My dear Theo,
Your kind letter1 did me good today, my word – let’s go for St-Rémy then, but I tell you one more time, if after due consideration and consultation with the doctor it would be perhaps either necessary or simply useful and wise to enlist, let’s consider that with the same eye as the rest, and without prior prejudice against it. That’s all. For dismiss the idea of sacrifice in it – I was writing to our sister the other day that throughout my life, or almost at least, I’ve sought something other than a martyr’s career, of which I’m not capable.2
If I find annoyance or cause it, my word I remain stunned by it. Certainly I would gladly respect, I would admire martyrs &c., but you must know that in Bouvard et Pécuchet,3 for example, quite simply there is some other thing that adapts itself more to our little existences.
Anyway, I’m packing my trunk, and probably Mr Salles will go there with me as soon as he can.
Ah, what you said about Puvis and Delacroix4 is darned right, those fellows have well demonstrated what painting could be, but let’s not confuse things when there are immense distances. Now, myself as a painter, I’ll never signify anything important, I sense it absolutely. Supposing everything were changed, character, upbringing, circumstances, then this or that could have existed. But we’re too positive to confuse. I sometimes regret not having simply kept the Dutch palette of grey tones, and brushed landscapes in Montmartre without pressing the point.  1v:2
Also, I’m thinking of beginning to draw more with the reed pen again which, like last year’s views of Montmajour,5 is less expensive and distracts me just as much. Today I’ve made one of those drawings which became very dark and quite melancholic for springtime,6 but anyway, whatever happens to me and in whatever circumstances I find myself, that’s something that I could keep as an occupation for a long time, and in some way could even become a means of earning a livelihood.
Anyway, all in all what does it matter to you or to me to have a little more or a little less annoyance.
Certainly you joined up much earlier than I did, if we come to that, at the Goupils’, where all in all you spent some pretty bad moments often enough, for which you weren’t always thanked. And indeed you did it with zeal and devotion, because then our father rather had his back to the wall with the big family at the time, and it was necessary for you to throw yourself into it completely in order to make everything work. I’ve thought again with much emotion of all these old things during my illness.
And in the end the main thing is to feel ourselves closely united, and that hasn’t yet been disturbed.  1v:3
I have a certain hope that with what I know of my art in total, a time will come when I’ll produce again, although in the asylum. What use would the more artificial life of an artist in Paris be to me – one by which, all in all, I would only be half duped and for which I consequently lack primitive enthusiasm, indispensable for launching myself into it. Physically it’s amazing how well I am, but that isn’t enough of a basis for going on believing that it’s the same mentally.
I would happily, once I was known there a little, try and make myself a male nurse little by little, in short to work at anything and take up an occupation again – the first one that comes along.
I’ll have terrible need of père Pangloss7 when it naturally comes about that I become amorous again. Alcohol and tobacco have after all this good or bad point – it’s a bit relative, this – that they’re anti-aphrodisiacs, one should call it that I think. Not always to be despised in the exercise of the fine arts.
Anyway, that will be the ordeal in which one mustn’t forget completely how to jest. For virtue and sobriety, I’m only too afraid, would lead me again into those parts where usually I very quickly lose the compass completely, and where this time I must try to have less passion and more bonhomie.  1r:4
The possible passionate thing is no great thing for me, although the power remains, I dare believe, to feel oneself attached to the human beings with whom one lives. How is père Tanguy – you must give him my warm regards.
I hear in the newspapers that there are good things at the Salon. Listen – don’t make yourself a completely exclusive Impressionist after all, if there’s good in something let’s not lose sight of it. Certainly colour is making progress, precisely by the Impressionists, even when they go astray. But Delacroix was already more complete than they are.
And my goodness, Millet, who has hardly any colour, what work his is!
Madness is salutary for this, that one becomes perhaps less exclusive.
I don’t regret having wanted to know a little technically about this question of the theories of colours.
As an artist one is merely a link in a chain, and whether you find or you don’t find, you can console yourself with that.
I’ve heard talk of a completely green interior with a green woman at the Salon which people were saying good things about,8 as well as a portrait by Mathey,9 and another by Besnard, ‘The siren’.10 People were also saying that there’s something extraordinary by a fellow called Zorn, but they didn’t say what,11 and that there was a Carolus-Duran there, Triumph of Bacchus, bad.12 However, I still find his ‘Lady with a glove’ in the Luxembourg13 so good; anyway, there are things that aren’t serious that I like a lot, such as a book like Bel-ami.14 And Carolus’s work is a little like that. Our epoch has been like that, though, and all Badinguet’s time15 too. And if a painter does as he sees, he always remains someone.
