My dear Theo,
I’ve just put the croquis of the new painting, the ‘Night café’, in the post — as well as another one that I did some time ago.1 I’ll perhaps end up making some Japanese prints.
Now yesterday I worked at furnishing the house.2 Just as the postman and his wife3 told me, the two beds, if you want something sturdy, will come to 150 francs each. I found that everything they’d told me about prices was true. As a result I had to change tack, and this is what I did: I bought one bed in walnut and another in deal, which will be mine, and which I’ll paint later.
Then I bought linen for one of the beds, and I bought two palliasses. If Gauguin or somebody else were to come, there you are, his bed will be made in a minute. From the start, I wanted to arrange the house not just for myself but in such a way as to be able to put somebody up.
Naturally, that ate up most of my money.
With what was left, I bought 12 chairs, a mirror, and some small indispensable things.4  1v:2 Which in short means that next week I’ll be able to go and live there.
For putting somebody up, there’ll be the prettiest room upstairs, which I’ll try to make as nice as possible, like a woman’s boudoir, really artistic. Then there’ll be my own bedroom, which I’d like to be exceedingly simple, but the furniture square and broad.5
The bed, the chairs, table, all in deal. Downstairs, the studio and another room, also a studio, but a kitchen at the same time.6
One of these days you’ll see a painting of the little house itself, in full sunshine or else with the window lit and the starry sky.7
Then you’ll be able to believe you own your country house here in Arles. Because I myself am enthusiastic about the idea of arranging it in such a way that you’ll like it, and that it’ll be a studio in a style absolutely meant to be that way.  1v:3
Let’s say that in a year you come to spend a holiday here and in Marseille, it will be ready then — and the way I envisage it, the house will be just full of paintings from top to bottom.
The room where you’ll stay then, or which will be Gauguin’s if Gauguin comes, will have a decoration of large yellow sunflowers on its white walls.8
Opening the window in the morning, you see the greenery in the gardens and the rising sun and the entrance of the town.9
But you’ll see these big paintings of bouquets of 12, 14 sunflowers10 stuffed into this tiny little boudoir with a pretty bed and everything else elegant. It won’t be commonplace.
And the studio — the red floor-tiles, the white walls and ceiling, the rustic chairs, the deal table, with, I hope, decoration of portraits. That will have character à la Daumier — and it won’t, I dare predict, be commonplace.  1r:4
Now I’m going to ask you to look for some Daumier lithographs for the studio, and some Japanese prints, but it’s not at all urgent, and only when you find duplicates of them.
And some Delacroixs too, ordinary lithographs by modern artists.
It’s not the least little bit urgent, but I have my idea. I really want to make of it — an artist’s house11 but not precious, on the contrary, nothing precious, but everything from the chair to the painting having character.
So for the beds I bought local beds, two wide double beds, instead of iron beds. It gives a look of solidity, durability, calm, and if it takes a bit more bed-linen, that’s too bad, but it must have character.
Most fortunately I have a charwoman who’s very loyal; without that I wouldn’t dare begin the business of living in my own place. She’s quite old and has a mixed bunch of kids, and she keeps my tiles nice and red and clean.12  2r:5
I wouldn’t be able to explain to you how pleased I am to find a big, serious job this way. Because I hope it’ll be a true decoration that I’m going to undertake there.
So, as I’ve already told you, I’m going to paint my own bed, there’ll be 3 subjects. Perhaps a naked woman, I haven’t decided, perhaps a cradle with a child; I don’t know, but I’ll take my time.
I now no longer feel any hesitation about staying here, because ideas for work are coming to me in abundance. I now plan to buy some article for the house every month. And with patience, the house will be worth something for the furniture and the decorations.
I must warn you that very shortly I’ll need a big order for colours for the autumn, which I believe is going to be absolutely marvellous. And on reflection, I’ll send you the order enclosed herewith.  2v:6
In my painting of the night café I’ve tried to express the idea that the café is a place where you can ruin yourself, go mad, commit crimes. Anyway, I tried with contrasts of delicate pink and blood-red and wine-red. Soft Louis XV and Veronese green contrasting with yellow greens and hard blue greens.
All of that in an ambience of a hellish furnace, in pale sulphur.
To express something of the power of the dark corners of a grog-shop.13
And yet with the appearance of Japanese gaiety and Tartarin’s good nature.14
But what would Mr Tersteeg say about this painting? He who, looking at a Sisley — Sisley, the most tactful and sensitive of the Impressionists — had already said: ‘I can’t stop myself thinking that the artist who painted that was a little tipsy’.15 Looking at my painting, then, he’d say that it’s a full-blown case of delirium tremens.
I find absolutely nothing to object to what you speak of, to exhibit sometime at the Revue Indépendante, as long as I’m not a cause of obstruction for the others who usually exhibit there.16  2v:7
Only we’d then have to tell them that I’d like to reserve a second exhibition for myself, after this first one of what are in fact studies.
Then next year I’d give them the decoration of the house to exhibit, when there would be an ensemble. Not that I insist, but it’s so that the studies shouldn’t be confused with compositions, and to say beforehand that the first exhibition would be one of studies.17
Because there’s still hardly more than the sower18 and the night café that are attempts at composed paintings.
As I write, the little peasant who looks like a caricature of our father is just coming into the café.
