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857 To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 17 March 1890.

metadata
No. 857 (Brieven 1990 863, Complete Letters 628)
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Monday, 17 March 1890

Source status
Original manuscript

Location
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, inv. no. b677 V/1962

Date
This letter was previously dated to 24 April 1890, since Pickvance considered the letter a reply to Theo’s letter of 23 April 1890 (862). See exhib. cat. New York 1986, p. 292. This dating was adopted in De brieven1990.
Hulsker, however, argued for a dating of about 15 March 1890, because in his view Theo’s letter 858 of 19 March 1890 was a response to the present letter (see Hulsker 1993-1, p. 33). We have followed Hulsker, and can even add another argument to his: on 15 April Theo wrote to his mother and sister Willemien: ‘It is now more than a month since I received a letter from Vincent’s own hand’ (FR b928; see letter 862, n. 2). Moreover, on 29 April Vincent wrote ‘I haven’t been able to write to you until now’ (letter 863).
On the basis of the above, we think that this letter from Vincent was written shortly before Theo’s reply, i.e. on or about 17 March 1890.

original text
 1r:1
Mon cher Theo,
aujourd’hui j’ai voulu essayer de lire les lettres qui étaient venus pour moi, mais je n’avais pas encore assez de netteté pour pouvoir les comprendre.1
Pourtant j’essaye de te répondre de suite et ai espoir que cela se dissipera dans quelque jours d’ici. Surtout j’espère que tu vas bien et ta femme et ton enfant.
Ne te préoccupe pas de moi, alors même que cela durerait un peu plus longtemps, et ecris la même chôse à la maison et dis leur bien des chôses pour moi.
Bien le bonjour à Gauguin qui m’a écrit une lettre de laquelle je le remercie beaucoup,2 je m’embête raide mais faut chercher à patienter. Encore une fois bien des choses à Jo et à son petit et poignée de mains en pensée.

t. à t.
Vincent

 1v:2
je reprends encore cette lettre pour essayer d’ecrire, cela viendra peu à peu, c’est que j’ai eu la tête prise tellement – sans douleur il est vrai – mais totalement abruti.– Je dois te dire qu’il y en a – pour autant que je puisse en juger – d’autres qui ont cela comme moi; qui ayant travaillé durant une periode de leur vie sont pourtant reduits à l’impuissance. Entre quatre murs on n’apprend que difficilement quelque chose de bon, cela se comprend mais cependant est-il vrai qu’il y a des personnes qu’on ne peut pas non plus laisser en liberté comme s’ils n’avaient rien.– Et voilà je désespère presque ou tout à fait de moi. Peut-être, peut-être je guérirais en effet à la campagne pour un temps.
Le travail allait bien, la dernière toile des branches en fleur,3 tu verras c’était peutêtre ce que j’avais fait le plus patiemment et le mieux, peint avec calme et une sureté de touche plus grande. Et le lendemain fichu comme une brute. Difficile de comprendre des chôses comme cela mais hélas, c’est comme cela. J’ai grand désir de reprendre mon travail pourtant mais Gauguin écrit aussi que lui, qui est pourtant robuste, a aussi le desespoir de pouvoir continuer. Et n’est-il pas vrai que nous voyons souvent l’histoire des artistes comme cela. Mon pauvre frère prends donc les choses comme elles sont, ne t’affliges pas pour moi, cela m’encouragera et me soutiendra davantage que tu ne croies de savoir que tu gouvernes bien ton ménage. Alors après un temps d’épreuve, pour moi aussi peut-être il y reviendra des jours sereins. Mais en attendant je t’enverrai des toiles sous peu.
 1r:3
Russell aussi m’a écrit et je crois que c’est bien de lui avoir ecrit4 pour qu’il ne nous oublie pas tout à fait – de ton côté parles de temps en temps de lui pour qu’on sache que quoiqu’il travaille isolément5 il est un bien brave homme et je crois qu’il fera de bonnes choses comme autrefois on en voyait en Angleterre par exemple.– Il a mille fois raison de se barricader un peu.
Dites bien des choses aux Pissaro,6 tout à l’heure je vais lire plus tranquillement tes7 lettres. et demain ou après demain espère ecrire de nouveau.

translation
 1r:1
My dear Theo,
Today I wanted to try and read the letters that had come for me, but I wasn’t yet clear-headed enough to be able to understand them.1
However, I’m trying to answer you straightaway, and am hoping that it will lift within a few days from now. Above all I hope that you’re well, and your wife and your child.
Don’t worry about me, even if it should last a little longer, and write the same thing to those at home and give them my warm regards.
Warm regards to Gauguin, who wrote me a letter for which I thank him very much,2 I’m terribly bored but must try to be patient. Once again warm regards to Jo and to her little one, and handshake in thought.

