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613 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Saturday, 26 May 1888.

metadata
No. 613 (Brieven 1990 615, Complete Letters 490)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Saturday, 26 May 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b530 V/1962

Date
The letter was written on a Saturday according to the postscript: ‘tomorrow, Sunday’ (l. 135). Since Van Gogh says he has read an article in L’Intransigeant of Friday, 25 May (see n. 1), it cannot be Saturday, 19 May. Given these indications, we have dated the letter Saturday, 26 May 1888.

Additional
Van Gogh enclosed a paint order which has not survived.

Ongoing topics
Theo’s health problems (611)
Koning’s stay with Theo (578)
First consignment of paintings from Arles (606)

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
j’ai lu dans l’intransigeant l’annonce qu’il y aura une exposition des impressionistes chez Durand Ruel – il y aura des Caillebot – dont je n’ai jamais rien vu et je voulais te demander de m’écrire ce que c’est1 – il y a aussi certainement d’autres choses remarquables.
Aujourd’hui je t’ai envoyé encore quelques dessins et j’y ajoute encore deux autres. Ce sont des vues prises sur une colline rocheuse d’où l’on aperçoit le côté de la Crau (un pays d’où vient un très-bon vin), la ville d’Arles et le côté de Fontvieilles.2 l’opposition de l’avant plan sauvage & romantique – et les perspectives lointaines larges et tranquilles à lignes horizontales se degradant jusqu’à la chaine des Alpines – si célèbres par les hauts faits d’escalades de Tartarin P.C.A. et du club Alpin.–3 Cette opposition est très pittoresque.
Les deux dessins que j’y ajoute après coup maintenant te donneront une idée de la ruine qui couronne les rochers.4 Est ce cependant la peine de faire des cadres pour cette exposition Dordrecht.5 je trouve cela si bête et préférerais ne pas en être.
J’aime mieux croire que Bernard ou Gauguin nous échangeront les dessins où les hollandais ne verront rien.
Est ce que tu as rencontré le danois Mourier Petersen – il t’aura apporté encore deux dessins aussi.6
 1v:2
Il a étudié pour être médecin, seulement je suppose qu’il a été découragé là-dedans par la vie d’étudiant, decouragé et par ses copains et par ses professeurs. Il ne m’a cependant rien dit là-dessus si ce n’est qu’une fois il s’est prononcé: “mais les medecins tuent les gens”.
Lorsqu’il est venu ici il souffrait d’un mal nerveux qui lui etait venu de l’exitation des examens.–7 Depuis quand fait-il de la peinture – je l’ignore – certainement il n’est guère avancé comme peintre8 mais il est bon comme copain et il regarde les gens et les juge souvent bien justement. Y aurait-il une combinaison possible pour qu’il vienne restera avec toi.– Je crois que comme intelligence il serait bien preferable à ce Lacoste9 duquel je ne sais pourquoi je ne pense pas du bien. Il ne te faut à toi aucunement les hollandais 6me classe et pire qui en revenant dans leur pays ne font que dire & faire des idiotismes. Un marchand de tableaux est malheureusement plus ou moins un homme public.
