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636 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Thursday, 5 July 1888.

metadata
No. 636 (Brieven 1990 639, Complete Letters 508)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Thursday, 5 July 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b549 V/1962

Date
The letter must date from early July: Van Gogh refers to the consignment of painting supplies from Tasset (ll. 26-27) which he had received at the end of June (see letter 635). The fact that he had recently paid the rent indicates that it was towards the beginning of the month (ll. 40-41). In letter 637 of Sunday, 8 or Monday, 9 July he says – referring to the present letter – that he wrote ‘last Thursday’, which means that it must have been written on Thursday, 5 July 1888.

Ongoing topics
Gauguin’s illness (581)
Visit to Saintes-Maries (617)

Sketch

  1. Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F - / JH 1500), letter sketch

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
le travail me tient tellement que je ne peux pas arriver à écrire. J’aurais bien encore voulu écrire à Gauguin car je crains qu’il ne soit plus malade qu’il ne dit – sa dernière lettre au crayon en avait tellement l’air.–
Dans ce cas, que faire – je n’ai pas encore de réponse de Russell.1
Hier j’étais au soleil couchant dans une bruyère pierreuse où croissent des chênes tres petits et tordus, dans le fond une ruine sur la colline2 et dans le vallon du blé. C’était romantique, on ne peut davantage, à la Monticelli, le soleil versait des rayons tres jaunes sur les buissons et le terrain, absolument une pluie d’or. Et toutes les lignes etaient belles, l’ensemble d’une noblesse charmante. On n’aurait pas du tout été surpris de voir surgir soudainement des cavaliers et des dames revenant d’une chasse au faucon ou d’entendre la voix d’un vieux troubadour Provençal. Les terrains semblaient violets, les lointains bleus.  1v:2 J’en ai rapporté une étude d’ailleurs mais qui reste bien en dessous de ce que j’avais voulu faire.3 Tasset l’autre jour n’avait pas envoyé assez de blanc de zinc.4 Je m’en trouve très bien de l’employer mais il a le désavantage de sécher très lentement, ainsi par exemple des études faites à Stes Maries ne sont pas encore sèches.5
J’avais compté aller dans la Camargue mais le vétérinaire qui aurait dû venir me prendre pour faire sa tournée avec lui m’a laissé en plan.6 Cela m’est assez egal vu que je n’aime que médiocrement les taureaux sauvages.
C’est à ma stupéfaction que j’aperçois déjà le fond de mon portemonnaie, il est vrai que j’ai eu mon mois de loyer à payer. Il faut bien savoir que si j’en abstrais la nourriture et le logement tout le reste de mon argent s’en va encore dans les toiles. En somme celles ci nous reviennent assez chères sans compter le mal qu’elles donnent.  1v:3 Pourtant j’ose espérer qu’un jour l’argent qu’on dépense reviendra en partie et si j’avais davantage de l’argent j’en depenserais davantage encore pour chercher à faire des colorations bien riches.

[sketch A]
Voici un motif nouveau. un coin de jardin avec des buissons en boule et un arbre pleureur et dans le fond des touffes de lauriers roses. Et le gazon qu’on vient de faucher avec les longues trainées de foin qui sèche au soleil. Un petit coin de ciel bleu vert dans le haut.7
 1r:4
Je suis en train de lire du Balzac, César Birotteau, je te l’envoie lorsque je l’aurai fini8 – je crois que je vais relire le tout de Balzac.
En venant ici j’avais espéré qu’il y aurait à faire des amateurs ici – jusqu’ici je n’ai pas avancé d’un seul centimètre dans le coeur des gens. Maintenant Marseille? Je ne sais mais cela pourrait bien n’être rien qu’une illusion. En tout cas j’ai cessé de spéculer un peu là-dessus. Un grand nombre de journées se passe donc sans que je dise un mot à personne que pour demander à diner ou un café. Et cela a été ainsi dès le commencement. Jusqu’à présent la solitude ne m’a pourtant pas beaucoup gêné, tellement j’ai trouvé intéressant le soleil plus fort et son effet sur la nature.
Ecris moi si tu peux un jour ou deux jours plus tôt, la fin semaine sera un peu raide. Poignée de main.