Ever yours,
Vincent

 1v:2
I’m picking up this letter again to try and write, it will come little by little, it’s just that my mind has been so affected – without pain, it’s true – but totally stupefied. I must tell you that there are – as far as I can judge – others who have this like me; who having worked during a period of their life are reduced to powerlessness even so. One doesn’t easily learn anything good between four walls, that’s understandable, but nevertheless it’s true that there are also people who can no longer be left at liberty as if they had nothing wrong with them. And so I almost or entirely despair of myself. Perhaps, perhaps I would indeed get better in the country for a time.
Work was going well, the last canvas of the branches in blossom,3 you’ll see that it was perhaps the most patiently worked, best thing I had done, painted with calm and a greater sureness of touch. And the next day done for like a brute. Difficult to understand things like that, but alas, that’s how it is. I have a great desire to get back to my work, though, but Gauguin also writes that he, who is nevertheless robust, also despairs of being able to continue. And isn’t it true that we often see the story of artists like that. So, my poor brother, take things as they are, don’t grieve on my account, it will encourage me and support me more than you think to know that you’re running your household well. Then, after a time of trial, perhaps days of serenity will return for me too. But in the meantime I’ll send you some canvases soon.  1r:3
Russell also wrote to me, and I think it’s good to have written to him4 so that he doesn’t forget us completely – for your part speak of him from time to time so that people may know that although he works in isolation5 he’s a very good man, and I think he’ll do good things as one used to see in England, for example. He’s right a thousand times over to barricade himself in a little.
Give my regards to the Pissarros,6 later I’m going to read your7 letters more calmly, and hope to write again tomorrow or the day after.
notes
1. On 22 February Vincent had had another attack, as Peyron informed Theo in a letter written two days later: ‘He’s having another attack, which makes it impossible for him to write to you, and which he suffered after a visit to Arles. I notice that the attacks are coming more closely together and occur after every trip he makes outside the establishment. I do not believe that he indulges in any kind of excess when he has freedom of movement, since I have always seen him sober and reserved. But I am forced to acknowledge that every time he makes a little excursion, he becomes ill. ... I was obliged to send two men with a carriage to pick him up in Arles, and no one knows where he spent the night of Saturday to Sunday. He took with him a painting of an Arlésienne; it has not been found’ (Il a un nouvel acces qui ne lui permet pas de vous écrire, et qui lui est survenu après un voyage à Arles. Je remarque que les accès se rapprochent et surviennent après chaque déplacement qu’il fait en dehors de la maison. Je ne crois pas qu’il se livre à aucun excès lorsqu’il est libre de ses mouvements, car je l’ai toujours vu sobre et réservé. Mais je suis obligé de reconnaître que chaque fois qu’il fait une petite excursion, il devient malade ... J’ai été obligé d’envoyer deux hommes avec une voiture pour le prendre à Arles, et l’on ne sait pas où il a passé la nuit de samedi à dimanche. Il avait emporté avec lui un tableau représentant une Arlésienne; on ne l’a pas retrouvé). See FR b1062; Hulsker 1971, p. 43. Van Gogh had apparently taken along the portrait, one of the five he had painted on the basis of Gauguin’s drawing Madame Ginoux (study for ‘Night café, Arles’) , with the intention of giving it to Madame Ginoux.
Van Gogh did not recover from this latest attack until the end of April 1890 (see letter 863). On 14 March 1890 Theo wrote to Willemien: ‘No news from Vincent himself, but a letter from Dr Peyron to say that he was still unable to read or write, but that he hoped to get him on his feet again. Still, he says he shouldn’t conceal the fact that, now that the crisis has lasted so long, it will be more difficult for him to pull through’ (FR b927).
2. This letter from Gauguin is not known. What Van Gogh says further on in the letter about Gauguin’s doubts about painting (l. 45) might also refer to Gauguin’s letter 840 of about 17 January.
3. Almond blossom (F 671 / JH 1891 ).
4. Russell’s letter is not known. Van Gogh’s letter to him is letter 849.
5. Russell had been living since the spring of 1888 on the Breton island of Belle-Île.
6. Theo had undoubtedly told Vincent about his Pissarro exhibition. See letter 858, n. 9.
7. Van Gogh possibly wrote ‘les’ instead of ‘tes’.