My dear Theo,
Yesterday I spent another day with that Belgian— who also has a sister among the Vingtistes1 — — the weather wasn’t good but it was a jolly good day for chatting; we went for a walk, and all the same we did see some very fine things at the bullfights and outside the town. We talked more seriously about the plan that if I keep on lodgings in the south, he should definitely set up a kind of post in the coal-fields.2 That then Gauguin and he and I, in cases where the importance of a painting would be a reason for travelling, could exchange places — sometimes being in the north, but in a familiar part of the country where we have a friend, sometimes in the south. You’ll see him soon, this young man with the Dante-like face, because he’s coming to Paris, and if the room’s available you’ll be doing him a favour by putting him up.3 He’s quite distinguished in appearance, and he’ll become so in his paintings, I believe. He likes Delacroix, and we talked a lot about Delacroix yesterday; actually he knew the violent sketch of Christ’s boat.4
Ah well, thanks to him — at last I have a first sketch of that painting I’ve been dreaming about for a long time — the poet.5 He posed for it for me. His fine head, with its green gaze, stands out in my portrait against a starry, deep ultramarine sky; his clothing is a little yellow jacket, a collar of unbleached linen, a multicoloured tie. He gave me two sittings in one day.
Yesterday I received a letter from our sister, who has seen many things. Ah, if she could marry an artist, that wouldn’t be bad.
Well, we’ll have to go on urging her to untangle her personality, rather than her artistic abilities.
I’ve finished Daudet’s L’immortel — I rather like the remark by the sculptor Védrine, who says that achieving fame is something like when smoking, sticking your cigar in your mouth by the lighted end.6
Now I definitely like L’immortel less, much less, than Tartarin.7  1v:3
You know, it seems to me that L’immortel isn’t as fine as Tartarin for colour, because, with its quantity of subtle and accurate observations, it makes me think of Jean Béraud’s disheartening paintings,8 so dry, so cold. Tartarin, now, is so genuinely great — with the greatness of a masterpiece, just like Candide.9
I would very much like to ask you to expose my studies from down here, which aren’t completely dry yet, to the air as far as possible.10 If they stayed shut away or in the dark, the colours would deteriorate. So, the portrait of the young girl,11 the harvest (wide landscape with the ruin in the background and the chain of the Alpilles),12 the small seascape,13 the garden with the weeping tree and the conifer bushes,14 if you could put them on stretching frames that would be good. I’m a little attached to those.
You can see clearly from the drawing of the small seascape15 that that one’s the most worked up.
I’m having 2 oak frames made, for my new head of a peasant and for my study of a poet.16 Ah, my dear brother, sometimes I know so clearly what I want. In life and in painting too, I can easily do without the dear Lord, but I  1r:4 can’t, suffering as I do, do without something greater than myself, which is my life, the power to create.
And if frustrated in this power physically, we try to create thoughts instead of children; in that way, we’re part of humanity all the same. And in a painting I’d like to say something consoling, like a piece of music. I’d like to paint men or women with that je ne sais quoi of the eternal, of which the halo used to be the symbol, and which we try to achieve through the radiance itself, through the vibrancy of our colorations.
The portrait conceived in this way doesn’t become an Ary Scheffer, because there’s a blue sky behind it, as in the Saint Augustine.17 Because Ary Scheffer is so little of a colourist.
But this would be more in tune with what Eugène Delacroix was looking for and found in his Tasso in prison18 and so many other paintings depicting a true man. Ah, the portrait — the portrait with the model’s thoughts, his soul — it so much seems to me that it must come.  2r:5
We talked a lot yesterday, the Belgian and I, about the advantages and disadvantages of this place. We quite agree on both. And on the immense interest that would hold for us, to be able to move about, sometimes the north, sometimes the south. He’s going to stay with MacKnight again for reasons of living more cheaply.19
That, though, has a disadvantage for him, I believe, because living with an idler makes you idle. I believe you’ll enjoy meeting him, he’s still young.20 I believe that he’ll ask your advice on buying Japanese prints and Daumier lithographs. For those, the Daumiers, it would be good to buy more, because later on we won’t be able to find them.
The Belgian was saying that with MacKnight he paid 80 francs for board and lodging.21 What a difference, then, living together — myself I have to pay 45 a month for my lodging alone.22 And so I always come back to the same calculation, that with Gauguin I’ll spend no more than on my own, and that without suffering thereby.  2v:6
Now for them, it’s to be taken into account that they were very badly housed, not in terms of their beds, but of the possibility of working at home.
So I’m still between two currents of ideas, the first, material difficulties, turning this way and that to build up an existence, and then the study of colour. I still have hopes of finding something there. To express the love of two lovers through a marriage of two complementary colours, their mixture and their contrasts, the mysterious vibrations of adjacent tones. To express the thought of a forehead through the radiance of a light tone on a dark background. To express hope through some star. The ardour of a living being through the rays of a setting sun. That’s certainly not trompe-l’oeil realism, but isn’t it something that really exists? More soon; I’ll tell you when the Belgian might pass through, because I’ll see him again tomorrow.

Ever yours, Vincent

The Belgian said that at home they have a Degroux, the sketch for Saying grace in the Brussels museum.23

The portrait of the Belgian has something of the portrait of Reid that you have,24 in terms of execution.


