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850 To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saturday, 1 February 1890.

metadata
No. 850 (Brieven 1990 851, Complete Letters 625)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Saturday, 1 February 1890

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b674 V/1962

Date
Vincent replies immediately to Theo’s letter 847 of 31 January, which he has just received (l. 1*). We have therefore dated the present letter to Saturday, 1 February 1890. This also agrees with the date assigned to it by Jo van Gogh-Bonger in Brieven1914 (it is possible she had a postmark to rely on).

Ongoing topics
Third attack in Saint-Rémy (846)
Willemien is staying with Theo and Jo (835)

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
aujourd’hui je viens de recevoir ta bonne nouvelle que tu es père enfin, que le plus critique moment est passé pour Jo, qu’enfin le petit est bien portant.1 Cela me fait à moi aussi davantage de bien et de plaisir que je ne saurais t’exprimer en paroles. Bravo – et comme la mère va être contente. d’Elle aussi avant hier j’ai reçu une lettre assez longue et très sereine.2 Enfin voilà ce que depuis longtemps certes j’ai tant souhaité. Pas besoin de te dire que de ces jours ci souvent j’ai pensé à vous autres et cela m’a beaucoup touché que Jo, la nuit avant, aie encore la bonté de m’ecrire.3 Comme elle est brave et calme dans son danger, cela m’a beaucoup touché. Eh bien cela contribue beaucoup à me faire oublier les derniers jours lorsque j’étais malade, alors je ne sais plus où j’en suis et ai la tête égarée.
J’ai été extremement surpris de l’article sur mes tableaux que tu m’as envoyé,4 pas besoin de te dire que j’espère continuer à penser que je ne peins pas comme cela mais j’y vois plutôt comment je devrais peindre. Car l’article est fort juste dans ce sens qu’il indique la lacune à remplir et je crois qu’au fond l’écrivain l’écrit plutot pour guider non seulement moi mais les autres impressionistes egalement et meme plutôt à faire la brèche au bon endroit. Il propose donc un moi collectif, ideal aux autres tout autant qu’à moi. il me dit simplement que ça et là il y a du bon, si tu veux, aussi dans mon travail si imparfait et là est le côté consolant que j’aprecie et duquel j’espère être reconnaissant. Seulement il doit être entendu que je n’aie pas bon dos asseza pour accomplir une affaire pareille et en concentrant sur moi l’article, pas besoin de te dire combien je me sens logé dans le flatteur et c’est à mon avis aussi exagéré que  1v:2 ce qu’un certain article d’Isaacson disait sur ton compte à toi, qu’à présent les artistes declinaient de se disputer et qu’un mouvement serieux se faisait silencieusement dans le petit magasin du Boulevard Montmartre.5 J’admets qu’il est difficile de dire, de s’exprimer autrement – de même qu’on ne saurait peindre comme on voit – et c’est donc pas pour critiquer la hardiesse d’Isaacson ou celle de l’autre critique mais en tant que quant à nous, tenez, nous posons un peu pour le modèle et ma foi c’est là un devoir et un travail comme un autre. Donc si à toi, si à moi il viendrait une reputation ou une autre, il s’agit de chercher à garder un certain calme et si possible présence d’esprit.– Pourquoi ne pas dire à plus forte raison ce qu’il dit de mes tournesols6 des magnifiques et si complètes Roses tremières de Quost et de ses iris jaunes,7 des splendides pivoines de Jeannin.–8 Et tu prévois comme moi qu’avoir les louanges doit avoir son verso, son revers de medaille. Mais volontiers je suis fort reconnaissant de l’article ou plutot “le coeur à l’aise” comme dans la chanson de la revue9 puisque on peut en avoir besoin comme on peut avoir vraiment besoin d’une médaille. Puis un article comme cela a son merite propre d’oeuvre d’art critique, comme quoi je le trouve à respecter et l’ecrivain doit monter les tons, synthetiser ses conclusions &c.
Mais dès le commencement faudra y songer de ne pas trop mettre ta jeune famille dans le milieu artistique. Le vieux Goupil10 a bien mené son menage dans les broussailles Parisiennes et je crois que tu penseras encore tres souvent à lui. Les choses ont tant changées, pour aujourd’hui sa hauteur froide serait choquante mais sa force  1v:3 de resister à tant de tempêtes, cela a pourtant été quelque chôse.
