My dear sister,
So as not to let your letter go unanswered I’m writing immediately upon receipt of your letter and Ma’s and the good wishes from you both.1
You should know that I’d be very happy to write to you more often were it not that quite a lot of things contribute to my not being master of my time, and you mustn’t imagine that I do exactly what I want or leave what I’d rather not do. The work has me in its grip now, I think for all time, and although this isn’t unhappy, I nonetheless imagine happiness as something very different.
To begin with, it gave me an enormous amount of pleasure here that relations have begun between Theo and Mr Tersteeg in order to make the work of the painters from here whom they call Impressionists known in Holland too.2
For myself I have no regrets about having come here, since I find nature here almighty beautiful.
By next year — when the World Exhibition will be held3 — I have to make a mass of things, because my friends will certainly also not fail to have a great many interesting things on hand.  1v:2
Not that I or any of the painters with whom I’m more especially friendly will exhibit with the others, but an open exhibition will probably be staged alongside the official one at that time.4 Now here, for instance, at this moment, I have 6 paintings of blossoming fruit trees.5 And the one I brought home today would possibly appeal to you — it’s a dug-over patch of ground in an orchard, a wicker fence and two peach trees in full bloom, pink against a sparkling blue sky with white clouds and in sunshine.6 You may well see it, since I’ve decided to send this one to Jet Mauve. I’ve written on it

Souvenir de Mauve
Vincent & Theo7

Now I know very well that I could also have found such a subject elsewhere, but when I think that many painters will do the same I reckon it by no means immaterial to work in nature which, although it’s the same as at home in subject and fact, is undoubtedly much richer and more colourful.  1v:3
Furthermore, the people here are picturesque too, and whereas at home a beggar looks much like a spectre, here he becomes a caricature. Since, as you’ll see when you read Zola and Guy de Maupassant, people definitely want — in art — something very rich and something very cheerful — even though that same Zola and Maupassant have said the most heart-rending things that have perhaps ever been said — the same movement is also beginning to become the rule in painting. For example I can imagine that a painter of today might make something like one finds described in the book by Pierre Loti, Le mariage de Loti, where nature in Otaheite is described.8 A book that I can really recommend to you.
You understand that the countryside of the south can’t exactly be painted with the palette of Mauve, say, who belongs in the north and is and always will be the master of grey. But today’s palette is definitely colourful — sky blue, pink, orange, vermilion, brilliant yellow, bright green, bright wine red, violet.  1r:4
But by intensifying all the colours one again achieves calm and harmony. And something happens like with the Wagner music which, performed by a large orchestra, is no less intimate for that.9 Only people prefer sunny and colourful effects, and nothing stops me from thinking sometimes that later on many painters will go and work in tropical countries. You can get an idea of the change in painting if you think, say, of the colourful Japanese pictures that one sees everywhere, landscapes and figures. Theo and I have hundreds of these Japanese prints.10
You see I’m writing to you only about the work today, and I must close, and don’t know whether I’ll be able to write any more to add to it. Best wishes to you and Ma, and thanks for your letters.


For my part I must also wish you a happy birthday11 — since I’d like to give you something of my work that you’ll like I’ll set aside a little study of a book and a flower12 for you — in a large format with a whole mass of books with pink, yellow, green covers and fiery red — my painting Parisian novels was the same subject.13 Theo will bring this for you — I also have a study for Jet Mauve.14


Br. 1990: 593 | CL: W3
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willemien van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 30 March 1888

1. Willemien and Mrs van Gogh wrote to Vincent on the occasion of his thirty-fifth birthday on 30 March.
2. Theo had sent a consignment of modern paintings to Tersteeg; see letter 589, n. 4.
3. The World Exhibition was staged in Paris from 5 May to 5 November 1889. Van Gogh, like his artist friends, wanted to take advantage of the enormous influx of visitors and show work during this period.
4. During the 1889 World Exhibition, the Groupe impressionniste et synthétiste, of which Paul Gauguin was the leading light, mounted an exhibition in Café Volpini in the Champs-de-Mars (see letter 779, n. 13). We do not know whether the exhibition was already being planned at this time; according to Welsh-Ovcharov specific preparations did not start until early May 1889, but this does not necessarily mean that such an exhibition was not already being discussed. Cf. exhib. cat. Toronto 1981, pp. 41-42. The fifth exhibition of the Indépendants was also held in 1889, as a counterpart to the traditional Salon.
5. Besides the Pink peach trees (‘Souvenir de Mauve’) (F 394/ JH 1379 [2577]) described later in this letter, these six studies in any event included Orchard with apricot trees in blossom (F 556 / JH 1383 [2581]) and Orchard with apricot trees in blossom (F 553 / JH 1387 [2585]); see letter 589, n. 6. Peach tree in blossom (F 557 / JH 1397 [2592]) may also have been among these first studies of orchards. Van Gogh must have painted Orchard bordered by cypresses (F 554 / JH 1388 [2586]) and Peach tree in blossom (F 399 / JH 1398 [0]) later, as preliminary studies for F 513 / JH 1389 [2587] and F 551 / JH 1396 [2591], and the other extant orchards are not mentioned in the correspondence until later. Among the studies he refers to here there were probably works that he subsequently destroyed (see letter 606); in letter 591 to Theo he refers to ‘4 or 5’ studies plus F 394.
[2577] [2581] [2585] [2592] [2586] [0] [2587] [2591]
6. The work that Van Gogh earmarked for Mauve’s widow was Pink peach trees (‘Souvenir de Mauve’) (F 394/ JH 1379 [2577]); he sent it to Theo in May 1888 with his first batch of paintings. See letters 583 and 608. It emerges from letter 719 that Jet Mauve did receive the painting.
7. Van Gogh added the sentence ‘You may ... Theo’ later, after he had written the postscript. The words ‘& Theo’ cannot now be seen on the painting. Vincent probably removed them at Theo’s insistence, because it was done before the canvas was completely dry. See cat. Otterlo 2003, pp. 212-213.
8. The novel Le mariage de Loti (1880) by Pierre Loti contains idealized descriptions of nature in Tahiti and people’s way of life. The naval officer Harry Grant spends several years on the island, where he is called Loti (‘rose’). He falls in love with a young girl, Rarahu, and this makes him think that he is getting to know the true Tahiti. Otaheite is the original name for the island, however it does not occur anywhere in the book.
9. Richard Wagner composed large-scale, ambitious operas for big orchestras. Van Gogh had been to performances of Wagner in Paris. Theo wrote to Willemien about it: ‘And before Vincent left I went to a couple of Wagner concerts with him and we both enjoyed them very much’ (FR b915, 14 March 1888).
10. See for the brothers’ collection of Japanese prints: cat. Amsterdam 1991. Cf. also letter 587, n. 3.
11. Willemien turned 26 on 16 March.
12. Sprig of almond blossom in a glass with a book (F 393 / JH 1362 [2566]). Willemien did indeed have the work in her possession. See Account book 2002, p. 20 (n. 33).
13. Piles of French novels and roses in a glass (‘Romans parisiens’) (F 359 / JH 1332 [2556]).
14. Van Gogh wrote this passage before he inserted ll. 44-49; this explains the duplication of the reference to Pink peach trees (‘Souvenir de Mauve’) (F 394/ JH 1379 [2577]); cf. nn. 5 and 6.