Back to site

652 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888.

metadata
No. 652 (Brieven 1990 656, Complete Letters 516)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. nos. b557 a-b V/1962

Date
This letter was written on the same day as letter 653 (see l. 79). The date of that letter is certain: it reports the birth of Marcelle Roulin ‘today’. The present letter can therefore also be dated Tuesday, 31 July 1888. This is confirmed by Van Gogh’s comment that that evening he had seen a coal barge which was wet after a shower; it rained on 31 July (Météo-France).

Ongoing topics
Request to Russell to buy a painting from Gauguin (582)
The prints in stock at Bing’s (637)

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Théo,
ainsi enfin notre oncle ne souffre plus – ce matin je reçois la nouvelle de notre soeur. Parait qu’on t’attendait plus ou moins pour l’enterrement et peutêtre en effet tu y seras à présent.1
Comme la vie est courte et comme elle est fumée.2 Ce qui n’est pas une raison pour mépriser les vivants, au contraire.
Aussi avons nous raison de nous attacher plutôt aux artistes qu’aux tableaux.
Je travaille dur pour Russell. j’ai pensé que je ferais pour lui une série de dessins d’après mes études peintes,3 j’ai la conviction qu’il les regardera avec bonne volonté et cela, j’espère du moins, le poussera davantage à faire une affaire.
MacKnight est revenu voir hier et a aussi trouvé bien le portrait de jeune fille4 et a encore dit qu’il trouve bien mon jardin.5 Je ne sais vraiment pas s’il a de l’argent ou non.6
 1v:2
Maintenant je suis en train avec un autre modèle, un facteur en uniforme bleu agrémenté d’or, grosse figure barbue très-Socratique.7 Republicain enragé comme le père Tanguy. Un homme plus intéressant que bien des gens.
Si on poussait Russell il prendrait peut-être le Gauguin que tu as acheté8 et s’il n’y avait pas d’autre moyen pour venir en aide à Gauguin, que faudrait-il faire?
Lorsque je lui écrirai en même temps que j’enverrai les dessins, naturellement ce sera pour le décider.
Je lui dirai, voyons vous aimez tant notre tableau mais je crois que nous verrons encore mieux de l’artiste, pourquoi ne faites vous pas comme nous qui avons foi dans l’homme entier tel quel et qui trouvons bien tout ce qu’il fait. Je veux alors ajouter, certes cela nous serait égal de vous passer à la rigueur le grand tableau mais puisque Gauguin aura encore bien souvent besoin d’argent,  1v:3 dans son intérêt ne devons nous pas le garder jusqu’à que ses prix aient triplés ou quadruplés – ce qui arrivera – nous croyons. Si après cela Russell veut faire une offre claire et ferme, ma foi.… on pourrait voir… Et Gauguin dans ce cas devait dire que s’il te l’a passé à tel prix à toi en ami, il ne veut, lui, absolument pas qu’on le donne à un autre amateur à ce prix-là. Enfin – finissons les dessins, j’en ai 8 et j’en ferai 12 et attendons ce qu’il dira.
Je suis bien curieux de savoir si oui ou non tu as pu aller en Hollande. Pour le moment je n’écris pas davantage.
Le changement que je vais essayer de faire dans mes tableaux sera faire davantage de figures.
C’est en somme la seule chose qui m’émotionne jusqu’au fond dans la peinture et qui me fait sentir l’infini. davantage que le reste.
 1r:4
Le 17 de ce mois ci mon ami ce sous lieutenant Zouaves va aller à Paris. Il m’a proposé de se charger de mon envoi que j’ai à te faire et je crois que j’accepterai cela; comme cela tu les aurais et sans frais le 18.9
J’écris à notre soeur aujourd’hui, ils seront tous bien dans la tristesse.
As tu reçu les croquis de Bernard.10
Comme le dit notre soeur, du moment que les gens n’y sont plus on ne se souvient que de leurs bons moments et bonnes qualités.
Il s’agit pourtant surtout de chercher à les voir pendant qu’ils y sont encore. Ce serait si simple et expliquerait si bien les atrocites de la vie qui maintenant nous étonnent et nous navrent tant, si la vie avait encore un second hémisphère, invisible il est vrai mais où l’on aborde en expirant. A ceux qui font cet intéressant et grave voyage nos meilleurs voeux et nos meilleures sympathies.
Si tu vas en Hollande bien des choses de ma part à notre mere & soeur. Poignee de main.

t. à t.
Vincent

La semaine sera bien dure ayant à payer le loyer et ayant modèle.

