My dear Theo,
I’m writing to tell you that I’ve seen Signac, which did me a lot of good.1 He was very nice and very straight and very simple when the difficulty arose of whether or not to force open the door closed by the police, who had demolished the lock. They began by not wanting to let us do it, and yet in the end we got in. As a keepsake I gave him a still life which had exasperated the good gendarmes of the town of Arles because it depicted two smoked herrings, which are called gendarmes, as you know.2 You know that I did this same still life two or three times before in Paris,3 and once exchanged it for a carpet back then. That’s enough to say what people meddle in and what idiots they are.
I find Signac very calm, whereas people say he’s so violent, he gives me the impression of someone who has his self-confidence and balance, that’s all. Rarely or never have I had a conversation with an Impressionist that was so free of disagreements or annoying shocks on either side.
For example, he went to see Jules Dupré and reveres him. No doubt you had a hand in his coming to boost my morale a little, and thank you for that. I took advantage of my trip out to buy a book, Ceux de la glèbe by Camille Lemonnier. I’ve devoured two chapters of it – it’s so serious, so profound.4 Wait for me to send it to you. This is the first time for several months that I’ve picked up a book. That tells me a lot and heals me a great deal.
In fact there are several canvases to send to you, as Signac was able to see – he wasn’t frightened by my painting, or so it seemed to me.  1v:2
Signac thought I was looking well, and it’s perfectly true.
On top of that, I have the desire and the taste for work. Of course, it’s still the case that if things were to be messed up for me in my work and in my life every day by gendarmes and venomous layabouts of municipal electors who petition against me to their mayor5 elected by them (and who is consequently keen on their votes) it would be only human on my part that I should succumb once more. Signac, I’m led to believe, will tell you something similar.
In my opinion we must squarely oppose the loss of the furniture &c.
Then – my word – I must have my freedom to practise my profession.
Mr Rey says that instead of eating enough and regularly I have been particularly sustaining myself with coffee and alcohol. I admit all that, but it will still be true that I had to key myself up a bit to reach the high yellow note I reached this summer. That, after all, the artist is a man at work, and that it’s not for the first passer-by who comes along to vanquish him once and for all.
Must I suffer imprisonment or the madhouse – why not? Didn’t Rochefort with Hugo, Quinet and others give an eternal example by suffering exile, and the first even the penal colony.6  1v:3
But all I want to say is that this is above the question of sickness and health.
Naturally one is beside oneself in parallel cases – I don’t say equivalent cases, as I have only a very inferior and secondary place – but I say parallel. And that was the first and last cause of my going out of my mind.
Do you know that expression by a Dutch poet

I am tied to the earth
With more than earthly bonds.7

That’s what I experienced in many moments of anguish – above all – in my so-called mental illness. Unfortunately I have a profession which I don’t know well enough to express myself as I would wish.
I’ll stop dead for fear of relapsing, and move on to something else.
Could you send me before you leave

3   tubes  blanc zinc white
1 tube same  size  cobalt
1 ,, ,, ,, ultramarine
4 ,, ,, ,, Veronese  green
1 ,, ,, ,, emerald ,,
1 ,, ,, ,, orange lead

This in case – probable if I find the means to take up my work again – that in a short while I can set to work again in the orchards.  1r:4
Ah, if only nothing had happened to mess things up for me!
Let’s think carefully before going somewhere else. You can see that in the south I have no more luck than in the north. It’s about the same everywhere. I’m thinking of squarely accepting my profession as a madman just like Degas took on the form of a notary.8 But there it is, I don’t feel I quite have the strength needed for such a role.
You speak to me of what you call ‘the real south’. Above is the reason why I’ll never go there. I rightly leave that to people more complete, more entire than myself. As for me, I’m good only for something intermediate and second-rate and insignificant.
However much intensity my feeling may have or my power of expression may acquire, at an age when the material passions are more burned out – never can I build an imposing edifice on such a mouldy, shattered past.
So I don’t really mind what happens to me – even staying here – I think that my fate will be balanced in the long term. Beware of sudden impulses – since you’re getting married, and I’m getting too old – it’s the only policy that can suit us.
More soon, I hope – write to me without much delay and believe me, after asking you to give my warm regards to Mother, Sister and your fiancée, your brother who loves you dearly,


I’ll send you Camille Lemonnier’s book quite soon.


