My dear Theo,
So at last our uncle’s no longer suffering — I received the news from our sister this morning. It seems that they’re more or less expecting you for the funeral, and perhaps you’ll be there now, in fact.1
How short life is, and how like smoke.2 Which isn’t a reason to despise the living — on the contrary.
So we’re right to attach ourselves more to artists than to paintings.
I’m working hard for Russell. I thought I’d do a series of drawings after my painted studies for him;3 I have a conviction that he’ll look favourably on them, and that, I hope at least, will further prompt him to do a deal.
Macknight came to look again yesterday, and also found the portrait of a young girl4 good, and again said that he finds my garden5 good. I really don’t know if he has money or not.6  1v:2
Now I’m working with another model, a postman in a blue uniform with gold trimmings, a big, bearded face, very Socratic.7 A raging republican, like père Tanguy. A more interesting man than many people.
If we were to push Russell, perhaps he’d purchase the Gauguin that you bought,8 and if there was no other way of coming to Gauguin’s aid, what would have to be done?
When I write to him at the same time as I send the drawings, naturally it will be to get him to make up his mind.
I’ll say to him, look, you like our painting so much, but I believe that we’ll see even better by the artist; why don’t you act like us, who have faith in the whole man just as he is, and who find everything he does good. I then want to add, of course it would be all the same to us to let you have the large painting, if necessary, but as Gauguin will still very often be in need of money,  1v:3 in his interests should we not keep it until his prices have tripled or quadrupled — which will happen — we believe? If after that Russell wishes to make a clear, firm offer, well.... we could see... And in that case, Gauguin should say that he, even though he let you have it at that price as a friend, he himself absolutely does not wish for it to be given to another art lover at that price. Anyway — let’s finish the drawings; I have 8 of them and I’ll do 12, and let’s wait and see what he says.
I’m very curious to know if you were able to go to Holland, yes or no. For the moment I won’t write any more.
The change that I’m going to try to make in my paintings will be to do more figures.
In short, it’s the only thing in painting that moves me deeply and that gives me a sense of the infinite. More than the rest.  1r:4
On the 17th of this month, my friend the second lieutenant of Zouaves will go to Paris. He has offered to take charge of my consignment that I have to make to you, and I believe I’ll accept that; that way you’ll have them, and without costs, on the 18th.9
I’ll write to our sister today; they’ll all be feeling very sad.
Have you received Bernard’s croquis?10
As our sister says, from the moment that people are no longer there, we remember only their good moments and good qualities.
However, it’s above all a question of trying to see them while they’re still there. It would be so simple and would explain so well the horrors of life that now amaze us and distress us so if life had another, second hemisphere, invisible, it’s true, but where we arrive when we breathe our last. To those who are making this interesting and solemn journey, our best wishes and our best sympathies.
If you go to Holland, my warm regards to our mother and sister. Handshake.

Ever yours,

The week will be pretty hard, having to pay the rent and having a model.

I hope to make some of these croquis after the painted studies for you too; you’ll see that it has a certain Japanese look.11

I still have to thank you for yesterday’s 50-franc note, and reply to your letter.
You did well to send the colours and canvases, my supplies being exhausted across the board.12
As far as Bing’s concerned, as for being in a hurry: no. Only far from breaking off relations, we should take more on commission as soon as we can pay.
I saw a magnificent and very strange effect this evening. A very large boat laden with coal on the Rhône, moored at the quay. Seen from above it was all glistening and wet from a shower; the water was a white yellow and clouded pearl-grey, the sky lilac and an orange strip in the west, the town violet. On the boat, small workmen, blue and dirty white, were coming and going, carrying the cargo ashore. It was pure Hokusai. It was too late to do it, but one day, when this coal-boat comes back,  2v:6 it’ll have to be tackled.13
It’s in a railway yard that I saw this effect; it’s a place that I’ve just found and where there will be plenty of other things to do.14
Handshake, because if I want to write more to Holland I’ll have to hurry.
I’ll have difficulty getting all the way through this week.
But I hope to get started on the series of figures.


Br. 1990: 656 | CL: 516
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888

1. Uncle Vincent van Gogh died on 28 July 1888. Theo attended the funeral in Princenhage; see letter 656.
3. Van Gogh sent twelve drawings to Russell before about 3 August: see letter 654, n. 1. The batch was meant to dispose him favourably towards buying a work by Gauguin and consequently does not seem to be connected to the exchange proposed previously (letter 589).
4. Mousmé (F 431 / JH 1519 [2671]).
5. Van Gogh made two paintings of the garden: Garden with flowers (F 430 / JH 1510 [2668]) and Garden with flowers (F 429 / JH 1513 [2670]). He also said in letter 645 that Macknight liked these studies.
[2668] [2670]
6. Cf. for Macknight’s financial situation: letter 650, n. 21.
7. In a letter to Willemien van Gogh, Roulin described himself as ‘Entreposeur des Postes’ and gave his address as ‘Rue de la Montagne des Cordes 10’ (FR b710; Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 4, p. 164). According to Priou he was brigadier-chargeur at Arles station, responsible for loading and unloading sacks of mail. See Priou 1955, p. 27. The rue de la Montagne de Corde was to the north of place Lamartine.
Van Gogh said that Roulin resembled the philosopher Socrates on more than one occasion, undoubtedly because of his shaggy beard and Republican convictions. Cf. Head of Socrates (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 2209 [2209] (see letters 653, 654, 655 and 738). He appears to have based his view about Socrates’s legendary ugliness on Michelet’s ‘a veritable satyr’ (un vrai satyre) (see letter 368, n. 4).
Van Gogh painted two portraits of Roulin in late July and early August: Joseph Roulin (F 432 / JH 1522 [2672]) and Joseph Roulin (F 433 / JH 1524 [2673]). It emerges from letters 655 and 662 that he painted the bust first, and then the head; this is therefore the first work (the second is not mentioned until letter 654).
[2209] [2672] [2673]
8. See for Gauguin’s Among the mangoes [107]: letter 612, n. 1. Russell had expressed an interest in this work (see letter 647).
9. Milliet went on leave to Northern France (letter 659). On the way there he delivered Van Gogh’s second batch – 36 paintings – to Theo in Paris. He arrived on Friday, 17 August 1888 (letter 662).
10. See letter 649, n. 1-5, for these sketches by Bernard.
11. See letters 657 and 663 for this batch of drawings for Theo.
12. This is the ‘rather large’ paint and canvas order that Vincent had sent with letter 644. Theo must have sent a sample of canvas for Vincent’s opinion, as we learn from letter 654.
13. Van Gogh did actually carry out this plan some time later, although with sand barges rather than the coal boat. He split the subject he describes here into two, perhaps because he realized that a high vantage point and a sunset are very hard to reconcile in a single composition. In the drawing Quay with sand barges (F 1462 / JH 1556 [2699]) and the painting F 449 / JH 1558 [2700] of August 1888 he pictured the boats from a high viewpoint (see letter 660), with small figures and with no horizon, giving the scene a Japanese feel. In Sand barges (F 437 / JH 1570 [2708]) and Sand barges (F 438 / JH 1571 [2709]) he painted the effect of the sunset. We do not know exactly when the latter two studies were made; there may be a connection with letter 697, in which Van Gogh says he has painted a sunset.
[2699] [2700] [2708] [2709]
14. Van Gogh made the painting Railway carriages (F 446 / JH 1553 [2697]) and the drawing Railway storage yard (F 1495 / JH 1555) here in August.