J’espère faire pour toi aussi de ces croquis d’après des etudes peintes, tu verras que cela a un certain air japonais.11

 2r:5
Je dois te remercier encore du billet de 50 francs d’hier et répondre à ta lettre.
Tu as bien fait d’expédier les couleurs & toiles, ma provision étant épuisées sur toute la ligne.12
Pour ce qui est de Bing, pour être pressé. non.– Seulement bien loin de terminer les relations, il faut reprendre en dépôt aussitot qu’on puisse regler.
J’ai vu un effet magnifique et tres étrange ce soir. un très grand bateau chargé de charbon sur le Rhone ammaré au quai. Vu d’en haut il etait tout luisant et humide d’une averse, l’eau était d’un blanc jaune et gris perle trouble, le ciel lilas et bande orangé au couchant, la ville violette. Sur le bateau de petits ouvriers bleus et blancs sales allaient et venaient portant la cargaison à terre. C’etait de l’Hokoussaï pur. Il etait trop tard pour le faire mais un jour lorsqu’il reviendra ce bateau  2v:6 à charbon, il faudrait l’attaquer.13
C’est dans un chantier du chemin de fer que j’ai vu cet effet, c’est un endroit que je viens de trouver et où il y aura encore bien autre chôse à faire.14
Poignée de main car si je veux encore ecrire en Hollande il faut que je me dépêche.
J’aurai du mal à arriver cette semaine d’un bout à l’autre.
Mais j’espère mettre la serie de figures en train.

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
So at last our uncle’s no longer suffering — I received the news from our sister this morning. It seems that they’re more or less expecting you for the funeral, and perhaps you’ll be there now, in fact.1
How short life is, and how like smoke.2 Which isn’t a reason to despise the living — on the contrary.
So we’re right to attach ourselves more to artists than to paintings.
I’m working hard for Russell. I thought I’d do a series of drawings after my painted studies for him;3 I have a conviction that he’ll look favourably on them, and that, I hope at least, will further prompt him to do a deal.
MacKnight came to look again yesterday, and also found the portrait of a young girl4 good, and again said that he finds my garden5 good. I really don’t know if he has money or not.6  1v:2
Now I’m working with another model, a postman in a blue uniform with gold trimmings, a big, bearded face, very Socratic.7 A raging republican, like père Tanguy. A more interesting man than many people.
If we were to push Russell, perhaps he’d purchase the Gauguin that you bought,8 and if there was no other way of coming to Gauguin’s aid, what would have to be done?
When I write to him at the same time as I send the drawings, naturally it will be to get him to make up his mind.
I’ll say to him, look, you like our painting so much, but I believe that we’ll see even better by the artist; why don’t you act like us, who have faith in the whole man just as he is, and who find everything he does good. I then want to add, of course it would be all the same to us to let you have the large painting, if necessary, but as Gauguin will still very often be in need of money,  1v:3 in his interests should we not keep it until his prices have tripled or quadrupled — which will happen — we believe? If after that Russell wishes to make a clear, firm offer, well.... we could see... And in that case, Gauguin should say that he, even though he let you have it at that price as a friend, he himself absolutely does not wish for it to be given to another art lover at that price. Anyway — let’s finish the drawings; I have 8 of them and I’ll do 12, and let’s wait and see what he says.
I’m very curious to know if you were able to go to Holland, yes or no. For the moment I won’t write any more.
The change that I’m going to try to make in my paintings will be to do more figures.
In short, it’s the only thing in painting that moves me deeply and that gives me a sense of the infinite. More than the rest.  1r:4
On the 17th of this month, my friend the second lieutenant of Zouaves will go to Paris. He has offered to take charge of my consignment that I have to make to you, and I believe I’ll accept that; that way you’ll have them, and without costs, on the 18th.9
I’ll write to our sister today; they’ll all be feeling very sad.
Have you received Bernard’s croquis?10
As our sister says, from the moment that people are no longer there, we remember only their good moments and good qualities.
However, it’s above all a question of trying to see them while they’re still there. It would be so simple and would explain so well the horrors of life that now amaze us and distress us so if life had another, second hemisphere, invisible, it’s true, but where we arrive when we breathe our last. To those who are making this interesting and solemn journey, our best wishes and our best sympathies.
If you go to Holland, my warm regards to our mother and sister. Handshake.

Ever yours,
Vincent

The week will be pretty hard, having to pay the rent and having a model.