Gauguin proposait, très vaguement il est vrai, de fonder un atelier en son nom, lui, de Haan et moi, mais disait qu’il poursuit d’abord à outrance son projet du Tonkin et parait bien refroidi pour je ne sais pas au juste quel motif pour continuer à peindre.11 Et il est homme à filer au Tonkin, en effet, il a un certain besoin d’expansion et trouve mesquin – et il a un peu raison – la vie d’artiste. Avec ses experiences de plusieurs voyages, que lui dire. Donc j’espère qu’il sentira que toi et moi sommes en effet ses amis sans trop compter sur nous, ce que d’ailleurs il ne fait point. Il écrit avec beaucoup de reserve, plus grave que l’autre année. Je viens d’écrire un mot à Russell encore une fois pour lui rappeler un peu Gauguin car je sais que Russell est très sérieux et fort comme homme.–12 Et si je me remettais avec G. alors nous aurions besoin de Russell. Gauguin et Russell c’est des gens à fond rustique; sauvage non, mais avec une certaine douceur des champs lointains innée probablement bien davantage que toi ou moi, voilà comment je les trouve.
Il faut – il est vrai – parfois un peu y croire pour le voir. Si pour moi je voulais continuer à appelons le traduire certaines pages de Millet,13 alors pour eviter qu’on puisse, non pas me critiquer, va pour cela, mais gêner ou empêcher pretextant que c’est fabriquer des copies – alors il me faut dans les artistes des gens comme Russell ou Gauguin pour mener cette besogne à bonne fin, pour en faire chôse sérieuse. Pour faire les choses de Millet que tu envoyais par exemple et desquels je trouve le choix tout à fait cela – j’ai des scrupules de conscience et j’ai pris le tas de photographies et je l’ai envoyé  1r:4 sans hesiter à Russell pour que je ne les revoie pas sans reflexion faite.14 Je ne veux pas le faire avant d’avoir un peu entendu l’opinion d’abord de toi puis aussi de certaines autres sur celles que tu vas sous peu recevoir. Sans cela j’aurais des scrupules de conscience, une crainte que cela ne soit du plagiat. Et non pas à présent mais dans quelques mois je chercherai à avoir l’opinion franche précisement de Russell sur l’utilité de la chôse. En tout cas Russell éclate, il se fache, il dit quelque chose de vrai et c’est de cela que parfois j’ai besoin. Tu sais je trouvais à tel point eblouissant la vierge15 que je n’ai pas osé regarder. Tout de suite j’ai senti un – “pas encore”. Maintenant la maladie me rend fort sensitif et je ne me sens pour le moment pas capable de continuer ces “traductions” alors qu’il s’agirait de tels chefs d’oeuvres. Je fais halte-là au semeur qui est en train et ne vient pas comme cela serait désirable.16 Etant malade pourtant j’ai songé beaucoup à continuer ce travail-là et que lorsque je le fais je le fais avec calme, tu le verras bientot quand j’enverrai les cinq ou 6 toiles terminées.17 J’espère que M. Lauzet viendra, j’ai grande envie de faire sa connaissance. J’ai confiance en son opinion quand il dit que c’est la Provence,18 là il touche la difficulté et comme l’autre il indique plutôt une chôse à faire qu’une de faite.– Les paysages aux cyprès! ah ce serait pas commode.– Aurier le sent aussi quant il dit que meme le noir est une couleur et de leur aspect de flamme.19 Je le médite mais n’ose pas non plus et dis comme Isaäcson qui est prudent, je ne sens pas encore que nous en serions là.20 Il faut une certaine dose d’inspiration, de rayon d’en haut21 qui n’est pas à nous, pour faire les belles choses. Lorsque j’avais fait ces tournesols je cherchais le contraire et pourtant l’équivalent et je disais, c’est le cyprès.– Je m’arête là – je suis un peu inquiet d’une amie qui est toujours parait-il malade et où je desirerais aller, c’est celle dont j’ai fait le portrait en jaune et noir et elle etait tellement changée.22 C’est des crises nerveuses et complication de retour d’age prématuré, enfin fort penible. Elle ressemblait à un vieux grandpère la derniere fois. J’avais promis de revenir dans la quinzaine et ai été repris moi-même.
Enfin pour moi la bonne nouvelle que tu m’as appris et cet article et un tas de chôses font que je me sens tout à fait bien personellement aujourd’hui.

maintenant en pensée je reste avec vous autres tout en terminant ma lettre. Puisse Jo demeurer longtemps pour nous tous ce qu’elle est. Maintenant pour le petit, pourquoi donc ne l’appelez vous pas Theo en mémoire de notre père, à moi certes cela me ferait tant de plaisir. Poignée de main.

t. à t.
Vincent

Je regrette aussi que M. Salles ne t’ait pas trouvé. Je remercie encore une fois Wil de sa bonne lettre, j’aurais voulu y répondre aujourd’hui mais je le remets à quelques jours d’ici, dis lui que la mère m’a ecrit encore une longue lettre d’Amsterdam.23 Comme elle va être heureuse celle là aussi.