Enfin le mal n’est pas grand.
Le Suedois10 est d’une bonne famille, il a de l’ordre & de la regularité pour ses moyens de vivre et comme homme il me fait penser à ces caractères que fait Pierre Loti.11 Avec tout son phlegme il a du coeur.
 1v:3
Je compte encore beaucoup dessiner. Il fait déjà joliment chaud je t’assure.
Je dois ajouter à la présente une commande de couleurs12 – toutefois dans le cas où tu préférerais ne pas les prendre immédiatement je ferais un peu davantage de dessins et n’y perdrais rien.
Aussi je sépare la commande en deux selon que ce serait plus ou moins pressé.
Ce qui est toujours pressé c’est de dessiner, et que cela soit fait directement à la brosse ou bien à autre chôse comme à la plume, on n’en fait jamais assez.
Je cherche maintenant à exagérer l’essentiel, à laisser dans le vague exprès le banal.
Je suis bien aise que tu aies acheté le livre sur Daumier13 – seulement si tu pouvais completer la chôse en achetant encore de ses lithographies ce serait tout à fait bien – car maintenant dans la suite les Daumier ne seront pas commode à avoir.
Comment va ta santé, as tu revu le père Gruby. je suis porté à croire qu’il exagère un peu ta maladie de coeur au détriment des nécessités de te traiter carrément pour le système nerveux. Enfin il s’en apercevra certainement à fur & à mesure que tu suis son traitement, avec Gruby tu dureras  1r:4 mais malheureusement pour nous le père Gruby ne durera pas, lui, car il se fait vieux et lorsqu’on en aura le plus besoin il n’y sera plus.–
Je crois de plus en plus qu’il ne faut pas juger le bon Dieu sur ce monde ci car c’est une étude de lui qui est mal venue. Que veux tu, dans les études ratées – quand on aime bien l’artiste – on ne trouve pas tant à critiquer – on se tait. Mais on est en droit de demander mieux. Ce serait – pour nous – nécessaire de voir d’autres oeuvres de la même main pourtant. Ce monde ci est évidemment baclé à la hâte dans un de ces mauvais moments où l’auteur ne savait plus ce qu’il faisait, où il n’avait plus la tête à lui.– Ce que la légende nous raconte du bon Dieu c’est qu’il s’est tout de même donné énormément du mal sur cette étude de monde de lui.b Je suis porté à croire que la legende dit vrai mais l’étude est ereintée de plusieurs façons alors. Il n’y a que les maîtres pour se tromper ainsi, voila peutêtre la meilleure consolation vu que dès lors on est en droit d’espérer voir prendre sa revanche par la même main creatrice. Et – dès lors – cette vie ci – si critiquée et pour de si bonnes et même excellentes raisons – nous – ne devons pas la prendre pour autre chôse qu’elle n’est et il nous demeurera l’espoir de voir mieux que ça dans une autre vie. Poignée de main à toi et à Koninck.

