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657 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Wednesday, 8 August 1888.

metadata
No. 657 (Brieven 1990 661, Complete Letters 519)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Wednesday, 8 August 1888

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. nos. b560 a-b V/1962

Date
The content of this letter follows on from letter 656 of 6 August: Van Gogh now sends the drawings and lithographs he promised, and still expects to receive his money on Saturday. Since the present letter was written on a Wednesday (l. 128), it must have been the first Wednesday after 6 August, in other words Wednesday, 8 August 1888.

Arrangement
Dorn suggested, in view of the type of paper, that the second sheet might actually belong with letter 658. See Dorn 1990, p. 487. We do not think that this is plausible, though, because it would mean that Van Gogh began by confirming receipt of a consignment of canvas (letter 658, ll. 2-3) and then reported that he had had to buy two more canvases (letter 657, l. 126), and that is highly illogical.

Ongoing topics
Gauguin coming to Arles (602)
Mourier-Petersen’s stay with Theo (623)

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
je viens d’expédier 3 grands dessins ainsi que quelques autres plus petits1 et les deux lithographies de de Lemud.2
le petit jardin de paysan en hauteur est il me semble le meilleur des trois grands.3 Celui avec les tournesols est un petit jardin d’un etablissement de bains.4
le troisieme jardin en largeur est celui dont j’ai fait des études peintes aussi.5
Sous le ciel bleu les taches orangés, jaunes, rouges des fleurs prennent un éclat étonnant et dans l’air limpide il y a je ne sais quoi de plus heureux et plus amoureux que dans le nord. Cela vibre – comme le bouquet de Monticelli que tu as.6 Je m’en veux de ne pas peindre des fleurs ici. Enfin tout en ayant deja fabriqué une cinquantaine de dessins ou études peinte ici il me semble avoir fait rien du tout absolument. Je m’en contenterais volontiers de n’être rien qu’un préparateur des autres peintres de l’avenir qui viendront travailler dans le midi. Maintenant la moisson,7 le jardin,8 le semeur9 et les deux marines10 sont des croquis d’après etudes peintes.11 Je crois que toutes ces idées sont bonnes mais les études peintes manquent de netteté dans la touche. Raison de plus pourquoi  1v:2 j’ai senti le besoin de les dessiner.
J’ai voulu peindre un vieux petit paysan qui avait énormement de ressemblance avec notre père dans les traits. Seulement il etait plus commun et frisait la carricature. Néamoins j’aurais énormement tenu à le faire justement tel qu’il était en petit paysan. Il a promis de venir et ensuite il a dit qu’il lui fallait le tableau pour lui, enfin que j’avais à en faire deux pareils, un pour lui et un pour moi. Je lui ai dit que non. Peutêtre reviendra-t-il un jour. Je suis curieux de savoir si tu connaissais les de Lemud.
Il y a encore dans ce moment bien des belles lithographies à avoir, des Daumiers, des reproductions de Delacroix, Decamps, Diaz, Rousseau, Dupré, &c. Bientôt pourtant ce sera fini et quel grand dommage que cet art-là tende à disparaitre.
Pourquoi est-ce qu’on ne tient pas ce qu’on a comme font les médecins et les mécaniciens. Une fois quelquechose de découvert et de trouvé eux ils en gardent la science, dans ces affreux beaux arts on oublie tout, on ne tient rien.
 1v:3
Millet a donné la synthèse du paysan et maintenant, oui il y a L’hermitte, certes il y en a encore de rares autres, Meunier.... puis a-t-on maintenant plus généralement appris à voir les paysans – non, presque personne ne sait en foutre un.
Est ce que la faute n’est pas un peu à Paris et aux Parisiens changeants et perfides comme la mer. Enfin tu as bougrement raison de dire, allons notre chemin tranquillement en travaillant pour nous. Tu sais, quoi qu’il en soit de l’impressionisme sacro saint j’aurais moi tout de même le désir de faire des chôses que la génération d’avant, Delacroix, Millet, Rousseau, Diaz, Monticelli, Isabey, Decamps, Dupré, Jongkind, Ziem, Israels, Meunier, un tas d’autres, Corot, Jacques… pourrait comprendre.
Ah Manet en a été bien bien près, et Courbet, de marier la forme à la couleur. Je voudrais moi bien me taire pendant 10 ans en ne faisant que des études, puis faire un tableau ou deux de figures.
Le vieux plan tant recommandé et si rarement exécuté.
 1r:4
Si les dessins que je t’envoie sont trop durs c’est que je les ai fait de façon à pouvoir plus tard, si elles restent, m’en servir encore à titre de renseignement pour la peinture.
