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735 To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Wednesday, 9 January 1889.

metadata
No. 735 (Brieven 1990 738, Complete Letters 570)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Wednesday, 9 January 1889

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. nos. b617 a-b V/1962

Date
The letter must have been written a couple of days after 7 January, the day Van Gogh was released from hospital: he not only had his wound dressed again that day, but he also received the announcement of Theo and Jo’s engagement. Like Jo van Gogh-Bonger in Brieven1914, who had sent the announcement (l. 3), we have dated the letter to Wednesday, 9 January 1889.

Ongoing topics
Theo’s engagement and marriage to Jo Bonger (728)
Vincent’s first crisis and hospitalization (728)
Gauguin’s plan to return to the tropics (716)
De Haan’s stay with Theo (711)

original text
 1r:1
mon cher Theo,
encore avant de recevoir (à l’instant même) ta bonne lettre, j’avais reçu ce matin de la part de ta fiancée une lettre de faire part.1 Aussi lui ai-je déjà adressé en réponse mes sincères félicitations ainsi que je te les repète à toi par la présente.
Ma crainte que mon indisposition n’empechât ton voyage si nécessaire et par moi tant et depuis si longtemps espéré – cette crainte ayant maintenant disparue je me ressens tout à fait normal.
Ce matin j’ai été encore me faire panser à l’hospice et me suis promené pendant une heure et demie avec l’interne2 et nous avons causé un peu de tout, même d’histoire naturelle.
Ce que tu me dis de Gauguin me fait énormement plaisir c.à.d. qu’il n’aie pas abandonné son projet de retourner aux tropiques. C’est là pour lui le chemin droit. Je crois voir clair dans son plan et l’approuve de grand coeur. Naturellement je le regrette mais tu conçois que pourvu que ca marche bien pour lui c’est tout ce qu’il me faut.
 1v:2
Si tu peux le faire cause un peu à C.M. de l’avenir de son affaire et que son fils pourra la continuer, pourvu que C.M. lui-même fasse tout son devoir en tant que quant à t’écouter et à mettre ensemble son fils et toi.3 C.M. doit tenir quand même à la continuation de la maison fondée par lui – n’a-t-il pas introduit en Hollande justement des artistes qui n’étaient pas avec les Goupil, &c. &c.4
Puis Tersteeg doit admettre les impressionistes ou au moins croire à Eug. Delacroix et puis Tersteeg et toi se donnant la main seraient une grande force avec laquelle Boussod aurait à compter.
Que va être l’exposition de 89.5
N’oublie pas la leçon d’anatomie pour M. Rey.6 Lui m’a dit déjà avant ce matin qu’il aime la peinture tout en ne la connaissant pas et qu’il désirerait apprendre. Je lui ai dit qu’il doit se mettre amateur  1v:3 mais qu’il ne doit pas chercher à faire de la peinture lui-même. Cela fait que peut-être nous trouverons 2 amis médecins ici, Rey et le docteur parisien duquel je t’ai déjà précédemment parlé.7
Je leur ai dit que Brias de Montpellier8 a un certain trait de famille avec nous autres et que donc nous ne faisons que continuer dans le midi ce que Monticelli, ce que Brias ont commencé.
J’ai eu en sortant de l’hospice pas mal de chôses à payer et tout en n’étant pas du tout pressé pour quelques jours, il me serait agréable si tu pourrais d’ici quelques jours m’envoyer une cinquantaine de francs.
Le défaut de calcul du copain Gauguin était selon moi que lui a un peu trop l’habitude de s’aveugler sur les frais inévitables de loyer de maison, de femme de ménage et un grand tas de chôses terrestres de ce genre.– Or toutes ces chôses-là pèsent un peu sur notre dos à nous autres. Mais une fois que nous les supportons d’autres artistes pourraient loger avec moi sans avoir ces charges-là.
 1r:4
On vient de m’avertir que dans mon absence le propriétaire de ma maison ici aurait fait un contrat avec un bonhomme qui a un bureau de tabac, pour me mettre à la porte et pour lui donner, à ce marchand de tabac-là, la maison.9
