My dear Theo,
Thanks for today’s letter and for the 100-franc note it contained. About the previous letter containing 50 francs, I received it as well, and I also wrote telling you that the day before or two days before I sent the two drawings.1 These drawings are done with a reed cut the same way as you’d cut a goose quill. I plan to do a series like that. And I hope to do better than the first two. It’s a process I already tried in Holland in the past, but I didn’t have as good reeds there as here.2
Have had a letter from Koning for which please thank him — I’ll be very glad to exchange the two drawings with him for a study of his that you will choose and keep in the collection.3 I’ll write to him to explain the process to him, and will send him some cut reeds so that he can make some too.
Now that was an important piece of news about your trip to Brussels.4  1v:2 You’ll be in a position to judge how the old and highly priced merchandise is doing over there. But what a business. Because it’s indeed likely that those gentlemen are up to something.5 Do you remember, we had a chat about it before I left, that with the World Exhibition coming, Bouguereau, Lefebvre, Benjamin C., the whole clique would go to Boussod to grumble and to insist on their determination that the house of B. (the world’s leader) remain pure and faithful to the principles of the art that is truly the most civilized and the most agreeable, namely their own paintings.6 Be that as it may, it certainly gives you a hell of a lot to think about. And the situation would be serious if you were to fall out with those gentlemen.
I won’t hide from you that it would be a rude shock for you, not immediately, but let’s say 6 months later, because of the change it would bring about in your life.  1v:3
When a man comes out of prison after having spent a long time there, there are times when he even misses prison, because he feels disoriented once he’s at liberty, probably so called because the exhausting daily task of earning one’s living leaves one hardly any liberty. But you know all that. You’ll certainly regret some things without choosing to, even while you gain others.
I have 10 orchards now, not counting three small studies and a large one of a cherry tree that I worked to death.7
When will you be back, and what to do about the definitive consignment? Because now I have to change subjects, the orchards having mostly lost their blossom. So these orchards with the Langlois bridge 8 form a first series.  1r:4
If you prefer them to continue to dry here, that’s not bad perhaps. At the moment they’re on a covered terrace to dry.9
Tell me, isn’t Daumier on show at the Beaux-Arts, and Gavarni?10 Bravo as far as Daumier’s concerned, not the Beaux-Arts.

Croquis here of an orchard that I had especially intended for you to mark the first of May.11 It’s entirely bright and done entirely in one go, a riot of impastos barely tinged with yellow and lilac in the first white clump. You’ll probably be in Holland then, and over there you’ll perhaps see the same trees in blossom on that day.
What a pity about Cor, let’s hope it’s nothing serious.12
I’m very pleased to hear you’ve taken lessons in eating from young Koning, he’s very clever at that, and it’s entertaining to eat with that young sprig of an artist.  2v:6 I’m very glad you have his study of a negro woman.13 Well, anyway, it will do you good to eat breakfast. I’ve done the same thing here by the way, eating 2 eggs in the morning. My stomach’s very weak but I hope I can get it back to normal, it’ll take time and patience. In any case I’m in fact already much better than in Paris.
Anyway, it seems you don’t exactly need a vast amount of food here, and on this occasion I also really wanted to tell you that I’m increasingly doubtful about the truth of the legend of Monticelli’s absorbing huge quantities of absinthe. When I think of his work it doesn’t seem possible to me that a man who’s jittery from drink could have done it.  2v:7
Perhaps that woman from the Limousin, the Roquette lady, has after all put in a bit of her spiteful gossip to plant this legend.14
Well then, I’m writing to you in haste, that way you’ll have my letter before you leave if it’s this coming Sunday you plan to go.
While I feel this visit won’t delight you so much if it’s mainly paintings from Delort & Co.15 that make up the collection intended for the virtuous Belgians, it doesn’t stop me saying that I wish you good health and bon voyage, and above all, good luck.
