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827 To Willemien van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Monday, 9 or Tuesday, 10 December 1889.

metadata
No. 827 (Brieven 1990 829, Complete Letters W16)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willemien van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Monday, 9 or Tuesday, 10 December 1889

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b716 V/1962

Date
Van Gogh writes ‘I’ve just received a very kind letter from Theo’ (l. 61). That must have been letter 825 of 8 December. It cannot be ascertained whether that remark means that Theo’s letter had ‘just’ arrived at that very moment or whether a day had elapsed since its arrival. We have therefore dated the latter to Monday, 9 or Tuesday, 10 December 1889.

Additional
Most likely enclosed with letter 826 to Mrs van Gogh.

Ongoing topics
Mrs van Gogh and Willemien’s move to Leiden (798)
Entry for the Les Vingt exhibition in Brussels (792)
Jo’s pregnancy (786)

original text
 1r:1
Ma chère soeur,
merci beaucoup de m’avoir écrit. j’en serais moi très content si tu allais chez Theo en Janvier – comme il n’est pas impossible que j’aille à Paris aussi, il se pourrait que nous nous rencontrerions. La description de la nouvelle habitation de la mère et toi m’intéresse beaucoup1 et c’est certes un arrangement sage et motivé que ce déménagement. Cela me charmerait certainement si je le voyais, ce quai où l’on vient laver de la laine verte et rouge avec les barques et vaisseaux amarrés2 et l’usine aux fenêtres illuminées le soir. Ce sont là des effets que je peindrais.
Et le jardin aussi avec son mûrier en espalier. Pour ce qui est des mûriers il y en a ici beaucoup. j’en ai peint un dernièrement lorsque le feuillage touffu en était d’un jaune magnifique contre un ciel très bleu et un terrain pierreux blanc ensoleillé derrière.3
Je compte envoyer à Bruxelles4 des tournesols,5 une vigne toute rouge en automne,6 un verger en fleur,7 des troncs d’arbre couverts de lierre8 et enfin un champ de jeune blé au soleil levant.–9 Je travaille cette dernière toile dans ce moment, c’est (avec le verger en fleur que Theo aimait à ce qu’il disait)10 la chôse la plus douce que j’aie peinte. Les lignes fuyantes des sillons montent haut dans la toile vers un lointain de collines violacées. La terre est rose et violette marbrée du vert jaune du blé. Le ciel dans le fond avec un soleil est jaune citron pâle et rose.
Ne te figure pas surtout qu’il fasse moins froid ici qu’en Hollande, l’hiver ne fait que commencer et nous en aurons jusqu’à la fin de mars. Seulement moins de pluie qu’en Hollande, du vent insupportablement agaçant très froid et des froids secs et clairs mais vigoureux pourtant quoique le soleil aie plus de force et le ciel soit très bleu.
 1v:2
Tu recevras je pense bientôt les toiles que je t’avais promises.11 Ce que je trouve fort malheureux c’est que tu écris que Jo dit que Theo tousse encore toujours – bigre – cela ne me plait pas – pourtant j’espère toujours que lorsqu’il sera père cela ira mieux. Je voudrais qu’il eût de ma santé dans ce sens que j’ai moi toujours beaucoup de vie en plein air et lui est toujours toujours à son bureau avec tant de tracas de tête.
Et ils sont bien méchants chez les Boussod, trop orgueilleux et tyranniques.
J’ai 12 grandes toiles en train,12 surtout des vergers d’oliviers dont un avec un ciel entièrement rose,13 un autre avec un ciel vert et orangé,14 un troisieme avec un grand soleil jaune.15
