My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your kind letter. If you recall, mine ended with: we’re getting old, that’s what is and the rest is imagination and doesn’t exist.1 Now, I said that even more for myself, than for you. And I said it feeling the absolute necessity for me to act accordingly, to work, not more, perhaps, but with a more serious conception.
Now you talk about the emptiness you sometimes feel; that’s just the same thing that I have, too. Considering, if you will, the times in which we live as a true and great revival of art, the moth-eaten and official tradition, which is still on its feet, but which is at bottom powerless and bone-idle, the new painters, alone, poor, treated like madmen and as a result of this treatment becoming so in fact, at least as far as their social life is concerned.
Then remember that you do exactly the same work as these primitive painters, since you provide them with money and you sell their canvases for them, which enables them to produce others.  1v:2
If a painter ruins his character by working hard at painting, which makes him sterile for many things, for family life, &c. &c.
If as a consequence he paints not only with paint but with self-denial and self-abnegation and a broken heart.
Not only are you not paid for your own work either, but it costs you exactly the same as this effacement of personality, half deliberate, half accidental, costs a painter.
This is to say that if you do painting indirectly, you’re more productive than me, for example. The more completely you become a dealer, the more you become an artist. Just as I very much hope to be in the same case... The more I become dissipated, ill, a broken pitcher, the more I too become a creative artist in that great revival of art of which we’re speaking.
These things are indeed so, but this eternally existing art and this revival — this green shoot growing from the roots of the old felled trunk — these are things so spiritual that a kind of melancholy remains with us  1v:3 when we reflect that at less expense we could have made life instead of making art. You really ought, if you can, to make me feel that art is alive, you who perhaps love art more than I do.
I say to myself that that doesn’t have to do with art, but with me, that the only way for me to regain self-confidence and tranquillity is by doing better.
And here we are again at the end of my last letter — I’m getting old, but it’s only imagination if I were to believe that art is an old, stale thing. Now, if you know what a ‘mousmé’ is (you’ll know when you’ve read Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème),2 I’ve just painted one.3 It took me my whole week, I wasn’t able to do anything else, having been not too well again. That’s what annoys me, if I’d been well I’d have knocked off some more landscapes in between times. But in order to finish off my mousmé I had to save my mental powers. A mousmé is a Japanese girl — Provençale in this case — aged between 12 and 14. That makes 2 figures, the Zouave,4 and her, that I have.  1r:4
Look after your health, take baths, especially if Gruby recommends that you do. Because you’ll see in 4 years, the years by which I’m older than you, how far relative health is necessary in order to be able to work. Now we who work with our heads, our only and unique means of avoiding being finished too soon is the artificial prolongation of modern hygiene, rigorously followed, as far as we can endure it. Because I for one don’t do everything that I should do. And a little good cheer is better than any other remedy.
I have a letter from Russell. He says that he would have written to me before had it not been that his move to Belle-Île had absorbed him.5 He’s there now, and says that he’d be pleased if sooner or later I came to spend some time there. He still wants to do my portrait again.6 He even says, ‘I would have gone to Boussod’s to see the Gauguin, negresses talking,7 had it not been that I was prevented from doing so for the same reason’.
In short, he’s not refusing to buy one, but is making it understood that he wouldn’t want poorer quality than ours.8 You see that this is in any case better than nothing at all.  2r:5
I’ll write this to Gauguin and will ask him for croquis of paintings. We shouldn’t push this business and give up on R. for the time being, but consider the thing as an ongoing piece of business that will come off.
And the same for Guillaumin, I’d like him to buy a figure by G.9
