My dear Theo
I’ve just sent you by post a roll containing 5 large pen drawings.1 You have a 6th of this Montmajour series. A group of very dark pines and the town of Arles in the background.2 Later I hope to add a general view of the ruin (you have a hasty croquis of it among the small drawings).3 Being unable, at this moment when we’re embarking on the partnership with Gauguin, to be of use on the money side, I’ve done all I could to show through work that I take the matter to heart.
As I see it, the two views of the Crau and the countryside along the banks of the Rhône are the best I’ve done with my pen.4 Should Thomas by chance want them?5 He can’t have them for less than 100 francs each. Even if I had to give him the three others as a gift in that case, as we’re in urgent need of money. But we can’t give them for less, that’s what it costs. And not everyone would have the patience to let themselves be eaten up by the mosquitoes, and to struggle against this infuriating nuisance of the constant mistral, not to mention that I’ve spent whole days out of doors with a bit of bread and some milk, it being too far to be going back to town all the time.
I’ve already told you more than once how much the Camargue and the Crau — apart from a difference in colour and the clearness of the atmosphere — make me think of the old Holland of Ruisdael’s day. It seems to me that these two sites in the flat countryside, covered with vines and stubble fields, seen from above, will give you an idea of it.  1v:2
I assure you that I’m tired out by these drawings; I’ve started a painting too — but no means of doing it with the mistral, absolutely impossible.6
Now about this canvas — I’ve compared Tasset’s new canvas at 4.50 francs with the price for the same quality from Bourgeois — (it’s in his catalogue that I tracked down the price of ordinary canvas, 40 francs per 20 square metres). Ah, well, once again Tasset hasn’t charged any more; it was exactly the same price.7 Follows from that that we also ought to be able to have ordinary canvas at 2 francs per square metre at Tasset’s, and in future we’ll do well to take that, which is certainly good enough for studies.
Please write me a short line straightaway, to know if the drawings have arrived in good condition; they gave me a piece of their mind again at the post office because it was too big, and I’m afraid they’ll perhaps make problems in Paris. All the same, they took them, which pleased me, because after the 14 July holiday8 you’ll perhaps not be unhappy about refreshing your eye on the expanses of this Crau. The appeal that these vast landscapes have for me is very intense. And so I’ve felt no annoyances  1v:3 in spite of some essentially annoying circumstances, the mistral and the mosquitoes. If a view makes one forget those little vexations, there must be something in it.
However, you see there’s no effect, at first sight it’s a map, a strategic plan as far as workmanship goes. Besides, I also went for a walk there with a painter, who said: now there’s something that would be bothersome to paint.9 But it must be 50 times that I’ve been to Montmajour to look at this flat view — am I wrong?
I also went for a walk there with someone who was not a painter, and as I said to him: look, to me that’s as beautiful and infinite as the sea, he replied — and he knows it, the sea — I like that better than the sea because it’s just as infinite and yet you feel it’s inhabited.10
How I’d make a painting of it if there wasn’t this bloody wind! That’s the thing that’s annoying here when you plant your easel somewhere. And it’s definitely for that reason that the painted studies aren’t as finished as the drawings. The canvas shakes all the time.
For drawing it doesn’t bother me.  1r:4
Have you read Madame Chrysanthème? It really gave me a lot to think about, that the real Japanese have nothing on their walls. The description of the cloister or pagoda where there’s nothing (the drawings, the curiosities, are hidden in drawers). Ah, so that’s how you have to look at a japonaiserie — in a nice bright room, completely bare, open to the landscape.11 Would you like to try it out with these two drawings of the Crau and the banks of the Rhône which don’t look japanese and which are perhaps more so than others, in fact? Look at them in a nice bright café where there’s nothing else in the way of paintings — or out of doors. There should perhaps be a reed frame like a thin strip of wood. Myself, I work here in a bare interior, 4 white walls and red tiles on the floor. If I insist on your looking at these two drawings this way it’s because I would like so much to give you a true idea of the simplicity of nature in these parts. Lastly — because of Gauguin, what if we were to show the drawings, the harvest and the Zouave as well,12 to Thomas?
Handshake, and thank you for the 12 tubes of zinc white that Tasset has just sent.13

Ever yours,

I’m curious to know if Mourier will remember the places.