Cela m’inquiète médiocrement car je ne suis pas trop disposé à me faire mettre à la porte de cette maison presqu’honteusement alors que c’est moi qui l’ai fait repeindre en dedans et en dehors et qui y ai fait mettre le gaz &c., en somme qui ai rendu habitable une maison qui avait été fermée et inhabitée depuis assez longtemps et que j’ai prise dans un bien triste état.– Cela pour t’avertir que peutêtre par exemple à Paques, si le propriétaire persiste, je te demanderai conseil là-dedans et que je ne me considère en tout cela qu’un gérant pour défendre les interêts de nos amis les artistes.
d’ici là d’ailleurs il est plus que probable qu’il y coulera de l’eau sous le pont. Et le principal c’est de ne pas s’en inquiéter.
Bernard t’a-t-il déjà rendu le livre de Silvestre10 – j’aurai besoin du titre exact pour faire lire ce livre aux médecins en question.
Physiquement je vais bien, la blessure se ferme très bien et la grande perte de sang s’équilibre puisque je mange et digère bien. Le plus redoutable serait l’insomnie et le médecin ne m’en a pas parlé, ni moi je ne lui en ai pas encore parlé pas non plus. Mais je la combats moi-même.  2r:5 Cette insomnie je la combats par une dose très très forte de camphre dans mon oreiller et mon matelas et si jamais toi-même ne dormais pas je te recommande cela.11 Je redoutais beaucoup de coucher seul dans la maison et j’ai eu inquiétude de ne pas pouvoir dormir mais cela s’est bien passé et j’ose croire que cela ne reparaîtra pas.
La souffrance de ce côté-là à l’hôpital a été atroce et cependant dans tout cela étant bien plus bas qu’évanoui je peux te dire comme curiosité que j’ai continué à penser à de Gas.12
Gauguin et moi avions causé auparavent de de Gas et j’avais fait remarquer à Gauguin que de Gas avait dit ceci:... “Je me reserve pour les Arlésiennes”.
Or toi qui sais combien de Gas est subtil, de retour à Paris dis un peu à de Gas que je t’avoue que jusqu’à présent j’ai été impuissant à les peindre désempoisonnées,a les femmes d’Arles, et qu’il ne doit pas croire Gauguin si Gauguin dit du bien avant l’heure  2v:6 de mon travail qui ne s’est fait que maladivement.13
Or si je me refais je dois recommencer et ne pourrai pas atteindre de nouveau ces sommets où la maladie m’a imparfaitement entrainé.
J’aurais bien le désir de donner encore une fois un tableau à Rivet14 justement parceque je suis bien d’accord avec toi qu’il serait bien de mettre M. Rey en rapport avec Rivet.
Mais tu pourrais bien dire à Rivet qu’il serait bon de renvoyer M. Rey ici à l’hospice avec son brevet de docteur qu’il va chercher. Il est très très utile ici et on aura bigrement besoin de médecins ici à Arles encore dans la suite tant que le cholera et la peste &c. demeurent si menacants du côté de Marseille.15 Or Rey est né ici et ne vaudrait rien à Paris ou ailleurs tandis qu’une fois muni du plein pouvoir medical de Paris,  2v:7 en temps de calamité il fera ici de vrais miracles.
Bien sûr nous n’avons pas le droit de nous mêler de la question de médecine, seulement Rivet lui-même sera peutêtre de la même opinion en tant que quant à ce qui est de sentir qu’un Arlésien n’est pas un Parisien et vice versa.
Est ce que tu as passé par Breda,16 je suis naturellement porté à le supposer. Rassure surtout la mère à mon égard.
As tu vu le portrait de moi qu’a Gauguin17 et as tu vu le portrait que Gauguin a fait de soi juste dans les derniers jours.18
Si tu comparais ce portrait que Gauguin a fait de soi alors, avec celui que j’ai encore de lui, qu’il m’a envoyé de Bretagne en échange du mien, tu verrais que personellement il s’est en somme tranquilisé ici.–19
 2r:8
Qu’ont fait de Haan et Isaäcson. J’avais vaguement espéré un jour les voir ici dans le cas où Gauguin lui-même aurait demeuré plus longtemps avec moi et même dans cette vue-là j’avais loué deux petites chambres qui devenaient vacantes dans la maison qu’actuellement j’ai en entier (le loyer est de fr. 21.50 par mois). Je n’ose plus insister là-dessus vu le départ de Gauguin, surtout considerant que le voyage dans le midi coute assez cher. Enfin dis leur toujours bien des chôses de ma part lorsque tu les reverras.
Roulin te dit bien le bonjour, il était tres satisfait de ce que tu parles de lui dans ta lettre d’aujourd’hui et il merite cela d’ailleurs amplement.
Poignée de main et naturellement tu sentiras combien je te souhaite de bonnes journées avec ta fiancée.