Ce petit jardin de paysan en hauteur est superbe de couleur dans la nature. les dahlias sont d’un pourpre riche & sombre, la double rangée de fleurs est rose et verte d’un côté et orangé presque sans verdure de l’autre. au milieu un dahlia blanc bas et un petit grenadier à fleurs du plus éclatant orangé rouge, à fruits verts jaune, le terrain gris, les hauts roseaux – “cannes” – d’un vert bleu, les figuiers émeraude, le ciel bleu, les maisons blanches à fenêtres vertes, à toits rouges. le matin en plein soleil, le soir entièrement baigné d’ombre portée projetée par les figuiers & roseaux. Si Quost était là ou Jeannin....12 Que veux tu, pour embrasser tout il faudrait une ecole toute entière de gens travaillant d’ensemble au même pays, se complétant comme les vieux hollandais, portraitistes, peintres de genre, peintres de paysages, animaliers, peintres de nature morte.
 2r:5
Faut que je te dise encore que j’ai fait avec quelqu’un qui connait le pays une tournée dans les fermes, très intéressant.13 Mais tu sais c’est plutôt de la petite paysannerie à la Millet dans la vraie Provence qu’autre chôse.
Mac Knight et Bock n’y voient que du feu ou plutot rien.14 Or si moi je commence à y voir un peu plus clair, pour le faire il faudrait un bien long séjour.
A des moments il me semble néamoins probable que j’aurai de mon côté à faire le voyage si Gauguin ne réussit pas à se démerder, si nous voulons exécuter le plan. Et alors que soit, je reste tout de même dans les paysans, c’est égal. Même je serais d’avis de tâcher de nous tenir prêt à aller chez lui car je crois que bientôt il pourrait de nouveau se trouver aux abois terriblement si par exemple son logeur ne veut plus lui faire crédit.15
Cela c’est tellement à prévoir et sa détresse pourrait être si grande qu’il pourrait y avoir urgence à executer la combinaison. Il n’y a de mon côté que le simple voyage, et les prix de là-bas qu’il a nommés sont dans tous les cas considérablement plus bas que ce qu’on dépense forcément ici.
 2v:6
J’y compte d’avoir ta lettre samedi matin. j’ai encore acheté deux toiles, ainsi il ne me reste maintenant déjà mercredi soir que 5 francs juste.
Ici il y a dans des journées sans argent seulement encore un avantage sur le Nord, le beau temps (car même le mistral est à voir du beau temps).
Un soleil bien glorieux où Voltaire s’est seché en buvant son café.16
On sent Zola et Voltaire partout involontairement. C’est si vivant! à la Jan Steen, à la Ostade.
Certes il y aurait possibilité d’une école de peinture ici. Mais tu diras que la nature est belle partout si on y entre assez profondément.
As tu déjà lu Mme Chrysantème, as tu déjà fait connaissance avec ce maquereau “d’une surprenante obligeance”, monsieur Kangarou. Puis avec les piments sucrés, les glaces frites et les bonbons salés.17
Je me porte fort fort bien de ces jours ci, à la longue je crois que je deviendrais tout à fait du pays.
J’ai vu dans le jardin d’un paysan une figure de femme en bois sculpté provenant de la proue d’un vaisseau espagnol.
 2v:7
Cela se trouvait dans un bosquet de cyprès et c’était tout à fait Monticelli.
Ah ces jardins des fermes avec les belles grosses roses de Provence rouges, les vignes, les figuiers, c’est bien poétique et l’éternel soleil fort malgré lequel la verdure reste très verte.
La citerne d’où sort une eau claire qui arrose la ferme par des rigoles formant petit système de canalisation. Un cheval, un vieux camarguais tout blanc, met la mécanique en marche. Pas de vaches dans ces petites fermes.
Mon voisin et ma voisine (des épiciers) ressemblent énormement par exemple aux Buteaux.18
Mais ici ferme et cabaret assommoirs sont moins lugubres, moins dramatiques que dans le nord puisque la chaleur &c. rend la pauvreté moins dure et mélancolique. Je voudrais tant que tu eusses vu ce pays. Enfin faut d’abord voir comment tournera l’affaire Gauguin.
Je ne t’ai pas encore dit que j’ai eu une lettre de Koning, je lui ai écrit il y a 8 jours. Je le vois bien encore revenir une fois.19 Mouries est il toujours là?
Je serais bien étonné si ce livre de Cassagne n’existerait plus. Certes ils doivent chez Latouche ou chez ce marchand de couleurs Chaussée d’Antin le connaitre. ou savoir où il est.20
 2r:8
Si jamais il m’arrive de donner des leçons de dessin ou d’avoir à causer avec des peintres sur des principes de technique il me faut l’avoir sous la main.
C’est le seul livre réellement pratique que je connaisse et je le sais un peu par expérience combien il est utile.
Mouries, Mac Knight, Bock même, tous ceux là en auraient besoin et combien d’autres. Mc Knight vient toujours.
j’ai encore travaillé à une figure de zouave assis sur un banc contre un mur blanc, ce qui fait la cinquième figure.21
Ce matin j’ai été à un lavoir avec des figures de femmes d’une tournure aussi large que les négresses de Gauguin.
Une surtout en blanc-noir-rose.
Une autre toute jaune, il y en avait bien une trentaine, vieilles et jeunes. J’espère t’envoyer d’autres croquis encore des études peintes.22
Espérant avoir de tes nouvelles bientôt. Poignée de main.