Br. 1990: 643 | CL: 509
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Friday, 13 July 1888

1. The rock of Montmajour with pine trees (F 1447 / JH 1503 [2665]) and Trees, Montmajour (F - / JH add. 3 [2324]), see letter 637; Hill with the ruins of Montmajour Abbey (F 1446 / JH 1504 [2666]), see letter 638; La Crau seen from Montmajour (F 1420 / JH 1501 [2147]) and Landscape near Montmajour with a train (F 1424 / JH 1502 [2148]).
[2665] [2324] [2666] [2147] [2148]
2. View of Arles from a hill (F 1452 / JH 1437 [2618]); see letters 617 and 618.
3. This general view of the ruin was meant to complete the set of six drawings (see letter 637), but Van Gogh never got round to doing it. The drawing Theo already had was The ruins of Montmajour (F 1417 / JH 1434 [2615]); see letter 613.
4. La Crau seen from Montmajour (F 1420 / JH 1501 [2147]) and Landscape near Montmajour with a train (F 1424 / JH 1502 [2148]). Ill. 2147 [2147]- 2148 [2148].
[2147] [2148] [2147] [2148]
5. Van Gogh hoped that Thomas, who had some of his paintings in his shop (see letter 718), would give him an advance on his saleable work and repeatedly urged Theo to approach him. However, his efforts were fruitless.
6. The painting Sunset at Montmajour (F - / JH - [3106]), which he had done two weeks earlier on Montmajour (see letter 636).
7. For the paint supplier Bourgeois see letter 366, n. 9. Van Gogh also compared the prices charged by the different firms in letters 635 and 631.
8. 14 July is the French national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille (14 July 1789), the start of the French Revolution.
9. This was probably Mourier-Petersen; at any rate it appears from the postscript that he knew the places around Arles depicted in the drawings.
10. It can be inferred from letters 638 and 641 that Van Gogh meant the Zouave lieutenant Milliet, with whom he had spent a day on Montmajour. Milliet had been in Tonkin (see letter 623) and was thus familiar with the sea.
11. See for Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème: letter 628, n. 20. It contains the following passage about houses with bare interiors and the view over the countryside: ‘What is immediately striking in Japanese interiors is the meticulous cleanliness and the icy-white starkness. I am taken up to the first floor on immaculate matting, without a crease, without pattern, without a mark, to a large room containing nothing, absolutely nothing. The paper walls are made out of sliding frames which can roll behind one another or disappear if required – and one whole side of the apartment opens up into a veranda looking out over the green countryside and the grey sky’ (Ce qui frappe dès l’abord, dans ces intérieurs japonais, c’est la propreté minutieuse, et la nudité blanche, glaciale. Sur des nattes irréprochables, sans un pli, sans un dessin, sans une souillure, on me fait monter au première étage, dans une grande pièce où il n’y a rien, absolument rien. Les murs en papier sont composés de châssis à coulisse, pouvant rentrer les uns dans les autres, au besoin disparaître, – et tout un côté de l’appartement s’ouvre en véranda sur la campagne verte, sur le ciel gris) (see Loti 1990, chapter 3, p. 60).
‘The description of the cloister or pagoda where there’s nothing’ refers to chapter 40, where it says that the monks’ cells are completely empty, with just a few unframed sketches on the walls: ‘nothing else, no seats, no cushions, no furniture. It is the ultimate in desired simplicity, in elegance crafted from nothing’ (rien de plus; pas de sièges, pas de coussins, pas de meubles. C’est le comble de la simplicité cherchée, de l’élégance faite avec du néant) (Loti 1990, pp. 172-173).
Van Gogh’s fascination with the Japanese approach to art derives from the following passage: ‘For he who has a few notions of Japanese style, my mother-in-law’s interior will reveal to him alone a refined person; total starkness, just two or three little screens placed here and there – a teapot, a vase containing lotus flowers, nothing else ... There are little hiding places everywhere, small niches and cupboards, ingeniously and unexpectedly hidden behind the immaculate uniformity of white paper panels ... In France, we have objets d’art to enjoy them; here they shut them away, neatly labelled in a sort of mysterious, underground apartment, with iron gratings, which is called a godoun’ (Pour qui a quelques notions de japonerie, l’intérieur de ma belle-mère révèle à lui seul une personne raffinée: nudité complète; à peine deux ou trois petits paravents posés çà et là, – une théière, un vase où trempent des lotus; rien de plus ... Il y a partout des petites cachettes, des petites niches, des petits placards, dissimulés de la manière la plus ingénieuse et la plus inattendue sous l’uniformité immaculée des panneaux de papier blanc ... En France, on a des objets d’art pour en jouir; ici, pour les enfermer, bien étiquetés, dans une sorte d’appartement mystérieux, souterrain, grillé en fer, qu’on appelle godoun) (Loti 1990, chapter 35, p. 157).
12. The harvest (F 1483 / JH 1439 [2620]) and Seated Zouave (F 1443 / JH 1485 [2654]). See letters 625 and 630.
[2620] [2654]
13. In letter 636 Van Gogh commented that Tasset had not sent enough zinc white in the previous batch.