From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Tuesday, 29 or Wednesday, 30 May 1888
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b536 V/1962
Several suggestions have been made for the sequence and dating of the letters Van Gogh wrote in late May and early June 1888. Crucial to this discussion is the answer to the question as to when he went to the seaside town of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer; in the present letter he says he will go there ‘tomorrow’.There is a summary of the views of Hulsker, Pickvance, Merlhès, the editors of De brieven 1990 and Dorn in: Dorn 1998, p. 25. Dorn is the only one to suggest that Van Gogh did not stay in Saintes-Maries until the week of 10 to 16 June 1888. We do not think that his main argument, namely that when he wrote ‘refiler’ (‘go back’) in letter 621 Van Gogh simply meant ‘filer’ (‘go’), implying that he had not yet been to the town, holds water. We subscribe to the criticism in Hulsker 1999 (see further letter 621, n. 6).
Van Gogh writes twice that he spent a week in Saintes-Maries (see letters 622 and 627). Although this does not have to be regarded as exactly seven days, we see no reason to assume that his stay was significantly shorter or longer. Admittedly it initially appears that he only meant to stay for about four days and wanted to come back in the evening of Saturday, 2 June (letter 617), but his plans were evidently quite fluid: in letter 619 he says he wants to set off ‘tomorrow afternoon’, but in the event he went early in the morning (letter 620).
As far as the dates are concerned, we base our arguments on letters 620 and 621. They were written after Van Gogh got back from Saintes-Maries, on about 5 June 1888 (see the notes to letter 621, Date). Since we regard it as plausible that letter 620 was written on the day he returned (see Date in the notes to that letter), we believe that Vincent’s stay by the sea was roughly the week prior to about 5 June.
The present letter and letter 618 were written the day before he left (see ll. 10-11 and ll. 14-15 respectively) and sent to Theo at the same time. They also date from after letter 616 of 28 or 29 May, since as he writes in the present letter (see ll. 54 ff.) Van Gogh has meanwhile carried out the plan to write to Gauguin he outlined in that letter. Given that Van Gogh was very preoccupied with Gauguin’s situation at this time, we date this one no more than a day after letter 616, in other words on Tuesday, 29 or Wednesday, 30 May 1888.
Bearing in mind that letters 617 and 618 were written the day before he set out, we assume that Van Gogh’s excursion to Saintes-Maries lasted from 30 or 31 May to about 4 June.
Van Gogh also enclosed a letter for Koning (618).
Theo’s possible trip to America (610)
Theo’s health problems (611)
Koning’s stay with Theo (578)
Gauguin coming to Arles (602)