t. à. t.
Vincent.

bien des chôses à André Bonger s’il est là aussi.

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
Even before receiving (this very moment) your kind letter, I received a letter from your fiancée this morning announcing the engagement.1 So I’ve already replied to her with my sincere congratulations, as I repeat them here to you.
My fear that my indisposition might prevent your very necessary journey, which I’ve hoped for so much and for so long — now that this fear has disappeared I feel completely normal.
This morning I went to the hospital again to have my wound dressed, and walked for an hour and a half with the house physician,2 and we talked a little about everything, even natural history.
What you tell me about Gauguin gives me enormous pleasure, that’s to say that he hasn’t abandoned his plan to return to the tropics. That’s the right path for him. I think I can see clearly into his plan, and I approve of it with all my heart. Naturally I have regrets about it, but you can understand that provided it goes well for him that’s all I need.  1v:2
If you can do so, talk a little to C.M. about the future of his business and the fact that his son can continue it, provided C.M. himself does his full duty as regards listening to you and putting you and his son together.3 All the same C.M. must wish that the firm he founded continues — hasn’t he introduced into Holland the very artists who were not with the Goupils, &c. &c.?4
Then Tersteeg must admit the Impressionists, or at least believe in E. Delacroix, and then Tersteeg and you joining hands would be a great force that Boussod would have to reckon with.
What is the 89 exhibition going to be?5
Don’t forget The anatomy lesson for Mr Rey.6 He had already told me before this morning that he likes painting, although he knows little about it, and that he would like to learn. I told him that he should become an art lover  1v:3 but that he shouldn’t try to do painting himself. This means that perhaps we’ll find 2 doctor friends here, Rey and the Parisian doctor I spoke to you about before.7
I told them that Bruyas of Montpellier8 shares a certain family characteristic with the two of us, and that we’re therefore simply continuing what Monticelli and Bruyas began in the south.
When I came out of the hospital I had quite a few things to pay, and while they aren’t at all urgent for a few days, I’d be pleased if you could send me about fifty francs within the next few days.
The mistake in pal Gauguin’s calculations was, in my opinion, that he’s a little too accustomed to closing his eyes to the inevitable expenses of house rental, charwoman and a whole heap of earthly things of that kind. Now, all these things weigh a little heavily on the shoulders of the two of us. But once we bear them, other artists could lodge with me without having those costs.  1r:4
I’ve just been told that in my absence the owner of my house here apparently made a contract with a fellow who has a tobacco shop, to turn me out and give him, the tobacconist, the house.9
That worries me a little, for I’m not much inclined to have myself turned out of this house almost shamefully when it was I who had it repainted inside and out and had gas put in &c., in short who made habitable a house that had been locked up and uninhabited for quite a long time, and which I took on in very poor condition. This is to warn you that perhaps at Easter, for example, if the owner persists, I’ll ask you for advice about it, and that in all of this I consider myself merely an agent, defending the interests of our artist friends.
Besides, it’s more than likely that water will flow under the bridge between now and then. And the main thing is not to worry about it.
