My dear Vincent
I’m very late in replying to you;1 but what can I say, my sickly state and my worries often leave me in a state of prostration, in which I sink into inaction. If you were familiar with my life you would understand that after having struggled so much (in every way) I’m in the process of drawing breath, and at the moment I’m lying dormant. Your idea for an exchange, to which I haven’t yet replied, appeals to me, and I’ll do the portrait you want, but not yet. I’m not in a fit state to do it, seeing that it’s not a copy of a face that you want, but a portrait as I understand it.  1v:2 I’m studying young Bernard, and I don’t have him yet. I shall perhaps do it from memory, but in any case it will be an abstraction. Perhaps tomorrow, I don’t know, it will come to me all at once. At the moment there’s a spell of fine weather which is leading us both to try lots of things.
I’ve just done a religious painting, very badly done, but which was interesting to do, and which I like. I wanted to give it to the church at Pont-Aven. They don’t want it, of course.
Breton women, grouped together, are praying; costumes very intense black. The yellow-white bonnets very luminous.  1v:3 The two bonnets on the right are like monstrous helmets. An apple tree goes across the canvas: dark purple, and the foliage drawn in masses like emerald green clouds, with yellow-green interstices of sunlight. The earth (pure vermilion). At the church it goes down and becomes red brown.
The angel is dressed in violent ultramarine blue, and Jacob in bottle green. The angel’s wings pure no. 1 chrome yellow. The angel’s hair no. 2 chrome, and the feet flesh-orange.2 I believe I’ve achieved a great rustic and superstitious simplicity in the figures. The whole  2r:4 very severe. The cow under the tree is tiny by comparison with reality, and is prancing. For me, the landscape and the wrestling exist only in the imagination of the people at prayer after the sermon; that’s why there’s a contrast between the real people and the wrestling in its landscape, not real and out of proportion.
In your letter you seem angry at our laziness about the portrait, and that pains me; friends don’t get angry with each other (at a distance, words cannot be interpreted at their true value).3
Another thing. You turn  2v:5 the dagger in the wound when you do all you can to prove to me that I must come to the south, given that I’m suffering on account of not being there at this moment. When you suggested that I go there as part of your partnership I categorically wrote you a last letter in the affirmative, happy at your brother’s offer.4 There’s no question for me of creating a studio in the north, since every day I hope for a sale that will allow me to leave here. The people who are feeding me here, the doctor who treated me, did it on credit and wouldn’t hold back a single  2v:6 painting, a single piece of clothing, and are faultless towards me — I can’t leave them without committing a bad deed that would trouble me enormously. If they were either rich or thieves, it would mean nothing to me. So I shall wait. On the other hand, if when the day came you were otherwise disposed, and you had to say to me, Too late..... I’d prefer that you did it right away.
I’m fearful that your brother, who likes my talent, rates it too highly. If he found a collector or speculator who was tempted by low prices, let him do it.5 I’m a man of sacrifices, and  2r:7 I’d like him to understand that whatever he does, I’ll find it well done.
Young Bernard will shortly be taking several canvases of mine to Paris.6
Laval expects to come and find me in the south towards the month of February. He’s found someone who’ll pay him 150 francs a month for a year.7
It appears to me now, my dear Vincent, that you’re getting your sums wrong.8 I know the prices in the south; aside from the restaurant, I undertake to keep the household going on 200 francs a month, with food for three. I have kept house, and I know how to get by.  3r:8 All the more so with four. As far as accommodation goes; apart from yours, Laval and Bernard could have a small furnished room nearby. I like the way you picture your house and its arrangement, and my mouth is watering to see it.
Ah well! As far as possible I don’t want to think any more about the promised fruit. Waiting for better times, unless I’m released from this lousy existence, which, aside from work, weighs on me so horribly.

Cordially yours,


Br. 1990: 694 | CL: GAC 32
From: Paul Gauguin
To: Vincent van Gogh
Date: Pont-Aven, on or about Wednesday, 26 September 1888

1. Vincent had written to Gauguin shortly before 11 September, as emerges from letter 680 to Theo.
2. Paul Gauguin, The vision after the sermon, 1888 (W308/W245) (Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland). Ill. 118 [118]. In 1904 Bernard recounted how Gauguin had offered the painting to the priest of the church in Névez, a village not far from Pont-Aven: ‘Then the priest asked about the subject matter and declared it to be non-religious. If only it clearly portrayed the famous struggle! but those enormous bonnets and peasants’ backs filling the canvas, and the principal subject being reduced, in the distance, to such insignificant proportions!! ...That was not possible, he would be reprimanded...’ (Alors le prêtre questionna sur le sujet, le déclara d’interprétation non religieuse. Si encore cela représentait franchement la fameuse lutte! mais ces énormes bonnets, ces dos de paysannes remplissant la toile, et la chose capitale réduite, au loin, à des proportions si insignifiantes!!... Ce n’était pas possible, on le blâmerait...) See Bernard 1994, vol. 1, p. 78. ‘Chrome yellow 1, 2 and 3’ refer to ‘lemon’, ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’ respectively. For a comprehensive study of this painting see Gauguin’s vision. Belinda Thomson, with Frances Fowle and Lesley Stevenson. Exhib. cat. Edinburgh (National Galleries of Scotland), 2005. Edinburgh 2005.
3. As far as we know, Van Gogh had not written to Gauguin since about 11 September (see n. 1 above). Gauguin must be referring here to Van Gogh’s letter 684 to Bernard, written between Wednesday, 19 and Tuesday, 25 September, in which he reacted to the latter’s refusal to paint Gauguin’s portrait.
4. This letter, which has not survived, was mentioned in letter 635.
5. Van Gogh took a contrary view, as we can also see from a crossed-out scrap of writing on the back of a sketch that he enclosed with letter 693 to Eugène Boch (RM16); the words were addressed to Gauguin. See Jansen et al. 2000.
6. See letter 704, n. 1, for the paintings Bernard took with him to Paris.
7. Laval may have received financial support from Albert Dauprat (see letter 623, n. 4). See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 232.
8. Van Gogh had written to Bernard about the cost of living in Arles in letter 684.