My dear Theo,
On the occasion of the first of May I wish you not too bad a year, and above all good health.1
How I’d like to be able to pass on some physical strength to you, I have a feeling of having too much of it at the moment. Which doesn’t prevent my mind from not yet being at all what it ought to be.
How right Delacroix was, who lived on bread and wine alone, and who succeeded in finding a way of life in harmony with his profession.2 But the inevitable question of money always remains – Delacroix had a private income. Corot too.
And Millet – Millet was a peasant and the son of a peasant.3 You’ll perhaps read with some interest the article I’m cutting out of a Marseille newspaper, because in it one glimpses Monticelli, and I find the description of the painting of a corner of the cemetery extremely interesting.4 But alas, it’s another still-lamentable story.
How sad it is to think that a painter who succeeds, even half succeeds, in his turn pulls along half a dozen artists who are even greater failures than himself.
However, think of Pangloss,5 think of Bouvard and Pécuchet,6 I know, then even that can be explained, but those people perhaps don’t know Pangloss, or else one forgets everything one knows about him under the inevitable bite of real despairs and great pains.
And what’s more, under the name of optimism we fall back into a religion which to me has the look of being the rear end of a kind of Buddhism. Nothing bad about that, quite the opposite, if you like.
I don’t much like the article on Monet in Le Figaro, how much better that other article in Le 19ième Siècle was! There one saw the paintings, and this one contains only banalities that make me melancholy.7  1v:2
Today I’m packing up a crate of paintings and studies.
There’s one which is flaking, onto which I’ve stuck newspapers – it’s one of the best and I think that when you look at it you’ll see more clearly what my studio, now foundered, could have been.8 This study, as well as a few others, was spoiled by damp during my illness.9
The water from a flood rose up to a few feet from the house10 and, more importantly, when I came back water and saltpetre were oozing from the walls because the house had been without a fire during my absence.
That had an effect on me, not only the studio having foundered, but even the studies which would have been the memories of it damaged, it’s so final, and my urge to found something very simple but durable was so strong. It was fighting against insurmountable odds, or rather it was weakness of character on my part, for I still have feelings of grave remorse difficult to define. I think that was the cause of my crying out so much during the crises, that I wanted to defend myself and could no longer manage to. For it wasn’t for me, it was for the very painters like the unfortunate one spoken of in the enclosed article that this studio could have been of use.
Anyway, there have been more than us before, Bruyas in Montpellier gave an entire fortune to it and an entire existence and without the least apparent result.
Yes – a cold room in a municipal museum where one sees a deeply saddened face and lots of fine paintings, where certainly one is moved, but alas moved as in a cemetery.11  1v:3
However, it would be difficult for one to walk in a cemetery demonstrating more clearly the existence of that Hope that Puvis de Chavannes painted.12
The paintings fade like flowers – thus even some Delacroixs had suffered, the magnificent Daniel,13 the Odalisques14 (quite different from those in the Louvre,15 it was in a single purplish range), but how that impressed me, those paintings that were fading there, little understood, it’s true, by the majority of visitors who look at Courbet and Cabanel and Victor Giraud &c.16
What are we, we painters? Well, I think that Richepin is often right, for example, when going at it point-blank he simply sends them back to the madhouse in his blasphemies.17
Now, though, I assure you that I know no hospital where one would want to take me for nothing, even supposing that I would take upon myself the expenses of my painting and would leave all my work to the hospital.
And that is perhaps, I don’t say a great but anyway a small injustice. I would be resigned if I thought that. If I was without your friendship I would be sent back without remorse to suicide, and however cowardly I am, I would end up going there. There, as you will see I hope, is the point where we’re permitted to protest against society and to defend ourselves.
You can be reasonably sure that the Marseille artist who committed suicide did not at all commit suicide from drinking absinthe, for the simple reason that nobody will have offered him any and that he wouldn’t have had  1r:4 the means to buy any. Besides, it won’t have been solely for his pleasure that he drank, but because being ill already he kept himself going that way.