Has Bernard returned the Silvestre book to you yet?10 I’ll need the exact title to get those doctors to read this book.
Physically I am well, the wound is closing very well and the great loss of blood is balancing out, since I’m eating and digesting well. The most fearsome thing is the insomnia, and the doctor didn’t talk to me about it, nor have I spoken to him about it yet. But I’m fighting it myself.  2r:5 I’m fighting this insomnia with a very, very strong dose of camphor in my pillow and my mattress, and I recommend it to you if you ever have trouble sleeping.11 I was very fearful of sleeping alone in the house, and I felt anxious that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but it went very well and I dare to believe that it won’t recur.
My suffering in that way in the hospital was appalling, and yet in the midst of it all, though I was more than insensible, I can tell you as a curiosity that I kept thinking about Degas.12
Gauguin and I had talked about Degas before, and I pointed out to Gauguin that Degas had said this:... ‘I’m saving myself for the Arlésiennes.’
Now, you who know how subtle Degas is, once you’re back in Paris, tell Degas that I admit to you that up until now I’ve been powerless to paint them as other than poisonous, the women of Arles, and that he mustn’t believe Gauguin if Gauguin says good things too soon  2v:6 about my work, which has only been done under the influence of illness.13
Now, if I recover I must start again, and I can’t again attain those peaks to which sickness imperfectly led me.
I would very much have liked to give another painting to Rivet14 precisely because I wholly agree with you that it would be good to put Mr Rey in touch with Rivet.
But you could indeed tell Rivet that it would be good to send Mr Rey back here to the hospital with the doctor’s qualification he’s going to try and get. He’s very, very useful here, and we’ll darned well be in need of doctors again here in Arles in days to come, as long as cholera and the plague &c. continue to menace the area around Marseille.15 Now Rey was born here and would be worthless in Paris or elsewhere, while once he was armed with the full medical power of Paris,  2v:7 he could perform real miracles here in a time of calamity.
Of course we have no right to get involved in the question of medicine, only Rivet himself will perhaps be of the same opinion as regards the feeling that an Arlesian isn’t a Parisian and vice versa.
Did you pass through Breda,16 I’m naturally inclined to think so. Above all, reassure Mother about me.
Have you seen the portrait of me that Gauguin has,17 and have you seen the portrait that Gauguin did of himself during those final days?18
If you were to compare this portrait which Gauguin did of himself then with the one I still have of him, which he sent to me from Brittany in exchange for mine,19 you would see that all in all he grew more serene here, personally.  2r:8
What have De Haan and Isaäcson been doing? I had vaguely hoped to see them here one day had Gauguin himself stayed longer with me, and with a view to that I’d even rented two little rooms which were coming vacant in the house which I currently have the whole of (the rent is 21.50 francs a month). I daren’t press the point any more, seeing as Gauguin has gone, especially when one considers that the journey to the south costs quite a lot. Anyway, give them my kind regards when you see them again.
Roulin sends his warm regards, he was very pleased with what you said about him in your letter today, and besides, he amply deserves it.
Handshake, and naturally you’ll feel how much I wish you good days with your fiancée.

Ever yours,
Vincent.