Puis des grands pins ravagés contre un ciel de couchant rouge.16 Je viens de recevoir une très bonne lettre de Theo,17 il dit que Jo et lui se portent bien et il dit aussi que tu viendras peutêtre chez eux. Espérons toujours que sa santé dans quelque temps se redressera tout à fait – c’est chez lui beaucoup l’état de son esprit qui influence le reste. A présent beaucoup de peintres qui ont passé l’hiver à la campagne rentrent à Paris.– Tu demandes qui est Bernard – c’est un peintre jeune – il a vingt ans tout au plus.18 très original. il cherche à faire des figures modernes élégantes comme des antiques grecques ou égyptiennes. Une grace dans les mouvements expressifs, un charme par la couleur hardie. J’ai vu de lui un après midi de dimanche en Bretagne,  1v:3 des paysannes bretonnes, des enfants, des paysans, des chiens préambulenta dans une prairie très verte, les costumes sont noires et rouges et des grandes coiffes blanches.
Mais il y a dans cette foule aussi deux dames, l’une en rouge, l’autre en vert bouteille, qui en font une chose bien moderne.19
Demandes à Theo de te montrer l’aquarelle que j’en ai faite d’après le tableau, c’était si original que j’ai tenu à en avoir une copie.20
Maintenant tu crois te rappeler avoir vu des rochers de lui, il en a fait beaucoup et des falaises et des plages en Bretagne.–
il a aussi fait des paysages et figures de la banlieue de Paris. Théo a de lui une chôse excellente que j’ai échangé contre une toile de moi avec Bernard. C’est le portrait de sa grandmère très-vieille, borgne, le fond est un mur de chambre couvert d’un papier peint couleur chocolat et un lit tout blanc.21
Il vient de m’envoyer 6 photographies d’après des tableaux de lui de cette année et par contraste ce sont des sujets bibliques bizarres et fort critiquables.–22 Mais tu vois par là que c’est un curieux, un chercheur qui essaie de tout. C’est comme des tapisseries moyen age, des figures raides et très colorées. Mais je n’admire cela que médiocrement parceque les prérafaelistes anglais23 ont fait ces chôses-là avec plus de sérieux et de conscience et de savoir et de logique. Ainsi peux tu connaitre de Millais qui a fait the Huguenot,24 une gravure the light of the world.–25 Si tu le voulais je dirais à Bernard de faire ton portrait lorsque tu seras à Paris, il le ferait certainement et très bien je t’assure, je ne lui en parlerais pas si cela te contrariait mais moi j’aimerais bien qu’il te le fasse. Et je l’échangerais contre un tableau de moi dont il demande l’échange.26
 1r:4
En écrivant cette lettre je me suis levé pour aller donner quelque coups de brosse à une toile en train – c’est precisement celle avec les pins ravagés contre un ciel rouge, orangé, jaune – hier c’était très frais – des tons purs et éclatants – eh bien en t’écrivant je ne sais quelles pensées me venaient et en regardant ma toile je me disais, ce n’est pas ça.– Alors j’ai pris une couleur qui parait sur la palette du blanc mat et sale qu’on obtient en mélangeant du blanc, du vert et un peu de carmin, ce ton vert je l’ai sabré sur tout le ciel et voilà qu’à distance cela attendrit les tons en les rompant. et pourtant il semblerait que l’on gâte et salit sa toile. Le malheur et la maladie ne font ils pas cela de nous et de notre santé, et ne valons nous pas mieux tels quels dans la fatalité, le grand sort qui nous emporte, que séreins et bien portants selon nos propres idées et désirs vagues de bonheur possible. Je ne le sais.–
Quelques uns de mes tableaux lorsque je les compare à d’autres portent bien la trace que c’est un malade qui les peint et je t’assure que je ne le fais pas exprès. Mais c’est malgré moi à des tons rompus qu’aboutissent mes calculs. Bernard a des parents qui le logent et le nourissent à contre coeur, souvent lui reprochant toujours de ne pas gagner d’argent. Donc la maison y est parfois un enfer mais personne ne travaille tant avec si peu de frais à ma connaissance. Enfin c’est un brave garçon bien parisien, très élégant. il devait partir soldat cette année mais pour cause de santé on l’a remis à l’année prochaine.
Je dois aller travailler encore, à bientôt, en pensée je t’embrasse bien.