t. à t.
Vincent

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
Work occupies me so much, I can’t manage to write. I’d have liked to write to Gauguin again, because I fear he may be iller than he says — his last letter in pencil looked so much that way.
In that case, what’s to be done — I have no reply from Russell yet.1
Yesterday, at sunset, I was on a stony heath where very small, twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill,2 and wheatfields in the valley. It was romantic, it couldn’t be more so, à la Monticelli, the sun was pouring its very yellow rays over the bushes and the ground, absolutely a shower of gold. And all the lines were beautiful, the whole scene had a charming nobility. You wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see knights and ladies suddenly appear, returning from hunting with hawks, or to hear the voice of an old Provençal troubadour. The fields seemed purple, the distances blue.  1v:2 And I brought back a study of it too, but it was well below what I’d wished to do.3 Tasset hadn’t sent enough zinc white the other day.4 I get on very well using it, but it has the disadvantage of drying very slowly, so, for example, the studies done at Saintes-Maries aren’t dry yet.5
I’d planned to go to the Camargue, but the vet who ought to have come to pick me up to do his rounds with him left me in the lurch.6 I don’t really mind, as I’m only moderately fond of wild bulls.
It’s to my astonishment that I can already see the bottom of my wallet; it’s true that I had my month’s rent to pay. You must clearly know that if I deduct food and lodging, all the rest of my money still runs away on canvases. In short, they turn out rather expensive, without counting the trouble they cause.  1v:3 However, I dare hope that one day the money we spend will come back in part, and if I had more money I would spend even more trying to find good rich colorations.

[sketch A]

Here’s a new subject. A corner of a garden with round bushes and a weeping tree, and in the background, clumps of oleanders. And the lawn that has just been mown, with long wisps of hay drying in the sun. A little corner of blue green sky at the top.7  1r:4
I’m reading Balzac, César Birotteau, I’ll send it to you when I’ve finished it8 — I think I’ll re-read all of Balzac.
When I came here I had hoped it would be possible to create art lovers here — so far, I haven’t made a centimetre’s progress into people’s hearts. Now Marseille? I don’t know, but that could well be nothing but an illusion. In any case, I’ve rather stopped speculating about it. So, many days pass without my saying a word to anyone except to order supper or a coffee. And it’s been like that from the start. But up until now loneliness hasn’t bothered me very much, I’ve found the stronger sunshine and its effect on nature so interesting.
Write to me a day or two earlier if you can; the end of the week will be a bit tight. Handshake.

Ever yours,
Vincent
notes
1. Van Gogh had written to Russell about exchanging work; see letter 635. He had probably also sounded him out again about buying a painting from Gauguin. See also letter 582, n. 2.
2. The ruin was Montmajour Abbey near Arles.
3. Sunset at Montmajour (F - / JH - ). See Louis van Tilborgh et al. 2013.
4. This relates to the consignment whose receipt was confirmed in letter 635.
5. Van Gogh had painted three studies in Saintes-Maries: Fishing boats at sea (F 415 / JH 1452 ), Fishing boats at sea (F 417 / JH 1453 ) and View of Saintes-Maries (F 416 / JH 1447 ).
6. See letter 629, n. 14, for this planned expedition to the Camargue.
7. The letter sketch Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F - / JH 1500) was done after the painting of the same title F 428 / JH 1499 .
8. In Honoré de Balzac’s Histoire de la grandeur et de la décadence de César Birotteau (1837), the character Birotteau owns a perfumery shop that flourishes as a result of his honesty and hard work. His peaceful life is thrown into chaos, however, when he speculates in an attempt to increase his fortune. This brings him to the edge of ruin and it is only after three years of poverty and hard grind that he manages to get back on his feet again.