I hope to make some of these croquis after the painted studies for you too; you’ll see that it has a certain Japanese look.11

 2r:5
I still have to thank you for yesterday’s 50-franc note, and reply to your letter.
You did well to send the colours and canvases, my supplies being exhausted across the board.12
As far as Bing’s concerned, as for being in a hurry: no. Only far from breaking off relations, we should take more on commission as soon as we can pay.
I saw a magnificent and very strange effect this evening. A very large boat laden with coal on the Rhône, moored at the quay. Seen from above it was all glistening and wet from a shower; the water was a white yellow and clouded pearl-grey, the sky lilac and an orange strip in the west, the town violet. On the boat, small workmen, blue and dirty white, were coming and going, carrying the cargo ashore. It was pure Hokusai. It was too late to do it, but one day, when this coal-boat comes back,  2v:6 it’ll have to be tackled.13
It’s in a railway yard that I saw this effect; it’s a place that I’ve just found and where there will be plenty of other things to do.14
Handshake, because if I want to write more to Holland I’ll have to hurry.
I’ll have difficulty getting all the way through this week.
But I hope to get started on the series of figures.
notes
1. Uncle Vincent van Gogh died on 28 July 1888. Theo attended the funeral in Princenhage; see letter 656.
2. Cf. Ps. 102:4.
3. Van Gogh sent twelve drawings to Russell before about 3 August: see letter 654, n. 1. The batch was meant to dispose him favourably towards buying a work by Gauguin and consequently does not seem to be connected to the exchange proposed previously (letter 589).
4. Mousmé (F 431 / JH 1519 ).
5. Van Gogh made two paintings of the garden: Garden with flowers (F 430 / JH 1510 ) and Garden with flowers (F 429 / JH 1513 ). He also said in letter 645 that MacKnight liked these studies.
6. Cf. for MacKnight’s financial situation: letter 650, n. 21.
7. In a letter to Willemien van Gogh, Roulin described himself as ‘Entreposeur des Postes’ and gave his address as ‘Rue de la Montagne des Cordes 10’ (FR b710; Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 4, p. 164). According to Priou he was brigadier-chargeur at Arles station, responsible for loading and unloading sacks of mail. See Priou 1955, p. 27. The rue de la Montagne de Corde was to the north of place Lamartine.
Van Gogh said that Roulin resembled the philosopher Socrates on more than one occasion, undoubtedly because of his shaggy beard and Republican convictions. Cf. Head of Socrates (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 2209 (see letters 653, 654, 655 and 738). He appears to have based his view about Socrates’s legendary ugliness on Michelet’s ‘a veritable satyr’ (un vrai satyre) (see letter 368, n. 4).
Van Gogh painted two portraits of Roulin in late July and early August: Joseph Roulin (F 432 / JH 1522 ) and Joseph Roulin (F 433 / JH 1524 ). It emerges from letters 655 and 662 that he painted the bust first, and then the head; this is therefore the first work (the second is not mentioned until letter 654).
8. See for Gauguin’s Among the mangoes : letter 612, n. 1. Russell had expressed an interest in this work (see letter 647).
9. Milliet went on leave to Northern France (letter 659). On the way there he delivered Van Gogh’s second batch – 36 paintings – to Theo in Paris. He arrived on Friday, 17 August 1888 (letter 662).
10. See letter 649, n. 1-5, for these sketches by Bernard.
11. See letters 657 and 663 for this batch of drawings for Theo.
12. This is the ‘rather large’ paint and canvas order that Vincent had sent with letter 644. Theo must have sent a sample of canvas for Vincent’s opinion, as we learn from letter 654.
13. Van Gogh did actually carry out this plan some time later, although with sand barges rather than the coal boat. He split the subject he describes here into two, perhaps because he realized that a high vantage point and a sunset are very hard to reconcile in a single composition. In the drawing Quay with sand barges (F 1462 / JH 1556 ) and the painting F 449 / JH 1558 of August 1888 he pictured the boats from a high viewpoint (see letter 660), with small figures and with no horizon, giving the scene a Japanese feel. In Sand barges (F 437 / JH 1570 ) and Sand barges (F 438 / JH 1571 ) he painted the effect of the sunset. We do not know exactly when the latter two studies were made; there may be a connection with letter 697, in which Van Gogh says he has painted a sunset.
14. Van Gogh made the painting Railway carriages (F 446 / JH 1553 ) and the drawing Railway storage yard (F 1495 / JH 1555) here in August.