Mr Salles has been to St-Rémy – they don’t want to allow me painting outside the establishment, nor to take me for less than 100 francs.
So this information is bad indeed. If I could get out of it by enlisting for 5 years in the Foreign Legion, I think I’d prefer that.
For on the one hand being locked up, not working I would recover with difficulty, on the other hand we’d be made to pay 100 francs a month all through a madman’s long life.
It’s serious, and what can one do, let’s think about it. But will they want to take me on as a soldier? I feel very tired by the conversation with Mr Salles, and I don’t quite know what to do. I myself advised Bernard to do his military service, so is it so astonishing that I should think of going to Arabia myself as a soldier.
I say this just in case; you shouldn’t blame me too much if I go. The rest is so vague and so strange. And you know how doubtful it is that one ever recovers what it costs to do painting. Besides, it seems to me that physically I am well.
If I can’t work there except under supervision! and in the establishment – is it by God worth paying money for that!
Certainly in the barracks I could then work as well and even better.
Anyway, I’m thinking, do the same, let’s be aware that everything always happens for the best in the best of worlds,18 that isn’t impossible. I shake your hand very firmly.

Ever yours,

This is what I consider worthy of being put on stretching frames in the consignment.

the night café19
the green vineyard20
the red vineyard21
the bedroom22
the furrows23
portrait  of  Boch25
,, ,, Laval26
,, ,, Gauguin27
,, ,, Bernard28
The Alyscamps (lane of tombs)
Garden with large conifer bush and oleanders30
ditto cedar and geraniums31
flowers: Scabious &c.33
ditto: asters and marigolds &c.34

The crate contains some studies by Gauguin which belong to him,35 then his two fencing masks and fencing gloves.36
If there’s room in the crate I’ll add some stretching frames.


Br. 1990: 767 | CL: 588 and 589
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Tuesday, 30 April 1889

1. On 1 May Theo celebrated his 32nd birthday.
2. Van Gogh could have based this statement on Silvestre’s Documents nouveaux: ‘Yes, Delacroix was a great worker. He would get up at seven in the morning and quickly get down to work until three in the afternoon without taking anything at all to eat, in order to keep his mind lighter and more supple. He would sometimes return, if hunger drove him, to his original habit, which was to swallow a crust of bread and two fingers of wine’ (Oui, Delacroix fut un grand travailleur. Il se levait sur les sept heures du matin et se mettait vite à l’oeuvre jusqu’à trois heures du soir sans prendre la moindre nourriture, afin de garder son esprit plus souple et plus léger. Il revenait parfois, la faim le poussant, à sa première habitude qui fut d’avaler une croûte de pain et deux doigts de vin) (Ed Paris 1864, p. 44).
3. Sensier had already emphasized the image of Millet as a peasant among peasants in his Salon reviews. In La vie et l’oeuvre de J.-F. Millet Sensier calls him a ‘peasant’ and ‘true peasant’ a number of times. He also remarks that in Barbizon Millet ‘became a peasant again’, and quotes a letter in which Millet says of himself: ‘I am a peasant through and through’ (‘Je suis paysan paysan’). See Sensier 1881, pp. 37, 60, 66, 116, 181, 188, 194, 219, 302. See also Parsons and McWilliam 1984, pp. 40, 43.