The resemblance is amazing, all the same. The receding profile and the weariness and the ill-defined mouth, especially. It continues to seem a pity to me that I haven’t been able to do him.19
I’m adding to this letter the order for colours, which isn’t exactly urgent.  2r:8 Only I’m so full of plans, and then the autumn promises so many superb subjects that I simply don’t know if I’m going to start 5 or 10 canvases.
It’ll be the same thing as in the spring, with the orchards in blossom, the subjects will be innumerable. If you gave père Tanguy the coarser paint, he’d probably do that well.20
His other fine colours are really inferior, especially for the blues.
I hope, when preparing the next consignment, to gain a little in quality.
I’m doing comparatively less, and coming back to it longer. I’ve kept back 50 francs for the week; thus there has already been 250 for the furniture. And I’ll recoup them anyway, doing it this way. And from today you can say to yourself that you have a sort of country house, unfortunately a bit far away. But it would cease to be very, very far if we had a permanent exhibition in Marseille. We’ll see that in a year, perhaps. Handshake and

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 680 | CL: 534
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, 9 September 1888

1. Vincent sent Theo the drawing The night café (F 1463 / JH 1576 [0]) after the painting The night café (F 463 / JH 1575 [2711]). Assuming that the remark about the Japanese prints also refers to the other drawing he sent, this could have been Fishing boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries (F 1429 / JH 1459). Like F 1463, this drawing, which dates from June 1888, was done in the Japanese style (‘coloured in flat tints’ as Van Gogh himself put it in letter 614).
[0] [2711]
2. At Vincent’s request Theo had sent him 300 francs to furnish the Yellow House; see letter 676.
a. Read: ‘paillasses’ (palliasses).
4. The symbolic number 12 may refer to the apostles – Van Gogh’s ideal was that artists should live together like monks – or to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which Van Gogh erroneously thought had twelve members (see letter 625). See for this purchase in relation to Van Gogh’s ‘Gemeinschaftsideal’: Kōdera 1990, pp. 59-64, esp. p. 61.
b. Read: ‘habiter’.
5. Van Gogh tried to furnish the rooms to match his ideas about the temperaments of Gauguin and himself. See Juleke van Lindert and Evert van Uitert, Een eigentijdse expressie: Vincent van Gogh en zijn portretten. Amsterdam 1990, pp. 51, 108-109, 114.
6. See letter 602, n. 3, for the layout of the Yellow House.
7. Van Gogh painted The Yellow House (‘The street’) (F 464 / JH 1589 [2721]) at the end of September.
8. Van Gogh had done four paintings of sunflowers in the last week of August: F 453 / JH 1559 [2701], F 459 / JH 1560 [2702], F 456 / JH 1561 [2703] and F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]. As we learn from the rest of the letter, he intended the last two no. 30 canvases for Gauguin’s room.
[2701] [2702] [2703] [2704]
9. The northern entrance to the town, the Porte de la Cavalerie, was on the far side of the public gardens on place Lamartine.
10. On the number of flowers, see Dorn 1999, pp. 49; Van Tilborgh and Hendriks 2001, p. 22.
12. Thérèse Balmoissière (see letter 638, n. 17). In 1888 Thérèse was 49 years old, had eight children and numerous grandchildren.
13. This sentence may contain two allusions to book titles: Tolstoy’s La puissance des ténèbres and Zola’s L’assommoir; there are also images in this passage that correspond with those in Zola’s book, such as the ‘hellish furnace’. In L’assommoir the home-brewed alcohol made by the landlord Colombe deals the final blow to the working people. Cf. Dorn 1990, pp. 137-139; for Tolstoy, see letter 604, n. 8.
15. Tersteeg’s comment probably related to one of the three landscapes Theo had bought from Sisley in 1887, which were still in Boussod, Valadon & Cie’s stock: The first days of autumn (D648), The abandoned house (D652) and Plateau at Roches-Courtaut. See Rewald 1986-1, pp. 16, 32, 97. Tersteeg had called in at the Paris branch in June 1888. The last of these works was also part of the batch of modern paintings that Theo had sent to the Hague branch of Goupil’s in March 1888. See letter 589, n. 4.
16. Félix Fénéon and Edouard Dujardin regularly staged small exhibitions in the offices of the monthly magazine La Revue Indépendante at 11 rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin. Anquetin, Seurat, Signac, Camille Pissarro and his son Lucien had exhibited there in 1887-1888; in 1888 there was work by Manet, Guillaumin, Luce, Dubois-Pillet and others. See exhib. cat. Paris 1986, p. 34 and Correspondance Gauguin 1984, p. 512. Although Vincent initially reacted positively to Theo’s suggestion that he should exhibit there, he changed his mind later (see letter 718).
17. The emphasis Van Gogh places here on presenting his work as ‘studies’, with an exhibition of ‘composed paintings’ a year later, may have been prompted by Kahn’s reaction to his still life Piles of French novels and roses in a glass (‘Romans parisiens’) (F 359 / JH 1332 [2556]), which had been shown at the Indépendants in the spring. Kahn’s comment was that it could hardly be called a fully-fledged painting; at most it was a study. See letter 594, n. 15, and cf. exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, p. 210.
18. Sower with setting sun (F 422 / JH 1470 [2646]).
19. Van Gogh wrote in letter 657 that he had tried to get this old peasant as a model.
20. Van Gogh had ordered ‘coarse paint’ from Tasset before; see letter 676.