Si tu le vois, remercie provisoirement beaucoup M. Aurier de son article, je t’enverrai naturellement un mot pour lui et une etude.

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
Today I’ve just received your good news that you’re a father at last, that the most critical moment has passed for Jo, finally that the little one is well.1 It does me, too, more good and gives me more pleasure than I could express in words. Bravo – and how pleased Mother is going to be. I also received a quite long and very serene letter from her the day before yesterday.2 Finally what I’ve certainly hoped for so much for a long time has happened. No need to tell you that I’ve often thought of the two of you the past few days, and it touched me greatly that Jo still had the kindness to write to me the night before.3 How brave and calm she is in her danger, that touched me greatly. Well this contributes a great deal to making me forget these last few days when I was ill, then I no longer know where I am and my mind wanders.
I was extremely surprised by the article on my paintings that you sent me,4 no need to tell you that I hope to go on thinking that I don’t paint like that, but rather I do see from it how I ought to paint. For the article is quite right in the sense that it indicates the gap to be filled, and I think that basically the writer writes it rather to guide not only me but also the other Impressionists, and even rather to make the breach in the right place. So he proposes a collective self, as ideal for the others as it is to me. He tells me simply that there’s something good here and there, if you like, in my very imperfect work as well, and there’s the consolatory side which I appreciate and which I hope I’m grateful for. Only it must be understood that I don’t have a strong enough back to carry out a job like that, and by concentrating the article on me, no need to tell you how I feel mired in flattery, and in my opinion it’s as exaggerated as what  1v:2 a certain article by Isaäcson said on your account about you, that at present artists declined to argue, and that a serious movement was silently being created in the little shop on boulevard Montmartre.5 I admit that it’s difficult to say, to express oneself otherwise – just as one can’t paint as one sees – and it’s therefore not to criticize Isaäcson’s boldness or that of the other critic, but as regards us, well, we’re posing a little for the model, and my word, that’s a duty and a job like any other. So if you or I were to gain some reputation or other, it’s a matter of trying to retain a certain calm, and if possible presence of mind. Why not say, with more reason, what he says about my sunflowers6 about Quost’s magnificent and so-complete Hollyhocks and about his yellow irises,7 about Jeannin’s splendid peonies?8 And you, like me, foresee that being praised must have its other side, its reverse of the coin. But gladly I’m very grateful for the article, or rather ‘glad at heart’, as the revue song has it,9 since one can need it as one can truly need a medal. Then an article like that has its own merit as a critical work of art, as such I consider it worthy of respect, and the writer must use exalted tones, synthesize his conclusions &c.
But right from the start we must think of not putting your young family too much into the artistic environment. Old Goupil10 ran his household well in the Paris undergrowth, and I think that you’ll still think of him very often. Things have changed so much, for today his cold aloofness would be shocking, but his strength  1v:3 to weather so many storms, that though was something.
Gauguin proposed, very vaguely it’s true, founding a studio in his name, he, De Haan and I, but said that first he’s pursuing his Tonkin project vigorously, and he appears to have cooled about continuing to paint, I don’t know exactly why.11 And he’s the sort of man who would scarper to Tonkin, indeed, he has a certain need for expansion and finds the artist’s life – and to an extent he’s right – a mean one. With his experiences of several journeys, what can one say to him? So I hope that he’ll feel that you and I are indeed his friends without counting on us too much, which he doesn’t anyway. He writes with a lot of reserve, more serious than the other year. I’ve just written a line to Russell once again to remind him about Gauguin a little, for I know that Russell is very serious and strong as a man.12 And if I got back together with G., then we’d have need of Russell. Gauguin and Russell are people with a rustic background; wild no, but with a certain innate gentleness of the far-off fields, probably much more than you or I, that’s how I find them.
One must – it is true – believe in it a little from time to time in order to see it. If, for myself, I wanted to continue, let’s call it translating certain pages of Millet,13 then in order to prevent people, not criticizing me, I couldn’t care about that, but bothering or obstructing me under the pretext that I’m manufacturing copies – then among the artists I need people like Russell or Gauguin to carry this task to a successful conclusion, to make something serious of it. To do the things by Millet that you sent, for example, the choice of which I consider completely right – I have scruples of conscience, and I took the pile of photographs and I sent them  1r:4 unhesitatingly to Russell so that I shouldn’t see them again until I’d thought long and hard about it.14 I don’t want to do it before first having heard something of your opinion, then also that of certain others on those that you’ll soon receive. Without that I’d have scruples of conscience, a fear that it might be plagiarism. And not now, but in a few months, I’ll try to get Russell’s honest opinion about the usefulness of the thing. In any case, Russell has outbursts, he gets angry, he says something true, and that’s what I need sometimes. You know that I found the Virgin15 so dazzling that I didn’t dare look. Immediately I felt a – ‘not yet’. Now the illness makes me very sensitive, and for the moment I don’t feel capable of continuing these ‘translations’ when it would involve such masterpieces. I’m stopping with the sower, which is in progress and isn’t coming along as would be desirable.16 However, being ill, I thought a lot about continuing this work, and that when I do it I do it calmly, you’ll see it soon when I send the five or 6 finished canvases.17 I hope that Mr Lauzet will come, I very much want to make his acquaintance. I trust in his opinion when he says that it’s Provence,18 there he touches on the difficulty, and like the other fellow he points out a thing to be done rather than one done. The landscapes with the cypresses! Ah, that wouldn’t be easy. Aurier feels it too when he says that even black is a colour, and about their flame-like aspect.19 I’m thinking of it but I don’t dare do it either, and say like Isaäcson, who is cautious, that I don’t yet feel that we’ve reached that point.20 It requires a certain dose of inspiration, a ray from on high21 which doesn’t belong to us, to do beautiful things. When I’d done those sunflowers I was seeking the contrary and yet the equivalent, and I said, it’s the cypress. I’m stopping there – I’m a little anxious about a woman friend who is still ill, it seems, and to whom I’d like to go, she’s the one whose portrait I did in yellow and black, and she had changed so much.22 It’s nervous crises and the complications of a premature change of life, very difficult in short. She looked like an old grandfather last time. I had promised to come back in a fortnight and was taken ill again myself.
Anyway, for me the good news you’ve told me and that article and a heap of things mean that I’m personally feeling completely well today.

