My dear Russell
For ever so long I have been wanting to write to you — but then the work has so taken me up. We have harvest time here at present and I am always in the fields.
And when I sit down to write I am so abstracteda by recollections of what I have seen that I leave the letter. For instance at the present occasion I was writing to you and going to say something about Arles as it is — and as it was in the old days of Boccaccio.1
Well, instead of continuing the letter I began to draw on the very paper the head of a dirty little girl I saw this afternoon whilst I was painting a view of the river with a greenish yellow sky.2
This dirty ‘mudlark’3 I thought yet had a vague florentine sort of figure like the heads in the Monticelli pictures, and reasoning and drawing this wise I worked on the letter  1v:2 I was writing to you. I enclose the slip of scribbling, that you may judge of my abstractions and forgive my not writing before as such.
Do not however imagine I am painting old florentine scenery — no, I may dream of such — but I spend my time in painting and drawing landscapes or rather studies of colour. The actualb inhabitants of this country often remind me of the figures we see in Zola’s work.
And Manet would like them as they are and the city as it is.
Bernard is still in Brittany and I believe he’s working hard and doing well. Gauguin is in Brittany too but has again suffered of an attack of his liver complaint. I wished I were in the same place with him or he here with me.
My brother has an exhibition of 10 new pictures by Claude Monet, his latest works, for instance a landscape with red sun set and a group of dark firtrees by the seaside.  1v:3
The red sun casts an orange or blood red reflection on the blue green trees and the ground.4 I wished I could see them.
How is your house in Brittany getting on5 — and have you been working in the country?
I believe my brother has also another picture by Gauguin which is as I heard say very fine, two negro women talking. It is one of those he did at Martinique.6
Macknight told me he had seen a picture by Monticelli in Marseille, flower-piece.
Very soon I intend sending over some studies to Paris and then you can, if you like, choose one for our exchange.
I must hurry off this letter for I feel some more abstractions coming on and if I did not quickly fill up my paper I would again set to drawing and you would not have your letter.  1r:4
I heard Rodin had a beautiful head at the Salon.7
I have been to the seaside for a week and very likely am going thither again soon. Flat shore sands — fine figures there like Cimabue – straight, stylish.
Am working at a Sower.

The great field all violet, the sky and sun very yellow.8 It is a hard subject to treat.
Please remember me very kindly to Mrs Russell9 — and in thought I heartily shake hands.

Yours very truly,


Br. 1990: 629 | CL: 501a
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: John Peter Russell
Date: Arles, on or about Sunday, 17 June 1888.

a. Read: distracted.
1. Like several other medieval writers, Giovanni Boccaccio, who had spent time in Avignon in 1354 and 1365, wrote about the Roman tombs near Arles.
2. Van Gogh enclosed the sketch Head of a girl (F 1507a / JH 1466), which bears a close resemblance to the painting Head of a girl (F 535 / JH 1467). The view of the river he refers to is the painting The Trinquetaille bridge (F 426 / JH 1468 [2645]).
3. Mudlarks were the poorest of the poor, often children, reduced to scavenging in the Thames mud for anything – old bones, bits of coal, scraps of metal – that they might possibly be able to sell or barter for food.
b. Read: present-day.
4. This painting by Monet is Under the pine trees at the end of the day [1593]: see letter 615, n. 11. Theo sold the work to Paul Aubry for 2800 francs on 29 June 1888. See Wildenstein 1996, cat. no. 1191 and exhib. cat. Amsterdam 1999, p. 215.
6. Paul Gauguin, Negresses talking or Conversation (Tropics), 1887 (W251/W227) (Sale, Christie’s New York, 15 May 1985, lot 20). Ill. 108 [108]. The painting had been on consignment with Boussod, Valadon & Cie since April 1888; in La Revue Indépendante of May 1888 Félix Fénéon mentioned it in a summary of new work being exhibited by Theo van Gogh, adding: ‘A general exhibition of his work will show what a powerful and unique artist he is’ (Une exposition générale de son oeuvre montrera quel artiste puissant et isolé il est) (Fénéon 1970, vol. 1, p. 111). Despite this praise the painting was not sold until 18 June 1889, when Henri Lerolle bought it for 300 francs. See Wildenstein 2001, p. 341.
8. Sower with setting sun (F 422 / JH 1470 [2646]), after which Van Gogh made the letter sketch F - / JH 1471 of the same name. Van Gogh describes and sketches the painting at an earlier stage; soon after this he went back to it again (see letter 634).
9. Russell married an Italian model, Anna-Maria (Marianna) Antoinetta Mattiocco, in February 1888.