Br. 1990: 756 | CL: 581
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Sunday, 24 March 1889

1. Signac gave the following account of his visit to Vincent in a letter he wrote to Theo on Sunday, 24 March 1889: ‘I found your brother in a perfect state of physical and mental health. We went out together yesterday afternoon and again this morning. He took me to see his paintings, of which many are very good and all of them very intriguing.
His kind doctor, the house physician Rey, believes that if he had a very methodical life, eating and drinking normally and at regular times, there would be every chance that his terrible crises would not be repeated. He is strongly disposed to keep him for as long as necessary. He thinks that the costs of this stay should fall to the municipality, since it is at the council’s request that he is being kept in the hospital. In any case, if he does not return to Paris, which would be preferable in Mr Rey’s opinion, he would have to move house, as his neighbours are hostile towards him. That is also the wish of your brother, who would like to be taken away as soon as possible from this hospital, where he must indeed be suffering – from this constant surveillance that must often be petty-minded. In short, I found him, I assure you, in the most perfect state of health and reason. He wishes for one thing only, to be able to work undisturbed. Therefore act so as to provide him with that happiness. How sad this life must be for him!’ (J’ai trouvé votre frère en parfait état de santé, physique et moral. Nous sommes sortis ensemble hier après midi et encore ce matin. Il m’a mené voir ses tableaux dont plusieurs sont fort bien et tous tres curieux.
Son gracieux docteur, l’interne Rey, croit que s’il avait une vie très methodique, mangeant et buvant normalement et à des heures régulières, il y aurait toutes les chances pour ne point se voir repetées ses terribles crises.
Il est très disposé à le garder le temps qu’il faudra. Il pense que les frais de ce séjour doivent incomber à la municipalité, puisque c’est sur la demande de l’administration qu’il est gardé a l’hospice. En tous cas s’il ne revient pas à Paris, ce qui serait préférable de l’avis de M. Rey, il faudrait qu’il déménageat; son voisinage lui étant hostile. C’est aussi le souhait de votre frère qui voudrait etre sorti le plus tot possible de cet hospice où en somme il doit souffrir – de cette continuelle surveillance qui souvent doit être mesquine_– En résumé, je l’ai trouvé, je vous l’affirme, dans l’état le plus parfait de santé et de raison. Il ne souhaite qu’une chose, pouvoir travailler tranquillement. Faites donc en sorte de lui assurer ce bonheur. Combien cette vie lui doit être triste!) (FR b640).
Signac later recalled: ‘He talked to me all day about painting, literature and socialism. He was a little tired by the evening. There was a terrible mistral blowing, which might have irritated him. He wanted to drink a litre of turpentine that was standing on the table in the room. It was time to return to the hospital.’ (Toute la journée il me parla peinture, littérature, socialisme. Le soir il était un peu fatigué. Il faisait un coup de mistral effroyable qui a pu l’énerver. Il voulut boire à même un litre d’essence de térébenthine qui se trouvait sur la table de la chambre. Il était temps de rentrer à l’hospice.) See Coquiot 1923, p. 194 (also included in Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 3, p. 417). Later on, paint became a threat to Van Gogh’s health; see letter 794, n. 1 and letters 835 and 838.
2. Signac received Still life with red herrings (F 510 / JH 1661 [2767]).
3. Two still lifes with smoked herrings are known from the Paris period: Still life with red herrings (F 203 / JH 1123 [2545]) and Still life with red herrings (F 283 / JH 1120 [2544]).
[2545] [2544]
4. Camille Lemonnier’s Ceux de la glèbe (1889) consists of seven stories. Although Van Gogh talks about the first two ‘chapters’, he no doubt meant the first two stories, ‘La Genèse’ (Genesis) and ‘La Glèbe’ (The glebe), which describe in a lyrical and realistic way the unrewarding and hopeless existence of poor peasants, with a strong emphasis on the arduous struggle between man and the earth. In both stories, cultivating a field that yields practically nothing leads to exhaustion that proves fatal, and the parallel between human and agrarian fertility is treated in detail.
5. The mayor of Arles was Jacques Tardieu.
a. Read: ‘derechef’.
6. Henri Rochefort was banished three times and, after the 1871 Commune, sentenced to hard labour. Victor Hugo lived in exile for 20 years on Jersey and Guernsey, because he opposed Napoleon iii. After the fall of the empire (1871), he returned to Paris. Under Napoleon iii, Edgar Quinet was forced to flee to Belgium during the coup of 2 December 1851 because of his extremely democratic ideas. He was banished to Switzerland in 1858 and returned to France in 1870.
7. Taken from the last verse of the poem ‘Stem des harten’ (Voice of the heart) by P.A. de Génestet:

God grants the fullness of His best blessings;
And sometimes gives poor mortal beings
Both life’s zest and heavenly rest,
Tying their hearts to the earth with more than earthly bonds.

[God] schenkt de volheid van zijn beste zegeningen;
En somtijds geeft Hij aan zijn arme stervelingen
Ook levenslust bij hemelrust,
En hecht hun hart aan de aard met meer dan aardsche banden.

See De Génestet 1869, vol. 1, p. 138.
8. Regarding Degas’s lifestyle, see letter 603, n. 7.
b. Read: ‘puisse acquérir’.