Br. 1990: 677 | CL: 531
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Monday, 3 September 1888

1. This Belgian is Eugène Boch. His sister Anna was a member of the society of artists Les Vingt in Brussels from 1886 to 1894. For this group see letter 580, n. 6.
2. In letter 669 Van Gogh reported Boch’s plan to go to the Borinage; see further letter 693, n. 1.
3. See letter 669, n. 16, for Boch’s departure from Arles. The plan for Boch to go and live with Theo came to nothing, as we learn from a letter to Theo from Willemien: ‘Haven’t you found a housemate yet? Pity that that Belgian didn’t come’ (FR b2275, 19 October 1888). Boch did, however, visit Theo (see letter 693).
Van Gogh knew the head of Dante from Bargue’s Cours de dessin – he had drawn it in October 1880 (see letter 159, n. 7). His knowledge of Dante may have been based on what Carlyle wrote in On heroes, hero-worship and the heroic in history (in ‘The hero as poet’ he saw him as a prophetic poet (Carlyle 1993, pp. 83-85)), or on what Cochin said of him in his article on Boccaccio (‘Boccace d’après ses oeuvres et les témoignages contemporains’) – at any rate it is evident from a letter written later in the month that Vincent was familiar with this article (see letter 683, n. 15).
5. Eugène Boch (‘The poet’) (F 462 / JH 1574 [2710]). Van Gogh described his plan for this painting in letter 663.
6. A reference to Alphonse Daudet, L’immortel (1888): ‘Fame... I have tasted it two or three times, I know what it is... look, when you’re smoking you sometimes happen to pick up your cigar by the wrong end. Well, then, that’s fame. A good cigar with the lit end and the ash in your mouth...’ (La gloire... j’en ai goûté deux ou trois fois, je sais ce que c’est... tiens, il t’arrive en fumant de prendre ton cigare à rebours, eh bien! c’est ça gloire. Un bon cigare dans la bouche par le côté du feu et de la cendre...). See Daudet 1986-1994, vol. 3, p. 712 (chapter 3). Van Gogh quotes the sentence again in letter 683, n. 26.
8. Jean Béraud was known for his detailed paintings of scenes of fashionable Parisian life.
10. Theo had received the second consignment from Arles in mid-August; see letter 660, n. 1.
11. Mousmé (F 431 / JH 1519 [2671]).
12. The harvest (F 412 / JH 1440 [2621]).
13. Fishing boats at sea (F 417 / JH 1453 [2633]). The work measures 44 x 53 cm. Van Gogh calls it ‘the small seascape’ to distinguish it from the other seascape in the batch: Fishing boats at sea (F 415 / JH 1452 [2632]), which is 51 x 64 cm.
[2633] [2632]
14. Newly mown lawn with a weeping tree (F 428 / JH 1499 [0]).
15. The drawing after the above seascape is Fishing boats at sea (F 1430b / JH 1541 [2688]). Vincent had sent it to Theo on 8 August (see letter 657).
16. The new portrait is Patience Escalier (‘The peasant’) (F 444 / JH 1563 [2705]); see letter 671.
Van Gogh chose frames for the paintings he wanted to hang in the Yellow House in woods that were in keeping with the ambience and furnishing of the rooms: walnut for Gauguin’s room, and oak and deal for his own. See exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1995-2, pp. 168-170, and Dorn 1990, pp. 238-240 (n. 52). The paintings whose frames are mentioned in the correspondence are Patience Escalier (‘The peasant’) (F 444 / JH 1563 [2705]) and Eugène Boch (‘The poet’) (F 462 / JH 1574 [2710]) in the present letter, and also Public garden with round clipped shrub and weeping tree (F 468 / JH 1578 [2713]), a painting of the park, now lost, Ploughed fields (‘The furrows’) (F 574 / JH 1586 [2719]), The green vineyard (F 475 / JH 1595 [2726]) and Entrance to the public garden (F 566 / JH 1585 [2718]). See letters 683, 687, 699 and 767.
[2705] [2705] [2710] [2713] [2719] [2726] [2718]
17. For Ary Scheffer, Saint Augustine and Saint Monica, see letter 41, n. 8. The one in the Louvre (Ill. 2239 [2239].) is the only one of the five versions of the painting that Van Gogh could have seen; he must therefore be referring to this work. See also Ewals 1987, pp. 303-305.
18. Delacroix made two paintings of the imprisoned poet Torquato Tasso entitled Tasso in the Hospital of St Anne in Ferrara: one in 1824 (Zurich, Galerie Nathan) and one in 1839 (Winterthur, Oskar Reinhart Collection). Ill. 77 [77]. Since both paintings were then in private collections, Van Gogh must have been thinking of a print; in letter 726 he mentions a lithograph after the work. See Johnson 1981-1989, vol. 1, pp. 91-93, cat. no. 106, and vol. 3, pp. 88-89, cat. no. 268.
19. MacKnight had left Fontvieille for Moret-sur-Loing; see letter 669, n. 15. Evidently Boch intended to visit him.
20. Boch turned 33 on 1 September, so he was only two years younger than Van Gogh. By the time he wrote letter 674 Van Gogh had found out his age.
21. MacKnight and Boch stayed at the Café de l’Alcazar in Fontvieille; see letter 650, n. 20.
22. Van Gogh says that he pays 45 francs ‘for my lodging alone’; in other words his meals were not included in that sum. He paid 1 franc a night for his room in the Café de la Gare, and 15 francs a month for the Yellow House. See letters 602 and 611.
23. For Degroux’s Saying grace [135], see letter 143, n. 16. For the (destroyed?) oil sketch from Eugène and Anna Boch’s collection, see exhib. cat. Ypres 1995, pp. 104-105, cat. no. 108.
24. There are two known portraits of Reid, both of which Theo had: F 270 / JH 1207 and F 343 / JH 1250 [2550]. Van Gogh must mean the latter work which, like the portrait of Eugène Boch, (F 462 / JH 1574 [2710]), is a head and shoulders portrait.
[2550] [2710]