My dear sister,
Thanks very much for your last two letters, the one dated from Paris and today’s.
What you write further about Jo’s confinement touches me, yes you were very brave and very kind to stay by her side. In circumstances where fright seizes us, I’d probably be more of a milksop than you.
But anyway, the result is that the child’s here – and as I wrote to his grandmother, I’ve started painting for him these last few days – a large sky-blue canvas against which branches covered in blossoms stand out.1 Possible that I may see him soon – I hope so at least – towards the end of March. I’m going to try to go to Arles once more tomorrow or the day after tomorrow to see if I can bear the journey and ordinary life without the attacks recurring.
Perhaps in my case I must strengthen my resolve not to want to have a feeble mind.
Naturally, through continual brain-work, the thoughts of an artist sometimes take on something of the exaggerated and eccentric. I found Mr Aurier’s article2 – leaving aside whether I deserve what he says of me – in itself very artistic, very curious – but it’s rather like this that I ought to be than the sad reality of what I feel myself to be.
I wrote to him that in any event it seemed to me that Monticelli and Gauguin were rather like that, that it therefore seemed to me that the share which was owing to me would be only secondary, very secondary.3 These ideas of which he speaks aren’t mine, for in general the Impressionist artists are all like this, under the same influence, and we’re all of us somewhat neurotic. This makes us very sensitive to colour and its particular language, its effects of complementaries, contrasts, harmony.
1v:2 But when I read the article it made me almost sad as I thought: should be like this and I feel so inferior. And pride intoxicates like drink, when one is praised and has drunk one becomes sad, or anyway I don’t know how to say how I feel it, but it seems to me that the best work one could do would be that carried out in the family home without self-praise. And then among artists, people’s friendly dispositions aren’t always enough. Either someone’s qualities are exaggerated or he’s over-neglected. However, I very much want to believe that basically Justice is in better health than it appears to be. One really must be able to laugh sometimes, and make merry a little or even a lot. I think you were lucky to see Degas at his home.
I have a portrait of an Arlésienne on the go in which I’m seeking an expression different from that of Parisian women.4
Ah Millet! Millet! How that fellow painted humanity and the ‘something on high’,5 familiar and yet solemn.
These days, to think that that fellow wept as he started painting,6 that Giotto, that Angelico painted on their knees,7 Delacroix so utterly sad and moved... almost smiling.8 Who are we Impressionists to act like them already? Soiled in the struggle for life... ‘who will give back to the soul that which the breath of revolutions has taken away’ – that’s the cry of a poet of the other generation who seemed to have a premonition of our present weaknesses, our sicknesses, our confusions.9 And I say it often, are we as brand new as the old Belgian, Henri Conscience? Ah, that’s why I was pleased with the success in Brussels,10 because of that Kempen of Antwerp11 that I still try to recall from time to time in the calm furrows of the fields
1v:3 while feeling myself become a most degenerate child. Thinking like this, but very far off, the desire comes over me to remake myself and try to have myself forgiven for the fact that my paintings are, however, almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower. You can see that I’m not yet reasoning well – it’s better to know how to calculate what a pound of bread and a quarter of coffee are worth, the way the peasants know. And here we are again. Millet set the example by living in a cottage, keeping in well with people without our lapses of pride and eccentricity.12 So rather a little wisdom than a lot of gusto. So, just like then.
I hope to write to you again soon – look after yourself, and Mother too.
In Paris I hope to do a few portraits, I’ve always had the belief that through portraits one learns to reflect. It isn’t what pleases art lovers the most, but a portrait is something almost useful and sometimes pleasant, like pieces of furniture one knows, they recall memories for a long time.
I kiss you affectionately in thought. If our other sisters would also like to have canvases13 you can ask Theo for others, and you could choose them according to your taste. Once again warm regards, and good handshake.
I don’t hate it at all that a few more canvases should go to Holland, as you know, if the opportunity arises.