t. à t.
Vincent

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
I’ve just sent off 3 large drawings, as well as some other, smaller ones1 and the two lithographs by De Lemud.2
The vertical small farmhouse garden is, it seems to me, the best of the three large ones.3 The one with the sunflowers is the little garden of a bathhouse.4
The third, horizontal, garden is the one of which I’ve also done some painted studies.5
Under the blue sky, the orange, yellow, red patches of flowers take on an amazing brilliance, and in the limpid air there’s something happier and more suggestive of love than in the north. It vibrates — like the bouquet by Monticelli that you have.6 I’m annoyed with myself for not painting flowers here. Anyway, even having already produced about fifty drawings or painted studies here, I feel as though I’ve done absolutely nothing at all. I’d gladly content myself with being nothing but a pioneer for other, future painters who’ll come to work in the south. Now the harvest,7 the garden,8 the sower9 and the two seascapes10 are croquis after painted studies.11 I believe that all these ideas are good, but the painted studies lack clarity of touch. One more reason why  1v:2 I felt the need to draw them.
I wanted to paint a little old peasant who had an enormous resemblance to our father in his features. Only he was more common, and verged on caricature. Nevertheless, I would have been enormously keen to do him just as he was as a little peasant. He promised to come, and then he said that he ought to have the painting for himself, and so I had to do two the same, one for him and one for me. I told him no. Perhaps he’ll come back some day. I’m curious to know if you knew the De Lemuds.
At the moment there are still plenty of fine lithographs to be had, Daumiers, reproductions of Delacroix, Decamps, Diaz, Rousseau, Dupré, &c. Soon, though, it’ll be over, and what a great pity that this art tends to disappear.
Why is it that we don’t hold on to what we have, the way doctors and mechanics do? Once something has been discovered and found, they keep the knowledge of it; in these wretched fine arts we forget everything, we hold on to nothing.  1v:3
Millet gave us the essence of the peasant, and now, yes, there’s Lhermitte, it’s true there are one or two more, Meunier.... and have we now more generally learned how to see peasants — no, hardly anyone knows how to polish one off.
Isn’t it partly the fault of Paris and the Parisians, fickle and disloyal like the sea? Well then, you’re damned right to say, let’s go quietly on our way, working for ourselves. You know, whatever becomes of sacrosanct Impressionism, I’d still myself have the wish to do the things that the previous generation, Delacroix, Millet, Rousseau, Diaz, Monticelli, Isabey, Decamps, Dupré, Jongkind, Ziem, Israëls, Meunier, a heap of others, Corot, Jacque... could understand.
Ah, Manet was really really close to it, and Courbet, to marrying form and colour. Me, I’d be quite happy to stay silent for 10 years doing nothing but studies, then do one or two figure paintings.
The old plan, so often recommended and so rarely carried out.  1r:4
If the drawings that I send you are too stiff, it’s because I did them in such a way as to be able later, if they’re still there, to use them as information for painting.
This vertical small farmhouse garden is superbly coloured in reality. The dahlias are a rich and dark purple, the double row of flowers is pink and green on one side and orange almost without greenery on the other. In the middle a low, white dahlia and a little pomegranate tree, with flowers of the most brilliant orange red, yellow-green fruit, the ground grey, the tall reeds — ‘canes’ — of a blue green, the fig trees emerald, the sky blue, the houses white with green windows, red roofs. In full sun in the morning, in the evening entirely bathed in shadow cast by the fig trees and reeds. If Quost was there, or Jeannin....12 What can you say, to encompass everything you’d need an entire school of people working together in the same area, complementing each other like the old Dutch: portrait painters, genre painters, landscape painters, painters of animals, still-life painters.  2r:5