t. à t.
Vincent

translation
 1r:1
My dear sister,
Thanks very much for writing to me. Myself, I’d be very pleased if you went to Theo’s in January – as it isn’t impossible that I too may go to Paris, we may meet. The description of your and Mother’s new dwelling interests me a great deal,1 and this move is indeed a wise and well-considered arrangement. It would certainly charm me if I saw it, this quay where people come to wash green and red wool with the small barges and vessels moored,2 and the factory with its windows lit up in the evening. Those are effects that I would paint.
And the garden too, with its espalier mulberry tree. As regards mulberry trees, there are a lot here. I painted one not long ago when its bushy foliage was a magnificent yellow against a very blue sky and a white, stony, sunlit field behind.3
I’m planning to send to Brussels4 sunflowers,5 a completely red vineyard in the autumn,6 an orchard in blossom,7 tree-trunks covered with ivy,8 and finally a field of young wheat in the rising sun.9 I’m working on this last canvas at the moment, it is (with the orchard in blossom, which Theo liked, from what he was saying)10 the gentlest thing I’ve painted. The fleeing lines of the furrows rise high into the canvas towards a background of purplish hills. The earth is pink and violet marbled with the yellow-green of the wheat. The sky in the background with a sun is pale lemon yellow and pink.
Above all, don’t imagine that it’s less cold here than in Holland, the winter has only just begun and we’ll have it until the end of March. Only less rain than in Holland, very cold, unbearably irritating wind, and cold spells that are dry and bright but severe all the same, although the sun has more strength and the sky is very blue.  1v:2
You will receive soon, I think, the canvases I promised you.11 What I find very unfortunate is that you write that Jo says that Theo’s still coughing the whole time – blast – that doesn’t please me – however, I still hope that when he’s a father it’ll get better. I’d like him to have my health, in this sense that I myself always have lots of life in the fresh air, and he’s always always at his desk with so many troubles on his mind.
And they’re wicked at Boussods’, too full of pride and tyrannical.
I have 12 large canvases on the go,12 above all olive groves, one with an entirely pink sky,13 another with a green and orange sky,14 a third with a big yellow sun.15
Then tall, ravaged pines against a red sunset sky.16 I’ve just received a very kind letter from Theo,17 he says that Jo and he are well, and he also says that you’ll perhaps come to them. Let’s keep hoping that in a while his health will completely recover – with him, the state of his mind greatly influences the rest. At the moment many painters who spent the winter in the countryside are returning to Paris. You ask who Bernard is – he’s a young painter – he’s twenty at most.18 Very original. He seeks to do modern figures as elegant as ancient Greeks or Egyptians. A grace in the expressive movements, a charm through daring colours. I saw a Sunday afternoon in Brittany by him  1v:3 , Breton peasant women, peasants, dogs strolling in a very green meadow, the costumes are black and red, and big white caps.
But in this crowd there are also two ladies, one in red, the other in bottle green, who make it into a really modern thing.19
Ask Theo to show you the watercolour I did after the painting, it was so original that I wanted to have a copy of it.20
Now you think you remember having seen some rocks by him, he’s done a lot of them, and cliffs and beaches in Brittany.
He’s also done landscapes and figures of the Paris suburbs. Theo has an excellent thing of his which I exchanged with Bernard for a canvas of mine. It’s the portrait of his very old grandmother, one-eyed, the background is a bedroom wall covered with chocolate-coloured wallpaper, and a completely white bed.21
He’s just sent me 6 photographs of paintings he’s done this year, and by contrast they are bizarre biblical subjects and very open to criticism.22 But you can see from this that he’s a curious fellow, a seeker who tries everything. It’s like tapestries from the Middle Ages: stiff, brightly coloured figures. But I have only a mediocre admiration for this, because the English Pre-Raphaelites23 did those things with more seriousness and conscientiousness and knowledge and logic. Thus you may know Millais who did The Huguenot24 and an engraving, The light of the world.25 If you wanted I could tell Bernard to do your portrait when you’re in Paris, he’d certainly do it, and very well I can assure you, I wouldn’t speak to him about it if it would displease you, but I myself would very much like him to do it. And I would exchange it for a painting of mine he wants me to exchange.26  1r:4
While writing this letter I got to my feet to go and give a few brushstrokes to a canvas in progress – specifically, it’s the one with the ravaged pines against a red, orange, yellow sky – yesterday it was very fresh – pure, dazzling tones – well while writing to you I don’t know what thoughts came to me, and upon looking at my canvas I told myself, that’s not it. So I took a colour that appears as matt, dirty white on the palette, which one obtains by mixing white, green and a little carmine, I slashed this green tone all over the sky, and there you are, from a distance it softens the tones by breaking them up. And yet it would seem that one spoils and dirties the canvas. Do misfortune and sickness not do this with us and our health, and are we not worth more just as we are, in fate, the great destiny that carries us away, than serene and well according to our own vague ideas and desires of possible happiness? I don’t know.
Some of my paintings, when I compare them to others, certainly do bear the trace that it’s a sick man who paints them, and I can assure you that I don’t do it deliberately. But despite myself, my calculations end up at broken tones. Bernard has parents who grudgingly house and feed him, often reproaching him for still not earning money. So the house there is sometimes a hell, but no one works so much with so few expenses to my knowledge. Anyway he’s a fine, really Parisian boy, very elegant. He was to go off to be a soldier this year, but for health reasons it has been postponed to next year.
I must go and work some more, more soon, I kiss you affectionately in thought.