Ah, to paint figures like Claude Monet paints landscapes. That’s what remains to be done despite everything, and before, of necessity, one16 sees only Monet among the Impressionists.  2r:5
For after all in figures, Delacroix, Millet, several sculptors have otherwise done better than the Impressionists, and even J. Breton.
Anyway, my dear brother, let’s be just, and I say to you as I retire, let’s think, just when we’re getting too old to class ourselves with the young ones, of what we have loved in our time, Millet, Breton, Israëls, Whistler, Delacroix, Leys. And be fully assured that I myself am sufficiently convinced that I shan’t see a future beyond that, nor moreover desire one.
Now society is as it is, naturally we can’t wish for it to adapt itself just to our personal needs. Anyway, however while finding it really really good to go to St-Rémy, however with people like me it would really be more just to stuff them into the legion. We can’t do anything about it, but more than probably they’d refuse me there, at least here where my adventure is too well known, and above all exaggerated. I say this very, very seriously, physically I’m better than I have been for years and years, and I could do military service. So let’s think again about that while going to St-Rémy. I shake your hand heartily, and your wife’s too.

Ever yours,

Ah, when I wrote to you that we mustn’t forget to appreciate what’s good in those who aren’t Impressionists,17 I didn’t exactly mean to say that I was urging you to admire the Salon beyond measure, but rather a heap of people like, for example, Jourdan, who has just died in Avignon,18 Antigna, Feyen-Perrin, all those whom we knew so well before, when we were younger, why forget them or why attach no importance to their present-day equivalents? Why are Daubigny and Quost and Jeannin not colourists for example? So many distinctions in Impressionism do not have the importance one wanted to see in them.
Crinolines also had something pretty and consequently good about them, but anyway the fashion was fortunately short-lived all the same. Not for some people.
And thus we’ll always retain a certain passion for Impressionism, but I sense that I’m returning more and more to the ideas I already had before coming to Paris.
Now that you’re married we no longer have to live for great ideas but, believe it, for little ones only. And I find that a real relief which I don’t complain about at all.
(In my room I have the famous portrait of a man (the wood engraving) that you know, a mandarin woman by Monorou (the large print from the Bing album),19 the blade of grass (from the same album),20 the Pietà21 and the good Samaritan by Delacroix,22 and Meissonier’s reader,23 then two large reed pen drawings.)24  3v:7
At the moment I’m reading Balzac’s Le médecin de campagne, which is really fine, in it there’s a character of a woman, not mad but too sensitive, who is really charming, I’ll send it to you when I’ve finished it.25 Wil wrote me a kind letter, still very firm and calm.
They have a lot of room here at the hospital, there’d be enough to make studios for thirty or so painters.
I really must make up my mind, it’s only too true that an awful lot of painters go mad, it’s a life which makes you very distracted, to say the least. If I throw myself fully into work again, that’s good, but I still remain cracked. If I could enlist for 5 years I would recover considerably and would be more rational and more the master of myself.
But one or the other, it’s all the same to me.
I hope that in the heap of canvases I’ve sent you there may be some which will end up giving you pleasure. If I remain a painter, then sooner or later I’ll probably see Paris again, and I firmly promise myself that I’ll thoroughly touch up several old canvases on that occasion. What’s Gauguin doing, I’m still avoiding writing to him until I’m completely normal, but I think of him so often, and I’d so much like to know if everything is going relatively well for him.
If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, if I’d kept my studio, this summer I would have worked again on all the canvases I’ve sent you. As long as the impasto isn’t dry all the way through, naturally it can’t be scraped.
You’ll clearly see that the two women’s expressions26 are different from the expressions one sees in Paris.
Is Signac back in Paris yet?


Br. 1990: 771 | CL: 590
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Arles, Friday, 3 May 1889

1. This was Theo’s letter 766.
2. Vincent wrote this to Willemien in letter 764.
4. Theo had written about Puvis de Chavannes and Degas (not about Delacroix, as Vincent writes here). See letter 766.
5. Van Gogh is referring to the second series of pen drawings that he made of Montmajour, in the first half of July 1888. See letter 639 and cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 135-146.
6. Weeping tree on a lawn (F 1468 / JH 1498 [2661]).
a. Read: ‘quelques que soient les circonstances dans lesquelles’.
7. The philosopher Pangloss is a character in Voltaire’s Candide. Van Gogh is alluding here to Pangloss’s cheerfully naive idea that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’ (tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes). See letter 568, n. 3.
b. ‘tout à fait’ (completely) is to be taken as modifying ‘oublier’ (forget), not ‘blaguer’ (jest).