Must also tell you that I made a very interesting tour round the farms with someone who knows the area.13 But you know that in the real Provence it’s more often small peasant farming à la Millet than anything else.
MacKnight and Boch don’t understand much of it, or rather, nothing.14 Now if I myself am beginning to see it a bit more clearly, I’d need a good long stay to do it.
At times it nevertheless seems likely to me that I’ll have to make the journey myself if Gauguin doesn’t manage to sort out the mess he’s in, if we want to put the plan into practice. And then so be it, I’m still among peasants anyway, it’s the same. It’s even my opinion that we should try to keep ourselves ready to go to him, because I believe that he could soon be in terrible straits again if, for example, his landlord won’t give him any more credit.15
That’s so predictable, and his distress could be so great that it might be urgent to put the partnership into practice. For me there’s only the one-way journey, and the prices over there that he has mentioned are in any case considerably lower than what one inevitably spends here.  2v:6
I’m counting on having your letter on Saturday morning. I’ve bought two more canvases, so I now have just 5 francs left, and it’s already Wednesday evening.
Here, in days with no money, there’s just one more advantage over the north, the fine weather (because even the mistral is fine weather to look at).
Really glorious sunshine, in which Voltaire dried himself off while drinking his coffee.16
You can’t help feeling Zola and Voltaire everywhere. It’s so full of life! In the style of Jan Steen, in the style of Ostade.
There would certainly be the possibility of a school of painting here. But you’ll say that nature is beautiful everywhere if one goes into it deeply enough.
Have you read Madame Chrysanthème yet, have you made the acquaintance of that pimp ‘of a surprising courtesy’, Monsieur Kangourou? And of the sugared peppers, the fried ices and the salted sweets?17
I’ve been very, very well these last few days; in the long run I believe that I’ll belong to these parts in all respects.
In the peasant’s garden I saw the figure of a woman carved in wood, originally from the prow of a Spanish ship.  2v:7
It was in a grove of cypresses, and it was pure Monticelli.
Ah, these farmhouse gardens with the lovely big red Provence roses, the vines, the fig trees; it’s quite poetic, and the eternal strong sun, in spite of which the foliage stays very green.
The tank, out of which clear water flows that irrigates the farm through channels forming a little canal system. An old, pure white Camargue horse drives the machinery. No cows on these little farms.
My neighbour and his wife (grocers) strongly resemble the Buteaux,18 for example.
But here, farmhouse and cheap grog-shops are less gloomy, less tragic than in the north, because the heat &c. makes poverty less hard and melancholy. I’d so much like you to have seen this part of the country. Well, first we’ll have to see how the Gauguin business turns out.
I haven’t told you yet that I’ve had a letter from Koning; I wrote to him a week ago. I can easily see him coming back sometime.19 Is Mourier still there?
I’d be quite surprised if that book by Cassagne was no longer in existence. They’d certainly know it at Latouche’s or at the artists’ colourman in Chaussée d’Antin.20 Or know where it is.  2r:8
If I should ever happen to give drawing lessons, or have to talk with painters about the principles of technique, I’ll have to have it to hand.
It’s THE ONLY genuinely practical book that I know, and I know a little from experience how useful it is.
Mourier, MacKnight, even Boch, all of them would need it, and how many others. MacKnight keeps coming.
I’ve worked on another figure of a Zouave, sitting on a bench against a white wall, which makes the fifth figure.21
This morning I was at a washing-place with figures of women as broad as Gauguin’s negresses.
One in particular, in white-black-pink.
Another all yellow; there were a good thirty of them, young and old. I hope to send you still more croquis of painted studies.22
Hoping to have news from you soon. Handshake.