He says he’s received a very fine bust of his wife from Rodin,10 and that on that occasion he lunched with Claude Monet and that he saw the 10 paintings of Antibes then. I’m sending him Geffroy’s article.11 He makes a very good critique of the Monets, first of all liking them very much: the difficulty attacked, the envelope of coloured air, the colour. Now after that he says, what must be repeated is that it all lacks construction everywhere, for example, with him a tree will have far too much foliage for the size of the trunk, and so always and everywhere, from the point of view of the reality of things, from the point of view of a whole number of laws of nature, he’s pretty well hopeless. He ends by saying that this quality of attacking difficulties is what everyone should have.
I’ve received from Bernard 10 croquis12 like his brothel;13 there are 3 of them that are in the style of Redon; the enthusiasm that he has for that I don’t much share myself.14  2v:6
But there’s a woman washing herself, very Rembrandtesque, or in the style of Goya,15 and a very strange landscape with figures.16
He expressly forbids me to send them to you, but you’ll receive them by the same post. I think Russell will buy something else from Bernard. Now I’ve seen work by this Boch; it’s rigorously Impressionist but not powerful, at this moment when this new technique is still preoccupying him too much to allow him to be himself.17 He’ll become stronger and will bring out his individuality, I think. But MacKnight does watercolours of the power of those by Destrée, you know, that vile Dutchman we knew back in the old days.18 However, he’d washed some small still lifes, yellow jug on purple foreground, red jug on green, orange jug on blue: better, but it’s pretty poor.19
The village where they’re staying is pure Millet, small peasants, nothing but that, totally rustic and intimate. That character completely escapes them. I believe that MacKnight has civilized and converted to civilized Christianity his lout of a landlord. At least, when you go there that scoundrel and his worthy spouse shake your hand — it’s in a café, of course20 — when you  2v:7 ask for a drink they have ways of refusing the money, ‘Oh, I couldn’t take money from an artiss’ (with two s’s). Anyhow, it’s their own fault that it’s appalling, and this Boch must be getting pretty dull-witted with MacKnight. I think MacKnight has money, but not much.21 So they contaminate the village; if it weren’t for that, I’d go there often to work there. What one ought to do there is not talk to civilized people; but they know the stationmaster and a score of bloody nuisances, and that’s largely why they don’t do a damned thing. I’ve already said that to Mourier, who once used to believe that MacKnight got on highly intelligently with the ‘man of the fields’.
Naturally, these simple and naive people of the fields make fun of them, and despise them. On the contrary, if you do your work there without worrying about the village idlers with their stiff collars, then you can go into the homes of the peasants, enabling them to earn a few sous. And then that bloody Fontvieille would be a treasure to them, but the natives are — Zola’s small peasants, innocent and gentle beings, as we know.22 It’s likely that MacKnight will shortly do little landscapes with sheep, for boxes of sweets.  2r:8
Not just my paintings, but I myself most of all, I had recently become wild-eyed, a bit like Hugo van der Goes in the painting by Emile Wauters.23
But having had all my beard carefully shaved off, I believe that I have as much of the very placid abbot in the same painting as of the mad painter so intelligently depicted in it. And I’m not unhappy to be somewhere between the two, because you have to live.
Especially as there’s no getting away from the fact that one day or another there could be a crisis if you changed as far as your position with the Boussods was concerned. One more reason for maintaining relations with artists on my part as well as on yours.
Besides, I believe I’ve told the truth, all the same. If I succeeded in bringing back in prices the money spent, I would be doing no more than my duty. And the practical thing I can do is the portrait. As far as drinking too much goes... I don’t know if it’s bad.24 But just look at Bismarck, who in any case is very practical and very intelligent. His little doctor told him he was drinking too much and that he’d overtaxed himself all his life, from his stomach to his brain. B. stopped drinking there and then. Since then he’s lost ground and is dragging along. He must really be laughing inside at his doctor, whom fortunately for him he didn’t consult too soon.25 Anyway, good handshake.

