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604 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Friday, 4 May 1888.

metadata
No. 604 (Brieven 1990 606, Complete Letters 482)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Friday, 4 May 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. nos. b522 a-b V/1962

Date
Van Gogh returns to his previous communication about buying a bed: ‘I’m writing you another line’ (ll. 1*-2), and says, as he does in letter 603 which dates from 4 May, that he saw MacKnight ‘yesterday’ (l. 110). We have therefore also dated the present letter Friday, 4 May 1888. In Brieven 1914 Jo van Gogh-Bonger gave the date as 5 May, probably on the basis of a postmark – however, this showed the date the letter was posted.

Ongoing topics
Koning’s stay with Theo (578)
The plan to exhibit work by modern artists in Marseille (580)
Disagreement with Reid (578)
Theo’s trip to Belgium and the Netherlands (600)

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
je t’écris encore un mot pour te dire que reflexion faite je crois que le mieux sera de prendre tout simplement une natte & un matelas et de faire dans l’atelier un lit par terre. Car durant tout l’été il va faire tellement chaud que cela sera plus que suffisant ainsi. En hiver nous pourrions alors voir s’il faudra prendre un lit oui ou non.
Pour ce qui est du lit qui est chez toi je trouve que l’arrangement d’avoir un peintre qui restea avec toi est dans l’avantage du peintre et aussi dans le tien au point de vue de la conversation et de la compagnie. Ainsi quand bien même Koning partirait, il y aurait peut-être un autre qui le remplacerait. Et pourquoi donc ne garderais tu pas le lit en tout cas chez toi.
 1v:2
Il est tout juste possible qu’en fait de maison je trouve encore mieux, soit à Martigues au bord de la mer1 soit dans un autre endroit. Seulement ce que cet atelier a de charmant c’est les jardins en face.2 Mais voila, pour y faire des reparations ou pour la meubler un peu bien, attendons – ce sera plus sage – d’autant plus que si nous devions avoir le cholera ici en été il se pourrait que je ficherais mon camp dans la campagne. Elle est sale cette ville dans les anciennes rues!
Les arlésiennes dont on parle tant n’est ce pas,3 sais tu ce qu’en somme j’en trouve?– Certes elles sont réellement charmantes mais ce n’est plus ce que ca doit avoir été. Et voilà, c’est plus souvent du Mignard4 que du Mantegna parcequ’elles sont en décadence,  1v:3 n’empêche que c’est beau, bien beau et ici je ne parle que du type dans le caractère romain – un peu embêtant & banal.– Que d’exceptions! Il y a des femmes comme des Fragonard et – comme Renoir. Et ce que l’on ne peut pas caser dans ce qui a déjà été fait en peinture! Le meilleur que l’on pourrait faire, cela serait à tous les points de vue de faire des portraits de femmes et d’enfants.– Seulement il me semble que ce ne sera pas moi qui ferai cela, je ne me sens pas un monsieur assez Bel ami pour cela.5
Mais serais rudement content si ce Bel ami du midi – que Monticelli – n’était pas – mais préparait – que moi je sens dans l’air tout en sentant que c’est pas moi – Serais dis-je – rudement content si en peinture il nous venait un homme à la Guy de Maupassant pour peindre gaiement les belles gens et choses d’ici.
 1r:4
Pour moi je travaillerai et par ci par là il y aura de mon travail qui restera – mais ce que Claude Monet est dans le paysage, cela dans la figure peinte – qui est ce qui fera cela.– Pourtant tu dois sentir comme moi que cela est dans l’air.– Rodin?– il ne fait pas la couleur lui – c’est pas lui.– Mais le peintre de l’avenir c’est un coloriste comme il n’y en a pas encore eu. Manet l’a preparé mais tu sais bien que les impressionistes ont déjà fait de la couleur plus forte que celle de Manet.
Ce peintre de l’avenir je ne puis me le figurer vivant dans de petits restaurants, travaillant avec plusieurs fausses dents et allant dans des bordels de zouaves comme moi.–
Mais il me semble etre dans le juste lorsque je sens que cela viendra dans une generation plus loin et que pour nous il faut faire ce que nos moyens nous permettent dans cette direction, sans douter et sans broncher.–
 2r:5
Veuille prévenir Guillaumin que Russell désire venir le voir chez lui et a l’intention de lui acheter encore un tableau.6 J’écris à Russell aujourd’hui.
J’entendais dire hier par Mc Knight et par le danois qu’à Marseille il n’y avait jamais rien de bon dans les vitrines des marchands et qu’ils croyaient qu’on n’y faisait absolument rien.–
J’ai bien envie de voir cela un peu de mes propres yeux mais justement désirant ne pas m’emballer je ferai cela lorsque les nerfs seront au repos.–
Dans la lettre que j’avais mal adressée,7 justement je te parlais encore de Bonger. Probable qu’il ose dire tant que ça puisque dans ce moment les russes ont tant de succes au Theatre libre &c. Mais c’est pas là une raison, n’est ce pas, pour chercher à se servir de ce succes pour denigrer les  2v:6 Français.–8 Je viens de relire encore le Bonheur des dames de Zola et je le trouve de plus en plus beau.9
Maintenant c’est une nouvelle que Reid est de retour.10 j’ai dit à Russell que comme c’etait moi qui l’avais introduit chez lui j’y tenais un peu de lui dire pourquoi on s’etait querellé.11
Que Reid etait ambitieux et étant gené pour l’argent comme nous tous, il etait hors de lui lorsqu’il s’agissait d’en gagner de l’argent.
Que je considerais cela comme actes involontaires (et lui en consequence pas responsable, et excusable de ces actes) d’un systeme nerveux surexcité.
Mais que chez Reid le marchand vulgaire est plus fort que l’artiste distingué.–––––––  2v:7
Ça ne fera pas l’affaire de Reid mais est ce trop dire la vérité. c’est certes maintenant pas mieux que ça et plutôt pire.
L’ami de Russell, Mc Knight, est un personnage sec et pas trop sympathique pas non plus, tant pis si j’ai les deux contre moi.
Je n’ai pourtant rien dit de Mac Knight quoique je suppose qu’il n’a pas plus de coeur que Reid. S’il trouvait sa peinture cela lui ferait du bien et cela n’est pas impossible que cela vienne – il est encore jeune. 27 ans je pense.–12
Mettons donc si tu trouves bien que nous ne nous presserons pas encore pour mettre l’atelier en état. Il y est déja  2r:8 suffisament pour le moment. Et si j’y couche de la façon susdite il ne me coutera rien. j’epargne 30 francs à l’hôtel et j’en paye 15 de loyer donc à cela il n’y a que de l’avantage.
Poignée de main à toi et à Koning. j’ai encore un dessin.13