4. Van Gogh is referring to the following description: ‘It was difficult to portray this cemetery with a more truthful feeling of desolation. A bleak, arid patch of ground, enclosed by grey walls, on which the torrid July sun casts its consuming light. Not a single flower on the bare graves, not a shrub to shelter them nor a cypress to protect them. Powdery stones giving life, through their fissures, to a few wild plants, through the midst of which run small lizards. Over there, in the corner, a gravedigger, his foot resting on his spade, for he has just dug a grave, wiping his brow. Here and there, a few clédas [wooden hurdles] that the mistral and the March rain have knocked down, forgotten in this lonely place. (Ce cimetière, il était difficile de le rendre avec un sentiment plus vrai de désolation. Un pan de terre morne, aride, que clôturent des murailles grises et sur lequel le soleil torride de juillet jette sa dévorante lumière. Nulle fleur sur les tombes nues, pas un arbuste qui les abrite, pas un cyprès qui les protège. Des pierres poudreuses donnant naissance, à travers leurs fissures, à quelques herbes sauvages au milieu desquelles courent de petits lézards. Là-bas, dans le coin, un fossoyeur, le pied sur sa bêche, car il vient de creuser une fosse, et s’épongeant le front. Çà et là des clédas que le mistral et la pluie de mars ont bouleversés dans l’oubli de cette solitude.) Nandyfer, ‘Chronique’, Le Petit Provençal. Journal Politique Quotidien, 29 April 1889. See Martin Bailey, ‘Van Gogh et Marseille. L’impossible voyage’. Exhib. cat. Van Gogh Monticelli. Marseille (Centre de la Vieille Charité), 2008-2009. Marseille 2008, pp. 129-135. The artist from Marseille who had committed suicide (Van Gogh mentions him later in the letter) is identified in the article with his initial: ‘D...’.
5. For the philosopher Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide, see letter 568, n. 3.
a. Read: ‘derechef’.
7. For Mirbeau’s article ‘Claude Monet’, see letter 754, n. 7. The second article mentioned is M.F. [Marcel Fouquier], ‘Petites expositions. Exposition Cl. Monet, un maître paysagiste’, Le XIXe Siècle (6 March 1889). See Wildenstein 1996, vol. 4, p. 1002.
8. Letter 779 reveals that this was The bedroom (F 482 / JH 1608 [2735]). Vincent wrote that it was damaged and asked Theo to send it back so that he could make a repetition of it.
9. It is not known which other paintings were damaged by dampness.
10. The flooding of the Rhône in Arles was a recurring problem. Local newspapers report that it was discussed frequently at council meetings.
11. Regarding Bruyas and his bequest to the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, see letter 726, n. 1. The ‘deeply saddened face’ is seen in 17 portraits of Bruyas in the collection.
15. Eugène Delacroix’s Algerian women in their apartments, 1847-1849 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Ill. 2282 [2282].
16. In 1888 the Musée Fabre owned 9 paintings by Cabanel, 13 by Courbet and 1 by Giraud. See cat. Montpellier 1926, pp. 122-126, 130-136, 173.
17. Perhaps an allusion to Richepin’s volume of poetry Les blasphèmes (1884), though nowhere in that book does Richepin send painters to the madhouse.
b. Read: ‘cas où j’y vais’.
c. Read: ‘douteux’.
18. For this quotation from Voltaire’s Candide, see letter 568, 3.
19. The night café (F 463 / JH 1575 [2711]).
20. The green vineyard (F 475 / JH 1595 [2726]).
21. The red vineyard (F 495 / JH 1626 [2745]).
22. The bedroom (F 482 / JH 1608 [2735]).
23. Ploughed fields (‘The furrows’) (F 574 / JH 1586 [2719]).
24. Van Gogh is referring to Ploughed field with a tree-trunk (‘The furrows’) (F 573 / JH 1618 [2740]), which he earlier described as a ‘study of ploughed field with the stump of an old yew’ (letter 714). Another possibility is Sower (F 494 / JH 1617 [2739]), the composition of which is more related to Ploughed fields, though in the same letter Van Gogh called that work a ‘study of a sower’. After ‘ditto’ Van Gogh crossed out ‘portrait de Roulin’ (portrait of Roulin).
[2740] [2739]
25. Eugène Boch (‘The poet’) (F 462 / JH 1574 [2710]).
29. Van Gogh had made four paintings of the Alyscamps: F 568 / JH 1622 [2743], F 569 / JH 1623, F 487 / JH 1621 [2742] and F 486 / JH 1620 [2741]. Only one of them can be traced with certainty to the family estate: The Alyscamps (‘Leaf-fall’) (F 487 / JH 1621 [2742]). His list contains two canvases of the Alyscamps, and it is plausible that he also sent F 486 / JH 1620 [2741], which had been hanging in Gauguin’s room together with F 487 (see letter 716). These two paintings were part of the decoration, as were a number of other works which he here describes as ‘worthy of being put on stretching frames’.
