My dear Theo,
Many thanks for your letter and the 50-franc note it contained. I didn’t know that the article on Claude Monet was by the same hand as the one on Bismarck.1 It does you good to read things like that, more than the majority of articles by the Decadents, with their fondness for saying the most banal things in strangely convoluted ways.2
I’m really unhappy with what I’ve done these past few days, because it’s very ugly. And yet the figure interests me much more than landscape.
I’ll send you a drawing of the Zouave today all the same.3
To do studies of figures, to attempt them and to learn would still after all be the shortest route for me to do something of value.
Bernard’s in the same position. Today he sends me a croquis of a brothel4 that I’m sending you enclosed herewith to pin up next to the acrobats by him that you have.5
On the back of the drawing there’s a poem with very much the same tone as the drawing,6 it’s likely that he has a more finished painted study of it.7  1v:2
I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to make an exchange with me for the head of a Zouave, although that one’s very ugly.8 But as I wouldn’t wish to deprive him of saleable studies I wouldn’t suggest an exchange unless at the same time we could buy something from him for a small sum.
It’s still raining a lot here, which does a lot of damage to the wheat, which is still standing.
But luckily I had a model these past few days.
I’ll need a book, A B C D du dessin by A. Cassagne.9 I requested it at the bookshop here, and after waiting a fortnight they tell me they need the name of the publisher, which I don’t know. If you could send me it I’d be very pleased. The negligence, the lazy carelessness of people here is indescribable and one is really put out by the least things. That’s the reason I’ll have to go to Marseille one of these days, to be able to get what I need from over there.
The cost of carriage from Paris isn’t always pleasant, and makes things dearer, but there you are, to go to Marseille specially, that makes them even dearer. It quite often makes me feel sad that painting’s like a bad mistress one might have, who’s always spending, spending and it’s never enough,  1v:3 and to say to myself that even if there happens to be a passable study from time to time, it would be much less expensive to buy them from others.
The rest, the hope of doing better, is also a bit of a fata Morgana.
Well, there’s not much remedy for all that, unless some day or other one could enter into an association with a good worker and produce more together.
As for the publisher of Cassagne’s book — you probably have his treatise on perspective, and the address should be in it.
Besides, they have these books at Latouche’s, and in rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, at the place of that man who always has works by Allongé.10
It’s very good that Claude Monet found a way of making these ten pictures between February and May.
To work quickly isn’t to work less seriously, it depends on the confidence and experience one has.
In the same way, Jules Gérard the lion-hunter says in his book that at the beginning young lions have a lot of trouble killing a horse or an ox, but old lions kill with a single well-judged strike from a claw or a tooth, and have an amazing sureness for that job.11  1r:4
I don’t find the southern gaiety here that Daudet talks about so much,12 on the contrary, an insipid affectation, a sordid carelessness, but that doesn’t mean that the region isn’t beautiful.
All the same, nature here must be very different from Bordighera, Hyères, Genoa, Antibes, where there’s less mistral, where the mountains give a quite different character.13
Here — except for a more intense colour, it reminds one of Holland, it’s all flat — only one thinks more of the Holland of Ruisdael and Hobbema and Ostade rather than the Holland of today.
What amazes me is how few flowers there are, so no cornflowers in the wheatfields, seldom any poppies.
What was the cost of the carriage for the crate of pictures recently? The impastos on some canvases are dry on the surface but not enough to roll them up; if it wasn’t for that I’d send them.
Macknight has a friend with him now,14 I never see any of his work, yesterday I showed him and his friend four or five new studies, which they looked at in icy silence. I think for their part they’re preparing a big surprise, which I hope will be a good one. Because it would please me greatly to see that they’d found a direction. Handshake to you and to Mourier if, that is, he hasn’t yet moved into the studio like Gérôme’s.15

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 634 | CL: 502
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Saturday, 23 June 1888

1. Gustave Geffroy, ‘Bismarck’ appeared in Le Figaro, Supplément Littéraire (18 February 1888), pp. 25-26. Geffroy writes about Prince Otto von Bismarck-Schönhausen as a political figure and recounts some anecdotes from his biography. See for Geffroy’s article ‘Dix tableaux de Claude Monet’ in La Justice 9 (17 June 1888): letter 629, n. 1.
2. An allusion to the often high-flown style in the Symbolist manifestos.
3. Seated Zouave (F 1443 / JH 1485 [2654]).
4. Emile Bernard, Brothel scene, with the dedication ‘à mon ami Vincent ce croquis bête’ (to my friend Vincent, this silly sketch), 1888 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 2322 [2322].
5. Emile Bernard, The acrobats, 1887 (Montevideo, Uruguay, Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes). Ill. 2323 [2323]. The painting is dedicated to Vincent, but went back to Bernard later. See Luthi 1982, p. 14, cat. no. 65.
6. On the back of the drawing Bernard wrote (accents added by us):

It’s in a faraway corner,
A dark tavern saddened
By the feeble light of a closed shutter.

The landlady’s a specialist
And sells, as in a quite open trade,
Both drink and flesh...

With a look that displays
All of a heart’s wretchedness,
Each woman, as if at market,

Meat dressed with a flower,
Decked out in silk and gold,
Sells her poor resigned soul.

