My dear Theo,
I have to thank you for quite a few things, first of all your letter and the 50-franc note it contained, but then also for the consignment of colours and canvas that I’ve been to collect at the station (the geranium lake arrived too),1 and lastly for the Cassagne book2 and for La fin de Lucie Pellegrin.3 If Tasset divided up his packages better there’d be a difference in the cost of carriage; this time it came to 3 parcels, two of them weighing over 5 kilos. If a few tubes had been kept back, the whole thing would have cost about 5 francs. Anyway, I’m still very glad to have them.
Lucie Pellegrin is very beautiful, it’s straight from the life, and it’s still elegant, and it’s touching, because it keeps the broad human aspect. Why should it be forbidden to deal with these subjects?4 Unhealthy and over-excited sexual organs seek sensual pleasures, delights à la Da Vinci. Not I, on the other hand, who have hardly seen any but the sort of 2-franc women originally intended for the Zouaves. But people who have leisure for making love look for mystery of the Da Vincian sort. I understand that these loves won’t always be understood by everyone.  1v:2
But from the point of view of what is permitted, books could actually be written dealing with more serious deviations of unhealthy sex than the practices of Lesbians; just as it’s also permitted to write medical documents, surgical descriptions, on those matters.
Anyway, law and justice apart, a pretty woman is a living marvel, while a painting by Da Vinci or Correggio only exists on other accounts. Why am I so little an artist that I always regret that the statue, the painting, aren’t alive? Why do I understand the musician better, why do I see more clearly the raison d’être of his abstractions? At the first opportunity I’ll send you an engraving after a drawing by Rowlandson of two women, as beautiful as Fragonard or Goya.5
At the moment we have a very glorious, powerful heat here, with no wind, which suits me very well. Sunshine, a light which, for want of a better word I can only call yellow — pale sulphur yellow, pale lemon, gold. How beautiful yellow is! And how much better shall I see the north. Ah, I’m always wishing that the day will come when you’ll see and feel the sun of the south.
As far as studies go, I have two studies of thistles on a piece of waste ground, thistles white with the fine dust from the road.6
And a little study of a halting-place of fairground people, red and green caravans,7 and also a little study  1v:3 of carriages of the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranée,8 which last two studies have been approved as ‘in quite the modern key’ by the young follower of good old General Boulanger, the very brilliant second lieutenant of Zouaves.9
This gallant soldier has given up the art of drawing, into the mysteries of which I was making efforts to initiate him, but for a plausible reason, because unexpectedly he had to take an examination, for which I fear he was anything but prepared. Supposing that the above-mentioned young Frenchman always tells the truth, he’ll have astonished the examiners with the self-confidence of his answers, a confidence that he seems to have boosted by spending the night before the examination in a brothel. As I believe François Coppée says in a sonnet, on the subject of ‘my lieutenant on his way’, we may have ‘a doubt that fills us with despair’.
For, continues Coppée.... ‘I think of our defeat’.10 The fact remains that I have no reason to complain of him, and if it’s true that he’ll soon be a lieutenant, we should acknowledge his good fortune. He literally resembles the good old General from the point of view of having spent a great deal of time with the good so-called ladies of the café-concert.  1r:4
It’ll be enough that I’ll write to you, or he’ll send you a telegram to tell you by which train he’ll arrive on the 16 or the 17.11 He’ll give you the painted studies then, which will save us carriage charges. He owes me that much, anyway, for my lessons. He’ll do no more than spend one or two days in Paris on his way to the north, but on his return he’ll stay there longer.
It is indeed, after so much coldness, rather kind of our uncle to have left you a legacy,12 but it’s hard for me to get it into my head that he and C.M. haven’t condemned you a little to forced labour in perpetuity by refusing to provide for you by lending you the capital needed to set up on your own.13 That remains a serious error on their part. But I don’t labour the point. One more reason to try to do the most possible in art if we’ll always be in difficulties, relatively speaking, as far as money goes. Well, my dear brother, at that moment you were ready, for your part, to set yourself up; therefore you have every right to feel that you’ve done your duty, for your part. With their help, you had this business in the Impressionists, taken as a whole. Without their help, the business won’t be done, or will be done in a different way. You may not have earned anything, but you’ve deserved it, now if the Dutch are always mixing up these two such different questions, having only their word ‘verdienen’ in both cases, too bad for them!14
I’ll write another short line to Mourier, you’ll read it. And I shake your hand firmly.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 664 | CL: 522
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, on or about Sunday, 12 August 1888

1. See letter 654 for this shipment of paint from Tasset.
2. See letter 214, n. 2, for Cassagne’s Guide de l’alphabet du dessin. Vincent had asked Theo to buy the book in letter 630.
3. The novella La fin de Lucie Pellegrin by Paul Alexis was published in 1880; the author adapted it as a one-act play, which premiered on 15 June 1888 in the Théâtre Libre in Paris. This was probably why Theo sent it to Vincent. It is not possible to tell whether he sent the dramatized version or the novella.
In the stage version of La fin de Lucie Pellegrin, the terminally ill coquette Lucie is visited by her Parisian ‘friends’. The women find her asleep and sit gossiping in her room about Lucie’s past in the beau monde, the wealth she accumulated but then frittered away, and the affairs she had. When she wakes, the one thing she wants to do is to throw herself back into the high life again. Then Chochotte arrives. This is a woman with whom Lucie had a relationship, but who also squandered a lot of her money. They want to be reconciled, but the other friends drive her out of the house, leaving Lucie to die alone.
4. Van Gogh is referring to the theme of lesbian love in La fin de Lucie Pellegrin.
5. Thomas Rowlandson, La romance difficile (The difficult romance) published in L’Univers Illustré 31 (28 July 1888), p. 478. There is a copy in the estate (t*464). Ill. 1296 [1296].
6. One of these studies was Thistles (F 447 / JH 1550 [2696]). A similar composition with thistles in the foreground appears in a colour illustration by Frédéric Montenard, in Daudet’s Tartarin sur les Alpes (Calman Lévy, Paris 1885, p. 321). The caption of the illustration may also have inspired Van Gogh: ‘That lovely Tarascon road, all white and dry with dust’ (Cette belle route tarasconnaise, toute blanche et cracquante de poussière). See Guzzoni 2020, pp. 125-127.
The other study of thistles is not known. Doubt has been cast on the authenticity of Thistles (F 447a / JH 1551) (see cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 162-164, n. 5). In any event the flowering stage of the thistles in this painting indicates an earlier date than August.
7. Caravans with fairground travellers (F 445 / JH 1554 [2698]); this measures 45 x 51 cm.
8. Railway carriages (F 446 / JH 1553 [2697]); this measures 45 x 50 cm.
10. The lines of verse are taken, somewhat freely, from the poem ‘A un sous-lieutenant’ in the collection Le cahier rouge, which Van Gogh had previously quoted in its entirety: see letter 430.
11. This telegram is letter 661.
12. Uncle Vincent left Theo 1,000 guilders; Vincent, in contrast, was specifically cut out. See Testament 1977, pp. 36-37.
13. The refusal by Uncle Cor and Uncle Vincent to provide financial backing had happened in the summer of 1886; see letter 568, n. 2.
14. Van Gogh is referring here to the discussion he had had with Uncle Cor in 1882, which he had told Theo about. In defending himself against the charge that he should earn his own living, he made the same distinction then between ‘gagner’ (earn) and ‘mériter’ (deserve). See letter 211.