My dear friend Gauguin,
Thanks for your letter.1 Left behind alone on board my little yellow house — as it was perhaps my duty to be the last to remain here anyway — I’m not a little plagued by the friends’ departure.
Roulin has had his transfer to Marseille and has just left. It has been touching to see him these last days with little Marcelle, when he made her laugh and bounce on his knees.
His transfer necessitates his separation from his family, and you won’t be surprised that as a result the man you and I simultaneously nicknamed ‘the passer-by’ one evening had a very heavy heart. Now so did I, witnessing that and other heart-breaking things.
His voice as he sang for his child took on a strange timbre in which there was a hint of a woman rocking a cradle or a distressed wet-nurse, and then another sound of bronze, like a clarion from France.
Now I feel remorse at having perhaps, I who so insisted that you should stay here to await events and gave you so many good reasons for doing so, now I feel remorse at having indeed perhaps prompted your departure — unless, however, that departure was premeditated beforehand? And that then it was perhaps up to me to show that I still had the right to be kept frankly au courant.2
Whatever the case, I hope we like each other enough to be able to begin again if need be, if penury, alas ever-present for us artists without capital, should necessitate such a measure.
You talk to me in your letter about a canvas of mine, the sunflowers with a yellow background3 — to say that it would give you some pleasure to receive it. I don’t think that you’ve made a bad choice – if Jeannin has the peony, Quost the hollyhock, I indeed, before others, have taken the sunflower.
I think that I’ll begin by returning what belongs to you, making it plain that it’s my intention, after what has happened, to contest categorically your right to the canvas in question. But as I commend your intelligence in the choice of that canvas I’ll make an effort to paint two of them, exactly the same. In which case it might be done once and for all and thus settled amicably,
2r:3 so that you could have your own all the same.
Today I made a fresh start on the canvas I had painted of Mrs Roulin, the one which had remained in a vague state as regards the hands because of my accident.4 As an arrangement of colours: the reds moving through to pure oranges, intensifying even more in the flesh tones up to the chromes, passing into the pinks and marrying with the olive and Veronese greens. As an Impressionist arrangement of colours, I’ve never devised anything better.
And I believe that if one placed this canvas just as it is in a boat, even one of Icelandic fishermen, there would be some who would feel the lullaby in it.5 Ah! my dear friend, to make of painting what the music of Berlioz and Wagner has been before us... a consolatory art for distressed hearts!6 There are as yet only a few who feel it as you and I do!!!
My brother understands you well, and when he tells me that you’re a kind of unfortunate like me, then that indeed proves that he understands us.
I’ll send you your things, but at times weakness overcomes me again, and then I can’t even make the gesture of sending you back your things. I’ll pluck up the courage in a few days. And the ‘fencing masks and gloves’ (make the very least possible use of less childish engines of war), those terrible engines of war will wait until then.7 I now write to you very calmly, but I haven’t yet been able to pack up all the rest.
In my mental or nervous fever or madness, I don’t know quite what to say or how to name it, my thoughts sailed over many seas. I even dreamed of the Dutch ghost ship8 and the Horla,9 and it seems that I sang then, I who can’t sing on other occasions, to be precise an old wet-nurse’s song while thinking of what the cradle-rocker sang as she rocked the sailors and whom I had sought in an arrangement of colours before falling ill.10 Not knowing the music of Berlioz. A heartfelt handshake.
It will please me greatly if you write to me again before long. Have you read Tartarin11 in full by now? The imagination of the south creates pals, doesn’t it, and between us we always have friendship.
Have you yet read and re-read Uncle Tom’s cabin by Beecher Stowe?12 It’s perhaps not very well written in the literary sense. Have you read Germinie Lacerteux13 yet?