I saw Bernard’s still life when he was working on it, and I thought it superb.16
Handshake to you and to Koning.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 602 | CL: 478
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 20 April 1888

1. This letter from Vincent has not survived; he addressed it wrongly and it was returned to him (see letter 601).
The drawings he sent must have been quite large given that in letter 601 Van Gogh writes that he is working on a ‘series of pen drawings of which you’ve had the first two, but in a smaller format’ (ll. 40-42). They must therefore be Orchard with Arles in the background (F 1516 / JH 1376 [2575]) and The white orchard (F 1414 / JH 1385 [2583]). Both measure approx. 39.5 x 54 cm.
[2575] [2583]
2. Van Gogh first mentioned working with a reed pen in letter 168 of late June 1881; according to Pickvance traces of it can be determined in Marsh with water lilies (F 845 / JH 7 [2335]) and Marsh (F 846 / JH 8 [2336]). Van Heugten, though, believes that Van Gogh is referring here to his drawings in Nuenen, ‘however it is difficult to say exactly when he used a reed, a quill or a metal nib’. See exhib. cat. New York 1984, p. 54 and cat. Amsterdam 1997, p. 22 (quotation). Vellekoop thinks Etten is more likely and mentions in this regard The daughter of Jacob Meyer (after Holbein) (F 833 / JH 13 [2339]), Marsh with water lilies (F 845 / JH 7 [2335]) and Garden with arbour (F 902 / JH 9). See cat. Amsterdam 2007, p. 3, n. 17.
[2335] [2336] [2339] [2335] [677]
3. Koning did not get the two drawings that were sent (n. 2). The white orchard (F 1414 / JH 1385 [2583]) is still in the Van Gogh Museum collection. Orchard with Arles in the background (F 1516 / JH 1376 [2575]) also remained in Theo’s possession; it was sold by Jo van Gogh-Bonger in 1924 (see Account book 2002, p. 197; n. 13 below, and letter 614, n. 3).
[2583] [2575]
4. Later in the letter it says that Theo was planning to go to Brussels ‘this coming Sunday’; this would have been 22 April. He cannot have returned to Paris before 12 May at the earliest, since Vincent had still not had any word from him on that date (letter 609) and thanked him in letter 610 of about 14 May for writing so soon after he got back. It emerges from letter 602 that Theo combined his business trip to Brussels with a visit to his mother and sister Willemien in Breda.
5. Theo’s employers at Boussod, Valadon & Cie. In this and the subsequent letters Van Gogh hints at a possible breach between Theo and his employers. Vincent was evidently afraid that Theo’s position was in danger because of his preference for modern art.
6. Bouguereau, Lefebvre and Benjamin-Constant sold their work successfully through Goupil for a long time; in the 1870s people even referred to ‘The school of Goupil’. Bouguereau’s contract with Goupil was terminated as part of the reorganization of the business in 1884-1887, and Boussod, Valadon & Cie tried to build up a new stock with new names. See Richard Thomson in exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 70-71, 76. Bouguereau and co.’s ‘grumble’ to Boussod, Valadon & Cie is possibly related to this.
These artists were in any event very well represented at the Paris World Exhibition of 1889: Benjamin-Constant had ten works there, Lefebvre had nine, Bouguereau had fourteen. See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-3, pp. 2 (cat. nos. 59-68), 4 (cat. nos. 157-166), 18 (cat. nos. 885-893), 45 (cat. nos. 91-94).
7. These ten orchards are Pink peach trees (F 404 / JH 1391 [2588]), The pink orchard (F 555 / JH 1380 [2578]), The white orchard (F 403 / JH 1378 [2576]), Small pear tree in blossom (F 405 / JH 1394 [2590]), Orchard with apricot trees in blossom (F 553 / JH 1387 [2585]), Orchard with apricot trees in blossom (F 556 / JH 1383 [2581]), Orchard bordered by cypresses (F 513 / JH 1389 [2587]), Orchard with peach trees in blossom (F 551 / JH 1396 [2591]), Orchard (F 552 / JH 1381 [2579]) and Orchard with pear trees in blossom (F 406 / JH 1399 [2594]). Cf. also letter 597.