t. à t.
Vincent

J’ai vu un tas de caisses pour mon envoi dans le bazar, j’y retourne pour prendre mesure.
Est ce que le de Groux dont tu parles était le même motif que celui du musée de Bruxelles, le bénédicité.14 Vrai ce que tu dis pour de Braekeleer. En as tu entendu parler de ce qu’il souffrait d’une maladie cerebrale qui le reduirait à l’impuissance???
Moi j’ai entendu dire cela mais n’était ce pas passager?–15 Tu en nommes un autre que je ne connais pas.–

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
I’m writing you another line to tell you that on reflection I think the best thing will be quite simply to take a mat and a mattress and make a bed in the studio on the floor. Because for the whole summer it’s going to be so hot it’ll be more than enough like that. Then in the winter we could see if we’ll need to take a bed, yes or no.
About the bed you have at home, I think the arrangement of having a painter living with you is good for the painter and for you too, from the point of view of conversation and company. So even if Koning were to leave, there would perhaps be someone else who could replace him. So why don’t you keep the bed at home in any case?  1v:2
It’s quite possible that as far as houses go I’ll find an even better one, either at Martigues, beside the sea,1 or in some other place. But the delightful thing about this studio is the gardens opposite.2 But there you are, as for doing repairs or furnishing it reasonably well, let’s wait — that will be wiser — all the more so since if we had to have cholera here in the summer, it could be that I’d up sticks and go to the country. It’s dirty, this town, with its old streets!
As for the Arlésiennes they talk about so much, don’t they,3 do you know what I think of them, in short? Certainly, they’re truly charming, but it’s not what it must have been once. And there you are, it’s often more Mignard4 than Mantegna, since they’re in decline,  1v:3 but be that as it may, it’s beautiful, really beautiful, and here I’m only talking about the Roman type — a bit boring and ordinary. But what exceptions! There are women like Fragonards and — like Renoir. And something you can’t fit into what’s already been done in painting! The best thing one could do, from all points of view, would be to paint portraits of women and children. But it seems to me that it won’t be I who does that, I don’t feel I’m enough of a Mr Bel-ami for that.5
But I’d be mightily pleased if that Bel-ami of the south — which Monticelli – wasn’t — but was preparing the ground — which I can feel in the air while at the same time feeling that it isn’t me — I’d be, I tell you — mightily pleased if in painting a man like Guy de Maupassant came along and cheerfully painted the beautiful people and things in these parts.  1r:4
As for me, I’ll work, and here and there some of my work will last — but what Claude Monet is in landscape, the same thing in figure painting — who’s going to do that? Yet like me you must feel it’s in the air. Rodin? Rodin doesn’t do colour — it’s not him. But the painter of the future is a colourist such as there hasn’t been before. Manet prepared the ground, but you’re well aware that the Impressionists have already used stronger colour than Manet’s.
This painter of the future, I can’t imagine him living in small restaurants, working with several false teeth and going into Zouave brothels like me.
But it seems to me that I’m in the right when I feel it will come in a later generation and that in our case we have to do what our means allow us in that direction, without having doubts and without flinching.  2r:5
Please let Guillaumin know that Russell wants to go and see him at home and intends to buy another painting from him.6 I’m writing to Russell today.
I was hearing yesterday from MacKnight and from the Dane that in Marseille there was never anything good in the dealers’ windows, and that they thought that nothing at all was being done there.
I’m very keen to see something of that for myself, but for the very reason that I don’t want to get all worked up I’ll do it when my nerves are settled.
In the letter I addressed wrongly,7 I was actually talking about Bonger. He probably dares say as much, since the Russians are having such success at the Theâtre Libre, &c. But that’s no reason, is it, to try to use that success to run the French down?8  2v:6 I’ve just read Zola’s Au bonheur des dames again and I find it more and more beautiful.9
Now that’s news, that Reid’s back.10 I told Russell that since it was I who had introduced him into his home it was partly up to me to tell him why we’d fallen out.11
That Reid was ambitious, and being hard up for money like all of us, he was beside himself when it came to earning money.
That I saw all that as involuntary acts (and him not responsible, therefore, and to be forgiven for these acts) of an over-excited nervous system.
But that with Reid the vulgar dealer is stronger than the distinguished artist.  2v:7
That won’t suit Reid, but is it too much to tell the truth? It’s surely no better than that now, and worse, in fact.
Russell’s friend, MacKnight, is a cold and not very nice character, too bad if I have both of them against me.
However, I’ve said nothing about MacKnight, although I imagine he has no more heart than Reid. If he found his painting style that would do him good, and it’s not impossible that it will come — he’s still young. 27, I think.12
Let’s assume then, if you think it’s right, that we won’t be in a hurry yet to put the studio in order. It’s already  2r:8 good enough for the time being. And if I sleep there the way I’ve said above it won’t cost me anything. I save 30 francs at the hotel and pay 15 in rent, so there’s nothing but benefit in that.
Handshake to you and to Koning. I have another drawing.13

