My dear Theo,
I’ve just brought back a canvas I’ve been working on for some time, once again of the same field as the one of the reaper. Now it’s mounds of earth and the background parched lands, then the rocks of the Alpilles. A bit of blue-green sky with small white and violet cloud. In the foreground: A thistle and some dry grass. A peasant dragging a bundle of straw in the middle. It’s another harsh study, and instead of being almost entirely yellow it makes an almost completely violet canvas. Broken and neutral violets.1
But I’m writing you this because I think that this will complement the reaper and will make it easier to see what it is. For the reaper appears done at random, and this with it will balance it. As soon as it’s dry I’ll send it to you with the repetition of the bedroom.2 I seriously ask you to show them together, if someone or other comes to see the studies, because of the opposition of the complementaries.
Then this week I’ve done the entrance to a quarry, which is like a Japanese thing,3 you’ll well remember that there are Japanese drawings of rocks where grasses and little trees grow here and there. There are moments between times when nature is superb, autumnal effects glorious in colour, green skies contrasting with yellow, orange, green vegetation, earth in all shades of violet, burnt grass where the rains have nevertheless given a last vigour to certain plants, which again start to produce little violet, pink, blue, yellow flowers. Things that make you quite melancholy not to be able to render them.
And the skies – like our northern skies, but the colours of the sunsets and sunrises are more varied and more pure. As in works by Jules Dupré and Ziem.
I also have two views of the park and the asylum in which this place appears most agreeable. I tried to reconstruct the thing as it may have been by simplifying and accentuating the proud, unchanging nature of the pines and the cedar bushes against the blue.4
Anyway – if they should happen to remember me – which I’m not keen on – there’ll be enough to send something coloured to the Vingtistes. But I’m indifferent to that. What I’m not indifferent to is that a man who is far superior to me, Meunier, has painted the female thrutchers of the Borinage and the shift going to the pit and the factories, their red roofs and their black chimneys against a delicate grey sky5 – all things I’ve dreamed of doing, feeling that it hadn’t been done and that it ought to be painted. And still, there’s an infinite number of subjects there for artists, and one should go down into the depths and paint the light effects.
If you haven’t yet sent the canvas and the colours,6 you should know that I now have absolutely no canvas.
And I was going to ask you if you would find it difficult to send the amount of what I owe to Mr Peyron immediately,7 if it was possible for you then to send me about fifteen francs by postal order, I would go to Arles one of these days.
It often seems to me that if Gauguin had remained here he wouldn’t have lost anything, for I clearly see, also in the letter he wrote me, that he isn’t entirely at the top of his form.8 And I know well the cause of that – they’re too hard up to find models, and living as cheaply as he thought possible at the beginning won’t have lasted. However, with his patience, next year will perhaps be dazzling. But then he won’t have Bernard with him if the latter does his military service.9
Do you sense how much the figures of Jules Breton and Billet10 and others will remain? Those people overcame the difficulty of models, and that’s a lot. And a painting like that by Otto Weber from the good period (not the English)11 is bound to hold its own. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one new idea doesn’t in any way destroy works that have been done and perfected. That’s the terrible thing about the Impressionists, that the development of the thing gets stuck, and that for years they’re left facing obstacles that the preceding generation had overcome, the difficulty of money and models. And so Breton, Billet and others really are certain to mock it and be astonished and say: ‘come on, when are we going to see your peasants and your peasant women?’ As for me, I feel ashamed and defeated.
I’ve copied that woman with a child sitting beside a hearth by Mrs Demont-Breton, almost all violet,12 I’m certainly going to continue copying, it will give me a collection of my own, and when it’s
1v:3 sufficiently large and complete I’ll give the whole lot to a school.
I can also tell you that next consignment you’ll become better acquainted with good Tartarin’s Alpilles,13 which up to now – apart from the canvas of the mountains14 – you haven’t yet seen unfold, except in the distant background of the canvases. I have a study, rougher than the previous one of the mountains. A very wild ravine where a slender stream weaves its way along its bed of rocks.15
It’s all violet. I could certainly do an entire series of these Alpilles, for having seen them for a long time now I’ve got used to it a little. You remember that fine landscape by Monticelli that we saw at Delarebeyrette’s, of a tree on some rocks against a sunset.16 There are a lot of effects like that at the moment, only I can’t ever be outside at the time the sun sets, otherwise I would have tried it.
Does Jo continue in good health? I think that all in all this year is happier for you than the preceding ones. As for me, my health has been good lately – I really think that Mr Peyron is right when he says that strictly speaking I’m not mad, for my thoughts are absolutely normal and clear between times, and even more than before, but during the crises it’s terrible however, and then I lose consciousness of everything. But it drives me to work and to seriousness, as a coal-miner who is always in danger makes haste in what he does. Our mother and sister will be making their preparations to move house.
I’m enclosing a note for Isaäcson, Bernard and Gauguin. Naturally there’s no urgency at all to get it to them. The first time they come to see you will suffice. In the evenings I’m bored to death, my God the prospect of winter isn’t a cheery one.
I hope that you’ll have received the canvases sent about ten days ago in good order.
I’m going off for a long hike in the mountains to look for sites. More soon – above all send the paint and the canvas if it hasn’t been sent, for I’ve no canvas left at all, nor any zinc white.
Kind regards to Jo.