Now in thought I remain with you all as I finish my letter. May Jo long remain for us all that she is. Now as for the little one, why then don’t you call him Theo in memory of our father, that would certainly give me so much pleasure. Handshake.

Ever yours,
Vincent

I’m sorry too that Mr Salles didn’t find you. Thanks again to Wil for her kind letter, I’d have liked to reply to it today but I’ll put it back until a few days from now, tell her that Mother has written me another long letter from Amsterdam.23 How happy she’s going to be too.

If you see him, for the time being thank Mr Aurier very much for his article, naturally I’ll send you a line for him, and a study.
notes
1. On 31 January Theo had informed Vincent of the birth of his son, Vincent Willem (see letter 847).
2. Theo had also sent his mother a copy of Aurier’s article on Vincent, mentioned later on in the letter. In her letter of 3 February 1890, Mrs van Gogh told Willemien that she had written about it to Vincent: ‘What would Vincent say? After my letter, I wrote him a postcard after reading that article about his work’ (FR b3249).
3. This was letter 845.
4. For Aurier, ‘Les isolés: Vincent van Gogh’, see letter 845, n. 2.
a. Read: ‘je n’ai pas le dos assez solide’.
5. In ‘Parijsche brieven ii. Gevoelens over de Nederlandsche kunst op de Parijsche Wereld-tentoonstelling’ (Paris letters ii. Feelings about the Dutch art at the Paris World Exhibition) in De Portefeuille. Kunst- en Letterbode of 10 August 1889, Isaäcson remarked: ‘Argue? Here in France, no longer. To prove that, Mr Degas, for one ... recently had words with Mr Antonin Proust – the exhibition’s director of fine arts – because the latter wanted to exhibit some works of art by Mr Degas. And so it goes with the other artists here; they seldom exhibit except in a small room at the firm of Boussod Valadon in boulevard Montmartre and let the ordinary man-in-the-street gape at canvases by Bouguereau’ (p. 233). Isaäcson’s irony obviously escaped Van Gogh.
6. In his article (see n. 4 above), Aurier wrote the following about Van Gogh’s sunflowers: ‘And also this obsessional passion for the solar disc, which he loves to make shine in the blaze of his skies, and, at the same time, for that other sun, that vegetable star, the magnificent sunflower, which he paints over and over, without wearying, like a monomaniac; how are we to explain it if we refuse to acknowledge his persistent preoccupation with some vague and glorious heliomythic allegory?’ (Et aussi cette obsédante passion pour le disque solaire qu’il aime à faire rutiler dans l’embrasement de ses ciels et, en même temps, pour cet autre soleil, pour cet astre végétal, le somptueux tournesol, qu’il répète, sans se lasser, en monomane, comment l’expliquer si on refuse d’admettre sa persistante préoccupation de quelque vague et glorieuse allégorie héliomythique?) (p. 28).
Aurier must be referring primarily to Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 ) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 ), which were shown at the exhibition of Les Vingt in Brussels. He could also have seen the other three paintings of sunflowers at Theo’s or Tanguy’s; with regard to this, see letter 783, n. 9.
7. Quost made many paintings of hollyhocks, including Garden with hollyhock (see letter 891, n. 15). It is not known which work Van Gogh has in mind when referring to ‘yellow irises’.
8. Georges Jeannin painted several still lifes with peonies. It is not known which work or works Van Gogh is referring to here.
9. This alludes to the fourth line in the refrain of the political song ‘En revenant de la revue’ (Returning from the march-past) of 1886. The lyrics were written by Lucien Delormel and Léon Garnier, the music composed by Louis-César Desormes. The refrain of the Boulangist song is as follows:

