My dear Theo,
Would you ask Tasset his opinion on the following question? It seems to me that the more finely a colour is ground, the more it is saturated by oil. Now we’re not over-fond of oil, that goes without saying.1
If we painted like Monsieur Gérôme and the other trompe-l’oeil photographic ones, we’d no doubt ask for colours ground very fine. We, on the contrary, don’t strongly object to the canvas having a rough look.
So if instead of having the colour ground on the stone for God knows how many hours, we grind it just long enough to make it workable, without bothering too much about the fineness of the grain, we’d have colours that were fresher, perhaps darkening less. If he wishes to do a test with the 3 chromes, Veronese, vermilion, orange lead, cobalt, ultramarine, I’m almost certain that at greatly reduced cost I would have colours that were both fresher and longer-lasting. At what price, then? I’m sure that could be done. Probably for the reds, for emerald, which are transparent, too.  1v:2
I add here an order that’s urgent.
I’m now on the fourth painting of sunflowers.
This fourth one is a bouquet of 14 flowers and is on a yellow background,2 like a still life of quinces and lemons that I did back then.3
Only as it’s much bigger,4 this one creates quite an unusual effect, and I believe that this time it’s painted with more simplicity than the quinces and lemons. Do you remember that one day at the Hôtel Drouot we saw a quite extraordinary Manet, some large pink peonies and their green leaves on a light background?5 As much in harmony and as much a flower as anything you like, and yet painted in solid, thick impasto and not like Jeannin.
That’s what I’d call simplicity of technique. And I must tell you that these days I’m making a great effort to find  1v:3 a way of using the brush without stippling or anything else, nothing but a varied brushstroke. But you’ll see, one day.
What a pity painting costs so much. This week I had fewer money worries than other weeks, so I let myself go. I’ll have spent the hundred-franc note in a single week, but at the end of this week I’ll have my four paintings6 and even if I add the price of all the colours that I’ve used up, the week won’t have been wasted. I got up very early every day, I dined and supped well, I was able to work assiduously without feeling myself weaken. But there you are, we live in times when there’s no market for what we do; not only do we not sell, as you see with Gauguin, we’d like to borrow against paintings done and we find nothing, even when the amounts are insignificant and the works substantial. And that’s how we fall prey to all the whims of fortune.
And I fear that it will scarcely change during our lifetime.  1r:4
As long as we were preparing the way for richer lives for the painters who will walk in our footsteps, that would already be something.
Life is short, though, and especially the number of years when one feels strong enough to brave everything. And in the end, there’s the fear that as soon as the new painting is appreciated, the painters will weaken. In any case, here’s what’s positive, we aren’t the ones who represent decadence today. Gauguin and Bernard are now talking about doing ‘children’s painting’. I prefer that to the painting of the decadents. How does it come about that people see something decadent in Impressionism? It’s actually quite the reverse. I enclose a line for Tasset. The difference in price should be quite considerable, and it goes without saying that I hope to use fewer and fewer finely ground colours. I shake your hand firmly. (One of the decorations of sunflowers on a royal blue background has a ‘halo’, that’s to say, each object is surrounded by a line of the colour complementary to the background against which it stands out).7 More soon.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 672 | CL: 527
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Thursday, 23 or Friday, 24 August 1888

1. Van Gogh was looking for matt effects; see for instance letter 583.
2. Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]). In this identification we are following Van Tilborgh and Hendriks 2001, pp. 21-22. Van Gogh added the small bloom at lower left later – this explains why he refers here to ‘14 flowers’.
3. Quinces, lemons, pears and grapes (F 383 / JH 1339 [2557]).
4. F 454 [2704] measures 93 x 73 cm; F 383 [2557] measures 48.5 x 65 cm.
[2704] [2557]
5. Edouard Manet, Vase of peonies on a pedestal, 1864 (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). Ill. 227 [227]. Vincent and Theo saw this work on 5 June 1886 during the sale of John Saulnier’s collection in the Hôtel Drouot in Paris, where it was listed as cat. no. 62, Vase of flowers by Paul [sic] Manet. See auct. cat. Paris 1886.
6. Besides the work referred to in n. 2, Van Gogh means the three paintings that he said he was working on in letter 666: Sunflowers in a vase (F 453 / JH 1559 [2701]), Sunflowers in a vase (F 459 / JH 1560 [2702]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 [2703]).
[2701] [2702] [2703]
7. The painting in question is Sunflowers in a vase (F 459 / JH 1560 [2702]). Van Gogh wrote ‘soleils’ (suns) rather than ‘tournesols’ (sunflowers); cf. for the association of sunflowers, sun and the south of France, and in connection with this choice of words: Dorn 1990, pp. 116-117.
Van Gogh may have got the concept of ‘haloing’ from Charles Blanc, who wrote in his Grammaire des arts du dessin: ‘Putting a particular colour on a canvas, said Mr Chevreul, doesn’t just tint everything that the brush touches with this colour, but also provides complementary colour to the surrounding area, so a red circle is surrounded by a slight green halo which becomes fainter as it spreads out; an orange circle is surrounded by a blue halo; a yellow circle is surrounded by a violet halo..... and vice versa.’ (Mettre une couleur sur une toile, dit M. Chevreul, ce n’est pas seulement teindre de cette couleur tout ce qu’a touché le pinceau, c’est encore colorer de la complémentaire l’espace environnant; ainsi un cercle rouge est entouré d’une légère auréole verte, qui va s’affaiblissant à mesure qu’elle s’éloigne; un cercle orangé est entouré d’une auréole bleue; un cercle jaune est entouré d’une auréole violette..... et réciproquement) (see Blanc 1870, p. 606).