The three small studies are Orchard bordered by cypresses (F 554 / JH 1388 [2586]), Almond tree in blossom (F 557 / JH 1397 [2592]) and Peach tree in blossom (F 399 / JH 1398 [0]). They measure 32 x 40 cm, 48.5 x 38 cm and 41 x 33 cm respectively.
The ‘large one of a cherry tree that I worked to death’ has not survived; Van Gogh described the work in letter 599 to Bernard.
[2588] [2578] [2576] [2590] [2585] [2581] [2587] [2591] [2579] [2594] [2586] [2592] [0]
8. The Pont de Langlois, pictured by Van Gogh in The Langlois bridge with washerwomen (F 397 / JH 1368 [2571]) and the repetition The Langlois bridge with washerwomen (F 571 / JH 1392 [2589]). Since Van Gogh had intended the first work for Tersteeg, he must have the repetition for Theo in mind here.
[2571] [2589]
9. See for this terrace: letter 599, n. 7.
10. Work by Daumier and Gavarni was on show in the exhibition of caricatures in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 17 April. See exhib. cat. Paris 1888, and La Revue Indépendante, no. 19 (May 1888), vol. 7, p. 382.
11. Theo turned 31 on 1 May. The painting meant for him was Orchard with pear trees in blossom (F 406 / JH 1399 [2594]).
12. Apparently Cor, who was employed in an engineering works in Lincoln, was ill or had some other problem. On 18 March his mother had told Theo that she had received good reports about her youngest son (FR b2417). Vincent himself had little contact with him: Cor wrote to Theo from Lincoln on 16 October 1888: ‘How’s Vincent getting on? I never hear anything from him now, except something about he’s going to Algiers or is there ... Don’t think that even though I don’t write often I’ve forgotten you, because in fact you’re my only brother’ (FR b3706).
13. Three paintings by Arnold Koning from Theo’s collection are candidates; all three are titled Head of a Gypsy woman (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 1016 [1016], Ill. 2189 [2189], 2190 [2190]. See for the works that Koning (possibly) gave Theo: exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1999, pp. 157, 160, 206 (n. 16).
[1016] [2189] [2190]
a. After this Van Gogh crossed out: ‘si multiple et si constant’ (so varied and so constant).
14. By ‘La Roquette’ Van Gogh meant the wife of the art dealer François Joseph Delarebeyrette, who carried on the trade in Monticellis with her son Gabriel after her husband’s death in 1886. Van Gogh refers to the son as ‘Gabriel de la Roquette’ (see letter 625). This must have been a nickname since the woman’s full name was Evelina Delarebeyrette-Lassarre and her son is always referred to in official documents as Gabriel Delarebeyrette.
In letter 686 Vincent talks about ‘Madame de Larebey la Roquette’, so we know that he did know her real name; Theo also calls her ‘La Roquette’ (see letter 830). They may have called her this because she was so touchy and liable to fly off the handle – a ‘roquette’ is a rocket – the fact that it sounds something like ‘Delarebeyrette’ may also have been a factor. The Delarebeyrettes came from the department of Creuse in the Limousin, a region in central France (Archives de Paris).
Although Monticelli’s legendary consumption of alcohol sounds somewhat exaggerated, he must nonetheless have been a heavy drinker. He used to do the rounds of the bars in Marseille to sell his paintings, and from 1880 onwards he only ever received buyers in his local, Café Plauchut. See Alauzen and Ripert 1969, p. 153.
15. The popular genre and history painter Charles Edouard Delort, a pupil of Gérôme, made his debut at the 1864 Salon and painted chiefly anecdotal, eighteenth-century costume pieces and Oriental scenes.
16. Van Gogh is most probably referring here to one of the still lifes he saw at Bernard’s before he left Paris: Still life: the blue coffee-pot, 1888 (Bremen, Kunsthalle) and Still life: earthenware pot and apples (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). Ill. 2179 [2179] and Ill. 567 [567]. He was full of praise for these still lifes in letter 655 to Bernard. It is not possible to tell which of the two he means here.
[2179] [567]