Happy and gay
Triumphant we marched
On our way to Longchamp
Glad at heart.
Without hesitation
For we were going to celebrate
To see and to compliment
The Army of France.

(Gais et contents
Nous marchions triomphants
En allant à Longchamp
Le cœur à l’aise.
Sans hésiter
Car nous allions fêter
Voir et complimenter
L’armée française.)

See Collection les chansons. Ces années-là, 1850-1899. CD in the series ‘Histoire de France en chansons’.
10. Adolphe Goupil, founder of the firm of Goupil & Cie.
11. Gauguin wrote this in letter 844.
12. The letter to Russell is letter 849.
13. Van Gogh had painted copies of prints after Millet’s The labours of the field , The sower , The two diggers , The four times of the day , Winter: The plain of Chailly and The first steps . See letters 805, 815, 816 and 839.
14. Theo had sent another consignment of photographs of the work of Millet and others, some of which Vincent forwarded with letter 849 to Russell. From what follows, it appears that one of these works was a depiction of ‘the Virgin’. The prints made after Daumier’s The four ages of the drinker and Doré’s A prison yard in Newgate (both mentioned in letter 854) must also have been included (Van Gogh did not send these to Russell).
15. This was presumably a photograph of Delacroix’s painting The education of the Virgin , which Van Gogh mentions in letter 893. For the painting, see letter 781, n. 2.
16. This version of the sower is Sower (after Millet) (F 690 / JH 1837 ). See letter 816, n. 5.
17. Van Gogh had written earlier that he wanted to make a series of six canvases after Millet (see letter 839). These became Evening (after Millet) (F 647 /JH 1834 ), The end of the day (after Millet) (F 649 / JH 1835 ), Morning: going out to work (after Millet) (F 684 / JH 1880 ), Noon: rest (after Millet) (F 686 / JH 1881 ), Snow-covered field with a plough and harrow (after Millet) (F 632 / JH 1882 ) and The first steps (after Millet) (F 668 / JH 1883 ).
18. In letter 843 Theo had written that Lauzet thought Vincent’s paintings of Provence very beautiful and was planning to pay him a visit.
19. Van Gogh is referring to a line of a poem quoted by Aurier at the beginning of his article (see n. 4 above): ‘And everything, even the colour black, / Seemed furbished, bright, iridescent’. (Et tout, même la couleur noire, / Semblait fourbi, clair, irisé). Further on Aurier writes about ‘cypresses standing nightmarishly outlined in flames, which would be black’ (des cyprès dressant leurs cauchemardantes silhouettes de flammes, qui seraient noires) (p. 24).
20. Van Gogh is probably referring here to the passage from Isaäcson’s previously cited article (see n. 5 above) about several Dutch artists whom he numbered among ‘those who strive to render symbolically a picture of their vision’. About their work he writes: ‘It is lacking a certain ineffable something, there are not yet symbolical representations of natural forces, but rather a partly slavish imitation of nature’s forms blended with colour or tonal sentiments, which testify to sufficient artistry to make their work enjoyable. In representative art, one must symbolize that which the senses perceive inside or outside, and this holds true not only for the content but also for the form: the personal form; and that is exactly what is lacking in the work of the last-mentioned gentlemen’ (p. 233).
21. For ‘the ray from on high’, see letter 143, n. 5.
22. This friend is Madame Ginoux from Arles; Van Gogh had visited her on 18 or 19 January (see letter 841, n. 1). He had painted her portrait in November 1889 (see letter 717). There are two extant versions of it, but the one referred to here is the portrait in Theo’s possession: Marie Ginoux (‘The Arlésienne’) (F 489 / JH 1625 ).
23. Mrs van Gogh had gone to Amsterdam to visit Aunt Mina, her sister-in-law, who was ill (see letter 855).