Feilchenfeldt and cat. Otterlo 2003 assumed, however, that F 486 remained with the Ginoux family in Arles and that they sold it to Vollard. See Feilchenfeldt 2005, pp. 292, 297 and cat. Otterlo 2003, p. 253. According to Feilchenfeldt, F 568 / JH 1622 [2743] and F 569 / JH 1623 were also sold by the Ginouxs to Vollard. The present letter reveals, however, that Van Gogh definitely sent two paintings of the Alyscamps to Theo, so the Ginouxs could have had two at the most. The Vollard archives contain only two references to a painting of the Alyscamps, which possibly allude to one and the same work: the payment of 70.70 francs to Ginoux for a ‘canvas by Van Gogh “Alyscamps”’ (toile de Van Gogh “alyscamps”) and the sum of 310 francs, received from Denys Cochin for ‘Van Gogh alyscamps’ (Paris, Musée d’Orsay, Documentation, Archives Vollard, MS 421).
By contrast, Dorn thought that Van Gogh sent all four paintings of the Alyscamps to Theo, but that the two canvases in this list of works ‘worthy of being put on stretching frames’ were F 568 / JH 1622 [2743] and F 569 / JH 1623. He assumed, in fact, that Van Gogh sent F 486 [2741] and F 487 [2742] on their stretching frames, as he did the canvases of sunflowers that had also hung in Gauguin’s room and already had frames made of strips of wood (see letter 776). See Dorn 1990, p. 442. That is not necessarily the case, however, because Van Gogh’s list contains other works that were hanging, framed, in the Yellow House (including F 462 [2710], F 475 [2726], F 574 [2719] and the painting of the park; see n. 30).
[2743] [2742] [2741] [2742] [2741] [2743] [2743] [2741] [2742] [2710] [2726] [2719]
30. This painting of the park (‘the poet’s garden’) is no longer known. For the composition, see the drawing The public garden (‘The poet’s garden’) (F 1465 / JH 1583) and the letter sketch in letter 693.
31. The public garden with a couple strolling (‘The poet’s garden’) (F 479 / JH 1601 [2730]).
32. Van Gogh no doubt found Sunflowers in a vase (F 455 / JH 1668 [2772]) and F 457 / JH 1666 [2770] ‘worthy of being put on stretching frames’ (l. 158). The first two versions, F 456 / JH 1561 [2703] and F 454 / JH 1562 [2704], were indeed in the consignment but cannot be the paintings in question because they were already framed with strips of wood and thus already on stretching frames (see letter 776). Sunflowers in a vase (F 458 / JH 1667 [2771]) must have been sent on a stretching frame too; Van Gogh had enlarged the composition by adding a strip of wood to the canvas (see Hendriks et al. 2019). This means that the painting could not be taken off the stretching frame anymore. The consignment probably also included F 453 / JH 1559 [2701] and F 459 / JH 1560 [2702]; see letter 774, n. 7.
[2772] [2770] [2703] [2704] [2771] [2701] [2702]
33. The only painting in which ‘scabious’ are possibly depicted is Wild flowers in a majolica jug (F 600 / JH 1424 [2607]). Taking into account that the blue must originally have been more purple, the flowers in the middle could be scabious (presumably Centaurium scabiosa). However, Van Gogh had already painted F 600 in May 1888, in which case he kept it for a year before sending it. Another possibility is that the painting mentioned here is no longer known.
34. The only known painting with asters and marigolds from this period is Zinnias in a majolica jug (F 592 / JH 1568 [2706]), although there most of the flowers are zinnias. Another possibility is that the painting mentioned here is no longer known.
35. For the studies that Gauguin left behind, see letter 736, n. 12.
36. Gauguin had asked Van Gogh to send his fencing masks and gloves (see letter 734).