t. à t.
Vincent

j’espère avoir de tes nouvelles demain sans quoi serais assez mal pris vu qu’il ne me reste d’argent que pour demain dimanche.

As tu reçu la caisse maintenant à la fin des fins.– Ça m’etonne peu que ca va lentement toutefois, vu qu’il a fallu transporter la caisse d’une gare à une autre – mais tout de même.–

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
I read an announcement in L’Intransigeant that there’s going to be an exhibition of the Impressionists at Durand-Ruel — there’ll be some works by Caillebotte —I’ve never seen anything of his, and wanted to ask you to write and tell me what they’re like1 — there are certainly other noteworthy things too.
I sent you some more drawings today, and I’m adding two more. They’re views taken from a rocky hill from which you can see in the direction of the Crau (an area from which a very good wine comes), the town of Arles and in the direction of Fontvieille.2 The contrast between the wild and romantic foreground — and the broad, tranquil distant prospects with their horizontal lines, shading off until they reach the chain of the Alpilles — so famous for the great feats of climbing of Tartarin, P.C.A., and the Alpine Club.3 This contrast is very picturesque.
The two drawings that I’m now adding afterwards will give you an idea of the ruin that crowns the rocks.4 But is it worth the trouble of making frames for this Dordrecht exhibition?5 I find it so silly and I’d prefer not to be part of it.
I prefer to believe that Bernard or Gauguin will exchange drawings with us in which the Dutch will see nothing.
Have you met the Dane Mourier-Petersen — he’ll have brought you another two drawings as well.6  1v:2
He studied to be a doctor, but I suppose he was discouraged in that by the student life, discouraged by both his pals and his professors. He never said anything to me about it, though, except that he once declared: ‘but doctors kill people’.
When he came here he was suffering from a nervous condition that came from the strain of the examinations.7 How long has he been doing painting — I don’t know — he’s certainly made little progress as a painter,8 but he’s good as a pal and he looks at people and often judges them very accurately. Could there be a possible arrangement whereby he could come to live with you? As far as intelligence goes, I think he’d be far more preferable to that Lacoste,9 of whom I don’t think highly, I don’t know why. You’ve absolutely no need of 6th-rate Dutchmen or worse, who when going back to their country do nothing but say and do idiotic things. A dealer in paintings is, unfortunately, more or less a public figure.
Anyway, there’s no serious harm done.
The Swede10 is from a good family, he has order and regularity in his means of support, and as a man he makes me think of those characters Pierre Loti creates11. For all that he’s phlegmatic, he has a good heart.  1v:3
I plan to do a lot more drawing. It’s already jolly hot, I can assure you.
I must add an order for colours12 to this letter — however, if you’d prefer not to get them immediately I’d do a few more drawings and wouldn’t lose anything by it.
I’ll also divide the order into two according to what would be more urgent or less.
What’s always urgent is to draw, and whether it’s done directly with a brush, or with something else, such as a pen, you never do enough.
I’m trying now to exaggerate the essence of things, and to deliberately leave vague what’s commonplace.
I’m delighted that you’ve bought the book on Daumier13 — but if you could add to that by buying some more of his lithographs that would be absolutely good — because in the future Daumiers won’t be easy to get hold of.
How’s your health, have you seen père Gruby again? I’m inclined to believe he exaggerates your heart condition a bit, to the detriment of the need to treat you rigorously for your nervous system. Well, he’ll certainly realize it as you follow his treatment; with Gruby you’ll last,  1r:4 but unfortunately for us père Gruby himself won’t last, because he’s getting old and when we need him the most he won’t be there any more.
I’m thinking more and more that we shouldn’t judge the Good Lord by this world, because it’s one of his studies that turned out badly. But what of it, in failed studies — when you’re really fond of the artist — you don’t find much to criticize — you keep quiet. But we’re within our rights to ask for something better. We’d have to see other works by the same hand though. This world was clearly cobbled together in haste, in one of those bad moments when its author no longer knew what he was doing, and didn’t have his wits about him. What legend tells us about the Good Lord is that he went to enormous trouble over this study of his for a world. I’m inclined to believe that the legend tells the truth, but then the study is worked to death in several ways. It’s only the great masters who make such mistakes; that’s perhaps the best consolation, as we’re then within our rights to hope to see revenge taken by the same creative hand. And — then — this life — criticized so much and for such good, even excellent reasons — we — shouldn’t take it for anything other than it is, and we’ll be left with the hope of seeing better than that in another life. Handshake to you and to Koning.

Ever yours,
Vincent

I hope to have news from you tomorrow, otherwise I’d be in quite a tight corner as I only have money left for tomorrow, Sunday.