Society, behold your crime.
Man, cast a lenient glance
Upon the whore, this victim.

Woman, who knows full well that everything is a lie,
Longing for nothing now,
Not even the end of life,

Who sees only a great emptiness
Round all her being and her soul,
Love’s sad victim!

– Society, you are wicked
When, for your own Desire, you force
Children under Pleasure’s yoke.

19 June 1888.

C’est dans un coin très retiré
Un cabaret sombre qu’attriste
Le jour bas d’un volet tiré.

La marchande est specialiste
Et vend comme en un débit clair
De la boisson et de la chair...

Avec un regard où s’étale
Toute la misère d’un coeur
Chaque femme comme à la halle

La viande qu’habille une fleur
Dans la soie et l’or bien peignée
Vend sa pauvre âme résignée

Société voici ton crime.
Homme jette un regard clément
Sur la putain, cette victime.

Femme qui sait bien que tout ment
A qui plus rien ne fait envie
Pas même la fin de la vie,

Qui ne voit qu’un grand vide autour
De tout son être et de son âme
Triste victime de l’amour!

– Société tu es infâme
Quand tu courbes pour ton Désir
Des enfants au joug du Plaisir.
19 Juin 1888.

Although Van Gogh talks about ‘sonnets’, strictly speaking this is not what they are. Cf. exhib. cat. New Brunswick 1988, p. 23.
7. There is no known painted version of Bernard’s Brothel scene [2322].
8. It emerges from letter 633 that Van Gogh wanted to exchange the painting Zouave (F 423 / JH 1486 [2655]) with Bernard. Eventually he sent the watercolour Zouave (F 1482 / JH 1487 [2656]) with the dedication ‘A mon cher copain Bernard. Vincent’. A letter from Bernard to his parents tells us that Van Gogh sent this drawing in mid-July: see letter 641.
[2655] [2656]
9. See for Cassagne’s Guide de l’alphabet du dessin: letter 214, n. 2. It was published by Ch. Fouraut et fils, éditeurs, at 47 rue Saint-André des Arts in Paris. Van Gogh needed the book for the drawing lessons he was giving the Zouave Lieutenant Milliet (see letter 628).
a. Read: ‘Les frais de port de Paris’.
b. Read: ‘et cela me chagrine de me dire’.
Madame Latouche had a ‘magasin de couleurs fines et tableaux modernes’ (shop selling fine colours and modern paintings) at 34 rue Lafayette. She had run the business alone since the death of her husband, the painter Louis Latouche, in 1884. She did framing and lining and exhibited the work of the Impressionists in her shop window. Her business was taken over by Contet in 1886. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 332 (n. 24) and Distel 1989, pp. 33-34. Gauguin had paintings lined there (see letter 776, n. 30). The plaster cast of a Dante mask from Van Gogh’s collection (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum) has a Latouche label on it. See cat. Amsterdam 2011.
There were several art shops in rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, but since Van Gogh refers to a colourman in this context in letter 657, ‘that man who always has works by [Auguste] Allongé’ is probably Léon Berville, 25 rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. In the address books Berville is the only paint merchant in rue de la Chaussée d’Antin; he is moreover listed in 1886 and 1887 as ‘marchand de tableaux’ (dealer in pictures) (Almanach du commerce de Paris 1886-1888). We learn from an advertisement on the back of the catalogue Musée national du Luxembourg. Peintures, sculptures et dessins de l’école moderne of 1886 that Berville sold ‘all the supplies’ for, among other things, ‘Le Dessin Académique et d’Architecture’ (academic and architectural drawing). There are two drawings from Van Gogh’s Paris period on paper with watermark ‘L. Berville’. See cat. Amsterdam 2001, p. 204.
11. Jules Gérard writes in La chasse au lion (1855): ‘Aged between eight months and a year old, the lion cubs start to attack the flocks of sheep or herds of goats which come to the area surrounding where they live during the day. Sometimes they take on cattle but are still so unskilful that for every one they kill, ten are injured and the father has to intervene. It is only when they reach two that the young lions can kill a horse, a bullock, a camel with a single snap of the jaws to the throat and leap over the two metre high hedges which are supposed to protect the doyars’ (De huit mois à un an, les lionceaux commencent à attaquer les troupeaux de moutons ou de chèvres qui, pendant le jour, viennent dans le voisinage de leur demeure. Quelquefois ils s’en prennent aux boeufs; mais ils sont encore si maladroits, qu’il y a souvent dix blessés pour un mort, et que le père est obligé d’intervenir. Ce n’est qu’à deux ans que les jeunes lions savent étrangler un cheval, un boeuf, un chameau, d’un seul coup de gueule à la gorge, et franchir les haies de deux mètres de haut qui sont réputées protéger les douars) (Paris 1855, p. 31).
13. Bordighera is on the coast of Liguria (northwestern Italy). Hyères is the most southerly town in Provence, 18 km to the east of Toulon; Antibes is on the Côte d’Azur, 20 km south-west of Nice. Monet had painted in both Bordighera and Antibes.
15. See for ‘the studio like Gérôme’s’: letter 625, n. 21.