Ever yours,
Vincent

I’ve seen a whole lot of crates for my consignment at the penny bazaar, I’ll go back to take measurements.
Was the Degroux you speak of the same subject as the one in the museum in Brussels, the Saying grace?14 True what you say about De Braekeleer. Have you heard that he was suffering from a brain disease that’s supposed to have reduced him to helplessness???
I’ve heard that, but wasn’t it temporary?15 You mention the name of someone else, whom I don’t know.
notes
a. Read: ‘habite’.
1. Martigues is about 55 km to the south-east of Arles on the Mediterranean. Mourier-Petersen (referred to later in the letter as ‘the Dane’), who spent a short time in Martigues at the end of March 1888, may have given Van Gogh this idea. See Larsson 1993, p. 17.
2. The park on place Lamartine was in three sections, which is why Van Gogh refers to ‘the gardens’. See cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 15 and 167.
3. See for the legendary beauty of the Arlésienne: letter 578, n. 14.
4. Van Gogh must have had the best known of the Mignards, the painter Pierre Mignard i, in mind. His popular portraits of woman were referred to as ‘Mignardises’.
5. In Maupassant’s novel Bel-ami, the central character George Duroy is very popular with the women of the Parisian beau monde; they give him the nickname of ‘Bel-ami’. Cf. letter 568, n. 11. To Van Gogh – who identified the character in the novel with the author – the egocentric opportunist Bel-ami was also a successful, charming optimist, and it was just such a one who could give the painting of figures a new direction. (cf. Sund 1992, pp. 140-141, 177; and exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, p. 111). See also letter 662, in which Maupassant is again mentioned in connection with a new form of art.
6. We do not know which of Guillaumin’s paintings Russell had; a previous purchase by him was mentioned in letter 602.
7. Van Gogh wrote about this incorrectly addressed letter in letter 601.
8. See for the Théâtre Libre: letter 592, n. 17. Van Gogh must be referring to the production of Tolstoy’s La puissance des ténèbres which ran there from 10 February until mid-March and was a major success. See André Antoine, Mes souvenirs sur le Théâtre Libre. Paris 1921, pp. 85-89. Gustave Kahn had written about this play in La Revue Indépendante no. 17 (March 1888), vol. 6, pp. 433-441, and there had been an enthusiastic review of the performance in Revue des Deux Mondes 58 (15 March 1888), 3rd series, vol. 86, pp. 426-450. Van Gogh may have got his information about it from these articles, or he might have seen it himself before he left for Arles. In letter 677 he may be referring, in the context of his night café, to the title of this play. Cf. also Dorn 1990, p. 138.
Bonger had probably criticized French Naturalist literature, with which Tolstoy’s work was often compared. The writer in the Revue des Deux Mondes (p. 438) thought that La puissance des ténèbres was wrongly regarded as a Russian La terre, Zola’s novel about a peasant family.
9. See for Zola’s Au bonheur des dames: letter 464, n. 2.
10. See for Reid’s return: letter 602.
11. Van Gogh had written to Russell about Reid in letter 598.
12. MacKnight was born in 1860, so he was 27 or 28.
13. We do not know which drawing this is.
14. Vincent is responding to Theo’s description of a work he had seen in Brussels. For Degroux’s Saying grace , see letter 143, n. 16.
15. Henri de Braekeleer had a ‘nervous breakdown’ in the 1880-1883 period. See Todts 1988, pp. 73-74.