Ever yours,
Vincent
notes
1. Regarding the new apartment, see letter 826, n. 2.
2. Herengracht in Leiden, where Mrs van Gogh and Willemien lived at number 100. On the same (west) side of the canal, the building at no. 44 and the adjacent premises housed the blanket factory Gebroeders Van Wijk & Co., established by the manufacturer Willem Frederik Verhey van Wijk. The factory produced woollen blankets and woollen yarn, as well as knitted piece goods (RAL).
3. Mulberry tree (F 637 / JH 1796 ).
4. Theo had written to Willemien on 27 November about Vincent’s participation in the exhibition of Les Vingt in Brussels: ‘Vincent has sent me a lot of his work recently, including many things that are good ... Next year he will be invited to exhibit in Brussels in an association of young artists, two of whom have come to see his work and found it very interesting. Fortunately his health is good again and, if he suffers no new crisis, he’ll move a bit closer to us in the spring’ (FR b926).
5. Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 ) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 ).
6. The red vineyard (F 495 / JH 1626 ).
7. Orchard in blossom with a view of Arles (F 516 / JH 1685 ).
8. Trees with ivy in the garden of the asylum (F 609 / JH 1693 ).
9. Wheatfield at sunrise (F 737 / JH 1862 ).
10. Theo had written this about F 516 in letter 819.
11. On 6 December Vincent had sent Theo seven paintings intended for Mrs van Gogh and Willemien (see letter 824).
12. The twelve large canvases included six of olive groves: the five mentioned in letter 823 – Olive grove (F 707 / JH 1857 ), Olive grove (F 708 / JH 1855 ), Olive grove (F 710 / JH 1856 ), Olive pickers (F 587 / JH 1853 ) and Olive grove (F 586 / JH 1854 ) – as well as a new work, Women picking olives (F 654 / JH 1868 ) (see n. 13). Also included in this consignment were the two canvases Van Gogh says he is working on in the present letter: Wheatfield at sunrise (F 737 / JH 1862 ) and Pine trees with setting sun (F 652 / JH 1843 ), as well as two paintings mentioned in letter 824: Road menders (‘The tall plane trees’) (F 657 / JH 1860 ) and Diggers (after Millet) (F 648 / JH 1833 ). Other works that might have been included are Wheatfields with a tree and mountains (F 721 / JH 1864 ) – which he sent to Theo in January, along with a number of the above-mentioned works (see letter 834) – and several paintings he had made earlier but also sent in January: Ploughed field with a man carrying a bundle of straw (F 641 / JH 1795 ), Evening (after Millet) (F 647 /JH 1834 ) and Rain (F 650 / JH 1839 ).
13. This olive grove with a completely pink sky was the first version of Women picking olives. Three paintings of this composition are known. Shortly after this, Van Gogh reported that he had painted the first on the spot and the second from memory after the first version. He made the third for his mother and Willemien (see letter 829). The chronological order of the paintings can be established on the basis of the change in style and composition, i.e. rather spontaneous in F 654 , more stylized in F 656 , and highly simplified – nearly abstract – in F 655 . The last work must therefore have been intended for his mother and Willemien, since we see simplification of this kind in the other repetitions made for them (see also letter 803, n. 4).
14. Olive grove (F 586 / JH 1854 ).
15. Olive grove (F 710 / JH 1856 ).
16. Pine trees with setting sun (F 652 / JH 1843 ). See cat. Otterlo 2003, pp. 323-327, and Hendriks and Van Tilborgh 2001, p. 155 (n. 87).
17. This was letter 825.
18. Bernard had turned twenty-one on 28 April.
a. Read: ‘déambulent’.
19. For Bernard’s Breton women in the meadow , see letter 712, n. 4.
20. Breton women in the meadow (after Emile Bernard) (F 1422 / JH 1654 ).
21. For Bernard’s Bernard’s grandmother , see letter 655, n. 3. Van Gogh received it in exchange for his Self-portrait with a straw hat (F 526 / JH 1309 ). See letter 704, n. 5.
22. Letter 822 reveals that Bernard had in any case sent photographs of his paintings Christ in the Garden of Olives, The adoration of the shepherds, The annunciation and Christ meeting his mother.
23. With regard to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, see letter 625, n. 10.
24. For Millais’s The Huguenot, see letter 11, n. 4.
25. Van Gogh is mistaken: The Light of the World is not by Millais, but by William Holman Hunt. See letter 108, n. 10.
26. Bernard said he would like to have one of the Berceuse paintings; see letter 820.