so heartily hope that you will continue to give us simultanément both the grave and elaborate works and those aforesaid scherzos. Then let them say if they like that you are not always serious or that you have done work of a lighter sort. So much the worse for the critics and the better for you.
I have heard nothing of our friend Mr Reid. I felt rather anxious on his account because I feel sure that he was on a false track. My brother has received a letter of him but pretty unsatisfactory.8  1v:3
I was very much taken in bya him during the first 6 weeks or 2 months9 but after that period he was in pecuniary difficulties and in the same acted in a way that made on me the impression that he had lost his wits.
Which I still think was the case and consequently he’s not responsable even if his doings then were pretty unfair. He is very nervous – as we all are – and can’t help being so. He is prompted to act in his crisis of nerves to make money – – – whilst painters would make pictures.....
So much to say that I consider the dealer stronger in him than THE ARTIST though there be a battle in his conscience concerning this – of the which battle I do not yet know the result. So much – for your informationb – as I had the pleasure of introducing him to you, feel bound to warn you with the same sympathy however for him because I found him artistic in pleading the Monticelli cause.10 In the which I took and take my part. Witnessing the very scenery which inspired Monticelli I maintain this artists rights to public though too late appreciation.  1r:4
Surely Monticelli gives us not, neither pretends to give us, local colour or even local truth. But gives us something passionate and eternal – the rich coulour and rich sun of the glorious south in a true colourists way parralel with Delacroix’ conception of the south.11 Viz. that the south be represented now by contraste simultané of colours12 and their derivations and harmonies, and not by forms or lines in themselves as the ancient artists did formerly, by pure form greeks and Michelangelo, or by pure line or delineation Raphael, Mantegna, Venetian primitifs. (Botticelli, Cimabue, Giotto, Bellini.) Contrariwise the thing undertaken by P. Veronese and Titian – Colour.13 The thing undertaken by Velázquez and Goya to be continued and – more fully or rather more universally done by the more universal knowledge we have and possess of the colours of the prism and their proprieties.14
Hoping to write to you again and to hear of you pretty soon,

Yours very truly,
Vincent
notes
1. Van Gogh had received a letter from Russell about a month before; he sent it on to Theo with letter 589.
2. In 1888 the American artist Dodge MacKnight, who Van Gogh had met through Russell in Paris, spent some time in Fontvieille, a village 9 km to the north of Arles. On 19 April 1888 MacKnight wrote to Eugène Boch and told him that he had seen Van Gogh in Arles. See exhib. cat. Pontoise 1994, pp. 80, 96 (n. 18). The Danish painter is Christian Mourier-Petersen.
3. Russell must have mentioned his impending departure in his letter; in the spring of 1888 he moved with his family to the Breton island Belle-Île. See Galbally 1977, p. 45.
4. See for this series: letter 597.
5. In the late autumn of 1886 Russell left Paris and set off on a six-month trip around Italy, during which he also went to Sicily. One of the studies of trees in blossom he made there is Almond trees and ruins on Sicily, c. 1887 (sale Christie, Manson & Woods, Australia, 6-7 June 1989, p. 71, no. 184).
6. See for the hoped-for exchange: letter 589, n. 5.
7. John Peter Russell, Fabian, c. 1887 (Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University) Ill. 1309 ; and Dodge MacKnight (private collection). Ill. 1308 . Nothing is known about Fabian, the subject of the first work, except that he, like Russell and Van Gogh, had studied in Cormon’s studio in Paris, and that he and Van Gogh may have exchanged work (see letter 569, n. 13). It seems unlikely that he was the Spanish artist Fabian de Castro, as was suggested earlier. See cat. Amsterdam 2011.
8. This letter from Reid to Theo, which was also mentioned in letter 589, is not known.
a. Read ‘taken with’.
9. Reid had lived with the Van Gogh brothers in Paris for some time. See letter 578, n. 6.
b. Van Gogh wrote in French ‘pour votre gouverne’.
10. See for Reid and Monticelli letter 578, n. 3.
11. After his trip to Morocco in 1832 Delacroix painted predominantly ‘southern’ – African, Greek and Turkish – subjects, in which he applied his colour theories.
12. See for the concept ‘simultaneous contrast’: letter 536, n. 28.
13. The artists that Van Gogh counted among the Venetian School belonged – with the exception of Giovanni Bellini – to the Florentine School, which is known for its emphasis on line; the Venetian School, to which Bellini, Titian and Veronese are considered to belong, is known for its colourful qualities.
14. Van Gogh probably meant ‘properties’ (cf. the French ‘propriété’); the English ‘proprieties’ seems inappropriate here.
Van Gogh admired Velázquez for his use of grey half-tones. He had read about his use of colour in Charles Blanc, Les artistes de mon temps; see letter 450, n.15. ; see letter 450. Velázquez’s work, with sketchy handling of the paint and strong chiaroscuro, was a major source of inspiration for Goya.