My dear Theo,
I’m writing to you from Saintes-Maries on the Mediterranean at last — the Mediterranean — has a colour like mackerel, in other words, changing — you don’t always know if it’s green or purple — you don’t always know if it’s blue — because a second later, its changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue.
It’s a funny thing, the family — quite unintentionally, and despite myself, I’ve often thought here from time to time of our uncle the seaman,1 who has certainly seen the shores of this sea many times.
I’ve brought three canvases and I’ve covered them — two seascapes — a view of the village2 — and some drawings which I’ll send you by post when I get back to Arles tomorrow.3
I board and eat for 4 francs a day — they started by asking 6.4  1v:2
As soon as I can I’ll probably come back to do some more studies here.5
The beach here is sandy, no cliffs or rocks — like Holland — without the dunes and with more blue.
You eat better fried fish here than beside the Seine — only there isn’t fish to eat every day, as the fishermen go off to sell in Marseille. But when there is some it’s darned good. If there isn’t any — the butcher’s is no more appetizing than Monsieur Gérôme’s fellah butcher’s6 — if there’s no fish it’s rather hard to find something to eat here, it seems to me.
I don’t believe there are 100 houses in this village or town.
The main building after the old church, an ancient fortress, is the barracks.7 And what houses at that — like those on our Drenthe heaths and peat bogs, you’ll see some specimens in the drawings.8  1v:3
I have to leave my three painted studies here, because of course they aren’t dry enough to subject them to 5 hours’ jolting in a carriage with impunity.9
But I expect to come back here.
Next week I’d like to go to Tarascon to do two or three studies.
If you haven’t already written I’ll expect your letter in Arles, of course.
A very handsome gendarme came to interview me here. And the priest too — people can’t be too bad here, because even the priest seemed almost like a decent fellow.10
Next month will be the public bathing season.
Number of bathers varies from 20 to 50.
I’m staying till tomorrow afternoon, have still got some drawings to do.  1r:4
I took a walk along the seashore one night, on the deserted beach. It wasn’t cheerful, but not sad either, it was — beautiful.
The sky, a deep blue, was flecked with clouds of a deeper blue than primary blue, an intense cobalt, and with others that were a lighter blue — like the blue whiteness of milky ways. Against the blue background stars twinkled, bright, greenish, white, light pink — brighter, more glittering, more like precious stones than at home — even in Paris. So it seems fair to talk about opals, emeralds, lapis, rubies, sapphires. The sea a very deep ultramarine — the beach a mauvish and pale reddish shade, it seemed to me — with bushes. In addition to half-sheet drawings I have a large drawing, the pendant of the last one.11
More soon, I hope. Handshake.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 622 | CL: 499
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, on or about Sunday, 3 or Monday, 4 June 1888

1. Uncle Jan van Gogh had been a naval officer.
2. The two seascapes are Fishing boats at sea (F 415 / JH 1452 [2632]) and Fishing boats at sea (F 417 / JH 1453 [2633]); the view of the village is View of Saintes-Maries (F 416 / JH 1447 [2627]).
[2632] [2633] [2627]
3. See for these drawings n. 11 below.
4. At this time there were two registered boarding-houses in Saintes-Maries. It is possible that Van Gogh stayed at the cheaper of the two – Pension Coulomb at what is now place Mireille. See Amiel 2005, p. 15.
5. Van Gogh changed his mind: see letters 623 and 625.
6. It is not clear which picture of an Egyptian butcher Van Gogh is referring to here. Jean Léon Gérôme painted an Egyptian butcher twice (both lost). See Ackerman 1986, p. 202, cat. nos. 82-83.
7. The twelfth-century fortified church Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer is the central point of the village – Van Gogh painted it on his view of the village (see n. 2 above). The barracks was a ‘caserne de douanes’ (ADM).
8. Van Gogh means the ‘cabanes de gardians’, the typical white cottages with thatched roofs found in the Camargue; they appear in several of his drawings and paintings (see n. 11 below).
9. In the end Van Gogh probably took his paintings with him after all: see letter 620, n. 4.
10. The priest of Saintes-Maries was Charles Ferdinand Escombard. The only name under ‘gendarmerie’ in the address books was that of Sergeant Rochon (L’indicateur marseillais 1888, 1889).
11. By ‘half-sheet’ drawings, Van Gogh means the following seven, all of which measure about 30 x 47 cm: Cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 1438 / JH 1448 [2628]), Row of cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 1434 / JH 1449 [2629]), Sunlit cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 1437 / JH 1450 [2630]), Cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 1440 / JH 1451 [2631]), Cottages in Saintes-Maries (F 1436 / JH 1454 [2634]), Fishing boats off the beach at Saintes-Maries (F 1432 / JH 1455 [2635]) and View of Saintes-Maries with cemetery (F 1479 / JH 1456 [2636]). See cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 118-119.
The large drawing is View of Saintes-Maries (F 1439 / JH 1446 [2626]), which measures 43 x 60 cm. By ‘the last one’ Van Gogh means the sheet of similar size that he had sent to Theo before he left for Saintes-Maries, View of Arles from a hill (F 1452 / JH 1437 [2618]). For the actual sending of the drawing, see letter 620.
[2628] [2629] [2630] [2631] [2634] [2635] [2636] [2626] [2618]