Have you received the crate at long last? It doesn’t much surprise me that it takes time, though, as the crate had to be transported from one station to another — but — all the same.
notes
1. Van Gogh must have read the announcement about it in L’Intransigeant of Friday, 25 May 1888 (p. 3, in the ‘Beaux-Arts’ column under the heading ‘Nouvelles Artistiques’): ‘An exhibition of paintings by Messrs Caillebotte, Eugène Boudoin, J.L. Brown, Lepine, Pissaro [sic], Renoir, Sisley and Whistler opens tomorrow, Thursday, [should read Saturday] at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, 11 rue Le Peletier, and continues until 25 June’ (‘Une exposition de tableaux de MM. Caillebotte, Eugène Boudoin, J.L. Brown, Lepine, Pissaro [sic], Renoir, Sisley, Whistler, s’ouvrira demain jeudi dans la galerie Durand-Ruel, 11, rue Le Peletier, pour se continuer jusqu’au 25 juin’). A similar announcement in the Moniteur des Arts of 29 May 1888 (p. 181) confirms that the exhibition ran from Saturday, 26 May to 25 June. This notice also mentions work by Berthe Morisot. See also exhib. cat. London 1979, p. 282 and Dorn 1990, p. 552.
There were six works by Gustave Caillebotte in the exhibition; they were Garden (Jardin) (present whereabouts unknown), A small branch of the Seine, Argenteuil (Petit bras de la Seine à Argenteuil), 1888 (Texas, M. Trammell Crow), Yellow and pink field (Champ jaune et rose) (private collection), Rowers (Canotiers) (present whereabouts unknown), Yellow field (Champ jaune), 1883 (present whereabouts unknown) and By the waterside (Au bord de l’eau) (present whereabouts unknown). See Marie Berhaut, Gustave Caillebotte. Catalogue raisonné des peintures et pastels. Paris 1994, p. 283 and cat. nos. 267, 291, 381.
2. There are five drawings of the area described by Van Gogh that date from this period: The plain of La Crau (F 1419 / JH 1430 ), Landscape with a tree in the foreground (F 1418 / JH 1431 ), View from Montmajour (F 1448 / JH 1432 ), Landscape with Arles in the background (F 1475 / JH 1435 ) and Heath (F 1493 / JH 1436 ).
The rocky hill is Montmajour, with the twelfth-century abbey of the same name. The plain that Van Gogh calls the Crau was actually the Trebon. This area some 5 km to the north-east of Arles lies on either side of the road to Tarascon, bordered on one side by the Rhône and on the other by Fontvieille and Tarascon. The Crau is the region to the south-east of Arles. See Fernand Benoît, Histoire municipale d’Arles. Marseille 1935, p. 70.
3. The small mountain range about 25 km to the north-east of Arles is known as the Alpilles, also written at this time as ‘Alpines’. See for Alphonse Daudet’s Tartarin sur les Alpes: letter 583, n. 9. P.C.A. stands for ‘Président du Club des Alpines’. See Daudet 1986-1994, vol. 3, p. 567 (chapter 2). Cf. Dorn 1990, p. 326 (n. 127).
4. Montmajour (F 1423 / JH 1433 ) and The ruins of Montmajour (F 1417 / JH 1434 ).
5. See for this exhibition: letter 611, n. 5.
6. One of the drawings Mourier-Petersen took with him was probably The Langlois bridge (F 1470 / JH 1377 ); see letter 615, n. 8. It is not possible to identify the other one.
7. See for Mourier-Petersen’s ‘nervous condition’: letter 610, n. 3.
8. Van Gogh’s assumption was wrong; Mourier-Petersen had given up his medical studies in 1880 and had been working as an artist ever since. Cf. letter 611, n. 8.
a. Read: ‘habiter’.
9. Van Gogh is most probably referring to Carel Eliza van der Sande Lacoste, who signed out of the register in Dordrecht to go to Amsterdam on 29 October 1880 and returned to Dordrecht from Paris on 31 July 1885. Theo may therefore have known Lacoste from the time he was living in Paris or met him when he was visiting the city.
10. Van Gogh not infrequently made a mistake about the nationality of the Danish painter Mourier-Petersen (cf. letter 625).
11. Given the reference to Mourier-Petersen’s phlegm immediately afterwards, Van Gogh must be referring to the calm, unassuming character of the Japanese and Tahitians as Pierre Loti describes them in Madame Chrysanthème and Le mariage de Loti respectively. Van Gogh had read the latter book about two months previously. Cf.: ‘See these motionless and dreamy folk; see these silent, languid and idle groups underneath the great trees, who appear to live on the feeling of meditation alone’ (Voyez ces peuplades immobiles et rêveuses; – voyez au pied des grands arbres ces groupes silencieux, indolents et oisifs, qui semblent ne vivre que par le sentiment de la contemplation) (see Loti 1991, p. 69).
12. This paint order has not survived; it emerges from letter 614 that it included watercolour paints.
13. See for Arsène Alexandre’s Honoré Daumier. L’homme et l’oeuvre: letter 610, n. 4.
b. Read: ‘son étude de monde’.