Warm regards to André Bonger if he’s there too.
notes
1. For this engagement announcement, see letter 731. Theo stayed from 5 to 13 January in the Netherlands; the engagement party took place on 9 January. Vincent sent the present letter to Amsterdam (cf. l. 206).
2. Félix Rey.
3. Van Gogh later added ‘et à mettre ensemble son fils et toi’ (and putting you and his son together). In May 1891 Cornelis Marinus van Gogh (Uncle Cor) transferred ownership of his bookshop and art dealership to his son Vincent, who carried on the business under the name C.M. van Gogh.
4. For the paintings in which C.M. van Gogh traded, see Stolwijk 1998, pp. 310-312.
5. The World Exhibition, held from 5 May to 5 November 1889.
6. Vincent had asked Theo to buy the engraving after Rembrandt’s Anatomy lesson for Rey; see letter 732, n. 14.
7. This Paris doctor was already mentioned in letter 732, n. 15.
8. For the collector and Maecenas Alfred Bruyas, see letter 726, n. 1.
9. Even though Van Gogh speaks of ‘the owner of my house’ (this was Verdier), it is more likely that he is referring to his agent Bernard Soulé. See letter 602, n. 19. The tobacconist was probably Charles Viany, who signed the petition against Van Gogh at the end of February: ‘Viany, retail tobacconist’ (Viany, receveur buraliste). His wife, Marie Ourtoule, was the ‘retail tobacconist of place Lamartine’ (débitante de tabac demeurant Place de Lamartine) in the summons drawn up in response to the petition. See letter 750, nn. 2 and 3 and Documentation (shortly before 27 February 1889).
10. Considering Van Gogh had earlier brought up the subject of Delacroix and complementary colours in connection with the doctors (see letter 732), he must be referring here to Théophile Silvestre’s Eugène Delacroix. Documents nouveaux (1864). In letter 722, moreover, he asked Theo whether De Haan and Isaäcson knew this book.
11. This remedy came from the physician François Vincent Raspail, who believed that illnesses were caused by parasites. He prescribed camphor as a general cure for all ailments, writing that ‘camphor has sleep-inducing properties’ (le camphre a la propriété de ramener le sommeil); to have this effect, however, the medicine must be ingested. The method described by Van Gogh was recommended by Raspail as a means of curbing masturbation. See Manuel annuaire de la santé. Paris 1886, pp. 89-92, 373.
Raspail’s books were especially popular among labourers. His best-known work was Manuel annuaire de la santé, which had been published every year since 1845. Van Gogh depicted such an Annuaire in the still life he made shortly after leaving the hospital: Still life with onions and Annuaire de la santé (F 604 / JH 1656 ).
12. Van Gogh’s correspondence reveals his increasing admiration for Degas, whom he saw as a professional and personal role model. See Kendall 1999, p. 31.
a. This probably means: ‘My clouded state prevents me from painting the women of Arles ‘pure’ (not poisonous)’.
13. Theo must have written that Gauguin had spoken well of Vincent’s Arles work to Degas. This passage about painting the women of Arles could indicate that Van Gogh was considering taking up the subject that had occupied him before his illness: the Berceuse (one of the women of Arles that he had painted).
14. Apparently Van Gogh had previously given a painting to Rivet, the brothers’ doctor in Paris. It is not known which work this was.
15. In 1884-1885 there had been a cholera epidemic in Marseille. The last plague epidemic in Western Europe was ‘the great plague’ of 1720-1722, which began in Marseille and spread over all of Provence. The passage was no doubt prompted by Dr Rey’s involvement in fighting the smallpox epidemic raging in Arles from October 1888 until the end of April 1889. In his report on this epidemic, Rey recorded 41 cases of infection and 6 deaths. The governors of the hospital praised his efforts in a ‘congratulatory note for his devotion [to duty]’ (note de félicitation pour son dévouement) (ACA).
16. Mrs van Gogh and Willemien lived in Breda.
17. Because Van Gogh also speaks here of Gauguin’s self-portrait, he is likely referring to his own Self-portrait (F 476 / JH 1581 ), which was in Gauguin’s possession (and not Gauguin’s Van Gogh painting sunflowers , as assumed in De brieven 1990).
18. Paul Gauguin, Self-portrait dedicated to Charles Laval (later to Eugène Carrière), 1888 (W384) (Washington, National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon). Ill. 2144 . In Wildenstein 1963 this portrait was dated to 1889, but recent research has shown that Gauguin painted it in December 1888, on the canvas of coarse jute he had bought in Arles (see letters 717, n. 7 and 716, n. 8, and exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, pp. 247, 362-363.
19. For Gauguin’s Self-portrait with a portrait of Bernard, ‘Les misérables’ , see letter 692, n. 1. Van Gogh sent in exchange his self-portrait (n. 17 above). At the time, he told Theo that Gauguin looked ill and tormented in his self-portrait from Brittany (see letter 697).