Ever yours,
Vincent
notes
1. Van Gogh sent three drawings of approx. 49 x 61 cm and five of approx. 24 x 32 cm; see nn. 3-10.
2. See letter 656, n. 9, for De Lemud’s lithographs.
3. Garden with flowers (F 1456 / JH 1537 ).
4. Garden of a bathhouse (F 1457 / JH 1539 ). The bathhouse has not been identified. There are two listed in the Arles address books – at 18 rue du Grand-Prieuré and 38 rue de Vers (L’indicateur marseillais 1888). The latter was closer to Van Gogh’s house in place Lamartine – moreover, the architecture in rue du Grand-Prieuré does not resemble that in Van Gogh’s drawing. See cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 153-157, cat. no. 345.
5. Garden with flowers (F 1455 / JH 1512 ). Van Gogh made two paintings of this garden: Garden with flowers (F 430 / JH 1510 ) and Garden with flowers (F 429 / JH 1513 ).
6. See letter 578, n. 4, for Monticelli’s Vase of flowers .
7. Arles seen from the wheatfields (F 1492 / JH 1544 ).
8. Newly mown lawn with weeping tree (F 1451 / JH 1545 ).
9. Sower with setting sun (F 1441 / JH 1543 ).
10. Fishing boats at sea (F 1430b / JH 1541 ) and Fishing boats at sea (F 1431 / JH 1542 ).
11. These paintings are Arles seen from the wheatfields (F 545 / JH 1477 ), Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F 428 / JH 1499 ), Sower with setting sun (F 422 / JH 1470 ), Fishing boats at sea (F 417 / JH 1453 ) and Fishing boats at sea (F 415 / JH 1452 ).
12. Ernest Quost was known for his paintings of flower gardens, and Georges Jeannin for his flower still lifes. Van Gogh believed that Quost was the ultimate exponent of the hollyhock, while Jeannin reigned supreme with the peony.
13. We do not know who accompanied Van Gogh on this excursion around the farms; it may have been the vet who had to break a previous engagement; see letter 629, n. 14, and letter 636.
14. Van Gogh had also criticized the way MacKnight and Boch treated the local people in letter 650.
15. For the boarding house where Gauguin was staying, see letter 581, n. 5.
16. Voltaire’s coffee-drinking must have been legendary: in an early-nineteenth-century illustrated advertisement, ‘Le Roi du Café’ has Voltaire’s head. The story that he drank fifty cups of coffee a day was quoted by the King of Prussia in 1778 in his Eloge funèbre for the writer. Voltaire himself once said ‘coffee revives me’ (le café me ranime), and his love of it assumed impressive proportions in his correspondence. See Inventaire Voltaire. Sous la direction de Jean Goulemot et al. Révision générale par André Magnan. Paris 1995, p. 185. Nothing is known about Voltaire’s staying in the south of France.
17. The pimp Van Gogh is referring to is Monsieur Kangourou, who was the go-between in the marriage between the two protagonists in Madame Chrysanthème. This character is extremely subservient, as is evident from his entrance into the story in chapter 3 of the novel (p. 65). Van Gogh must have derived the phrase ‘of a surprising courtesy’ (d’une surprenante obligeance) from the description of one of the minor characters in the book, a French friend in Madame Chrysanthème’s circle. Among other things he is referred to as ‘the friend of a surprising height’ (l’ami d’une surprenante hauteur) (see Loti 1990, pp. 118, 218).
On ‘sugared peppers’ and ‘salted sweets’ Loti writes: ‘sparrow mince, a stuffed shrimp, seaweed in sauce, a salted sweet, a sugared pepper’ (un hachis de moineau, une crevette farcie, une algue en sauce, un bonbon salé, un piment sucré) (p. 113). Although he describes ‘strange icy and snowy drinks, tasting of perfume or flowers’ (des boissons étranges à la neige et à la glace, ayant goût de parfums ou de fleurs) (p. 98) and ‘funny little water-ices, flavoured with flowers’ (des petits sorbets drôles, parfumés aux fleurs) (p. 160), there is no mention of ‘fried ices’ (glaces frites); Van Gogh must have dreamt them up for himself.
18. Van Gogh’s neighbours, François Damase Crevoulin and Marguerite Crevoulin-Favier ran a grocer’s shop in the left-hand side of the building at 2 place Lamartine. Crevoulin was the first signatory – and probably the author – of the petition against Van Gogh in February 1889. His wife’s statement about Van Gogh’s alleged indecent behaviour was included in the official report drawn up in response to the petition. See letter 750, nn. 2 and 3.
The ‘Buteaux’ relates to the violent peasant couple in Zola’s La terre (1887). Buteau and his wife Lise are boorish people with coarse features, who are only out for their own gain. When the father divides his land between his three children, Buteau – as the youngest – gets the worst piece. He refuses to accept this and will not be satisfied until he gets his hands on the lot. Greed and self-interest drive him and his wife to murder and rape. Cf. Sund 1992, p. 174.
19. In a letter to Theo of 5 August 1888 Koning wrote: ‘how’s Vincent doing? I wrote him a long letter a while back and would like to hear from him’ (FR b1079). Contrary to what Vincent thought, Koning never went back to France. See exhib. cat. Barneveld 1981.
20. For Cassagne’s Guide de l’alphabet du dessin see letter 214, n. 2. Vincent had asked Theo to buy the book in letter 630; see further nn. 9 and 10 to that letter.
21. Seated Zouave (F 424 / JH 1488 ). The other four figure studies are: Zouave (F 423 / JH 1486 ), Mousmé (F 431 / JH 1519 ), Joseph Roulin (F 432 / JH 1522 ) and Joseph Roulin (F 433 / JH 1524 ).
22. See letter 663 for this new batch of sketches.