Ever yours,

Remember that with Gauguin we should in no way change the idea of coming to his aid if the proposal is acceptable as it stands, but we don’t need him. So, as far as working alone goes, don’t believe that it bothers me, and don’t press the matter for me, be fully assured of that.

The portrait of a young girl is on a white background strongly tinted with Veronese green, the bodice is striped blood-red and purple. The skirt is royal blue with large orange-yellow stippling. The matt areas of flesh are yellow grey, the hair purplish, the eyebrows black, and the eyelashes, the eyes orange and Prussian blue; a sprig of oleander between the fingers, because the 2 hands are included.


Br. 1990: 652 | CL: 514
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Sunday, 29 July 1888

1. A reference to what Van Gogh says in ll. 88-91 in letter 645. However, that was not the end of the letter – although it was of the sheet, which was not full.
2. Loti writes in Madame Chrysanthème: ‘Mousmé is a word meaning a young girl or a very young woman. It is one of the prettiest words in the Japanese language; it seems to reflect both moue (meaning a young girl’s funny and pretty pout) and frimousse (meaning a young girl’s pert and sweet little face). I will use it often, not knowing any word in French that comes close to expressing the meaning’ (Mousmé est un mot qui signifie jeune fille ou très jeune femme. C’est un des plus jolis de la langue nipponne; il semble qu’il y ait, dans ce mot, de la moue (de la petite moue gentille et drôle comme elles en font) et surtout de la frimousse (de la frimousse chiffonnée comme est la leur). Je l’emploierai souvent, n’en connaissant aucun en français qui le vaille) (see Loti 1990, pp. 90-91, chapter 11).
3. Mousmé (F 431 / JH 1519 [2671]).
4. Van Gogh painted two portraits of the Zouave: Zouave (F 423 / JH 1486 [2655]) and Seated Zouave (F 424 / JH 1488 [2657]).
[2655] [2657]
5. The letter from Russell is 647. For Russell’s move, see letter 623, n. 16.
6. Russell had painted Vincent van Gogh in Paris in 1886 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 1310 [1310]. It may have been exchanged for Van Gogh’s Shoes (F 332 / JH 1234). See exhib. cat. Sydney 2001, pp. 51, 130 (n. 23).
[1310] [655]
9. Van Gogh must mean that Russell, who had previously bought work from Guillaumin (see letter 602), should buy a figure painting by him.
10. See letter 623, n. 17, for Rodin’s Bust of Mrs Russell [2184]. This must be the preliminary study in wax; see letter 647, n. 4.
11. Gustave Geffroy, ‘Dix tableaux de Claude Monet’, La Justice 9 (17 June 1888), no. 3077, pp. 1-2.
12. For these sketches by Bernard see letter 649, n. 1.
13. Bernard’s drawing Brothel scene, 1888 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 2322 [2322], which Vincent had sent on to Theo with letter 630.
14. Van Gogh probably counted Lubricity [2195], which he did not think very successful, among these drawings ‘in the style of Redon’ (see letter 651).
17. Boch made Impressionist paintings from 1885 until the end of 1888. During this period he often stayed in Moret-sur-Loing, where Sisley was also working. See exhib. cat. Saarbrücken 1971, pp. 47, 55. There are some known landscapes by Boch from his time in Fontvieille: Flower garden in Fontvieille and Houses in Fontvieille (both private collection). See exhib. cat. La Louvière 1958. Olive trees, c. 1888-1889, and Fruit trees in blossom, 1885-1890 (both private collection) were probably also painted during his stay in Provence. See exhib. cat. Pontoise 1994, pp. 81 (ill.), 101.
18. Van Gogh had once described this artist, who was in fact Belgian, as ‘the incarnation of mealy-mouthed pedantry’ (letters 175 and 176).
19. These works by MacKnight have not been identified. Cf. letter 603, n. 2.
20. MacKnight and Boch were staying at Café de l’Alcazar on the Cours in Fontvieille. The café was run by Jean Peyrol and his wife Emilie Peyrol-Girard (Mairie de Fontvieille; Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, letters from MacKnight to Boch 1888-1889).
21. Little is known about MacKnight’s financial circumstances. From 1878 he had worked for some years for the Taber Art Compagny in New Bedford, Massachusetts, which made reproductions. A friend paid for MacKnight’s trip to Europe in 1883. See Awash in Color: Homer, Sargent, and the Great American Watercolor. Sue Welsh Reed and Carol Troyen. Exhib. cat. Boston (Museum of Fine Arts). Boston 1993, p. 138.
22. Probably an ironic reference to Zola’s La terre (1887). See also letter 657, n. 18.
23. See letter 11, n. 8, for Emile Wauters, The painter Hugo van der Goes in the red cloister [447], a portrait of the mentally ill fifteenth-century artist.
24. Theo must have responded to Vincent’s remark that when life becomes too much for him, he drinks more to distract himself (letter 645, ll. 147-148).
25. In 1883 the physician Ernst Schweninger advised Bismarck, whose health was poor from 1881 onwards, to eat and drink significantly less. Contrary to what Van Gogh asserts, Bismarck did benefit from the regimen. See Ernst Engelberg, Bismarck. Das Reich in der Mitte Europas. Berlin 1990 pp. 360-364, 593-595.
Van Gogh’s source has not been identified. In any event he did not get his information from Geffroy’s article (see letter 630, n. 1), although there is a reference in it to Bismarck’s heavy drinking: ‘They wanted to make him drink to get him talking. He drank, like the dreadful drinker that he is, swallowing a bottle of anything, in one go, without its even touching his lips’ (On a voulu le faire boire pour le faire parler. Il a bu, comme le terrible buveur qu’il est, avalant une bouteille de n’importe quoi, d’un coup, à la régalade, sans toucher les lèvres) (p. 25).