8. The information subsequently given by Van Gogh about paintings that were exhibited at the 1889 Salon was taken from the article ‘Le Salon. Premier article’ (The Salon. First article) by Edmond Jacques in L’Intransigeant of 1 May 1889, pp. 1-2. Van Gogh refers to a passage that discusses two works by Maurice Lobre: ‘They are modest interiors, with a fragrance of intimacy, in a delightful key. The green sitting room, decorated with green pots, darkened by green curtains, into which a faint light slips through a half-open door, is an exquisitely delicate little jewel. The girl at luncheon is also very charming, but it does not have the same unity and does not please the eye to the same degree.’ (Ce sont des intérieurs modestes, tout parfumés d’intimité, dans une note charmante. Le salon vert, orné de poteries vertes, assombri de rideaux verts, où glisse une faible lumière par une porte entr’ouverte est un petit bijou d’une exquise délicatesse. Le déjeuner de la fille est fort charmant aussi; mais il n’a pas la même unité et ne flatte pas, au même point, le regard.) Van Gogh had apparently taken these to be a single painting of a woman in an interior. Both works bore the title Intérieur in the catalogue of the Salon. See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-2, p. 131, cat. nos. 1719-1720.
9. After mentioning a few mediocre portraits, Edmond Jacques goes on to say: ‘Mr Mathey is more incisive. His two young woman are interpreted with a most subtle art. And yet I prefer to them the etcher Rops, that masterpiece from last year.’ (M. Mathey est plus pénétrant. Ses deux jeunes femmes sont interprétées avec un art très subtil. Je leur préfère cependant l’aqua-fortiste Rops, cette oeuvre maîtresse de l’an dernier.) (p. 2) Apparently Van Gogh understood this as referring to a single work depicting two women, but Mathey exhibited two portraits: Portrait de Mme P.S. (Portrait of Madame P.S.) and Portrait de Mme W.S. (Portrait of Madame W.S.). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-2, p. 139, cat. nos. 1826-1827.
[527] [151]
10. Jacques writes: ‘So loud voices will be raised against Mr Besnard. I have no need to wait. It’s certain. It’s a matter of fact that Mr Besnard has painted no ordinary thing. His Sirène is a young woman with a strange expression, leaning against a tree, at the edge of a lake. It would be nothing, if that was all there was. But the artist has chosen that time of day when, through an effect of the sunset, the lake – it’s Lake Annecy – assumes a pink colour, absolutely pink. This phenomenon does not last long, but it is repeated regularly every evening. Every traveller has observed it. No matter! It’s the exception, and voices will be raised at it, I say so again. Ah well, I shall not raise mine, for two reasons: the first is that I am sure of the master’s sincerity; the second is that this piece, destined in advance to be the object of every exclamation, fashionable or otherwise, is admirably painted, and that there emanates from it a profound and disturbing poetry.’ (Aussi on criera fort contre M. Besnard. Je n’ai pas besoin d’attendre. C’est certain. Il est de fait que M. Bernard [sic] n’a pas peint une chose ordinaire. Sa Sirène, c’est une jeune fille à l’oeuil étrange, adossée à un arbre, sur le bord d’un lac. Ce ne serait rien, s’il n’y avait que cela. Mais l’artiste a choisi l’heure où, par un effet de coucher de soleil, le lac – c’est celui d’Annecy – prend une coloration rose, absolument rose. Ce phénomène dure peu, mais il se renouvelle régulièrement chaque soir. Tous les voyageurs l’ont observé. N’importe! c’est l’exception, et l’on criera, je le repète. Eh bien, moi, je ne crierai pas pour deux motifs: le premier, c’est que je suis sûr de la sincérité du maître; le second, c’est que ce morceau, voué d’avance à toutes les exclamations boulevardières et autres, est admirablement peint, et qu’il s’en dégage un poésie profonde et troublante.)
The painting is A siren, 1889 (Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glypothek). Ill. 579 [579]. Exhib. cat. Paris 1889-2, p. 20, no. 237.
11. The works exhibited by Anders Zorn at the Salon were A l’air; – Suède [1448] (Out of doors – Sweden) and Portrait de Mme R. (Portrait of Madame R.) See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-2, p. 210, nos. 2765-2766.
12. Charles Carolus-Duran, Bacchus (present whereabouts unknown). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-2, p. 39, no. 484. An engraving after this by Clément Edouard Bellenger appeared in L’Illustration. Le Salon de 1889 (27 April 1889), pp. 350-351. Ill. 678 [678]. In his review of the Salon, Jacques called the work ‘banal’.
13. Charles Carolus-Duran, Lady with a glove (Mrs Carolus-Duran), 1869 (Paris, Musée d’Orsay). Ill. 677 [677]. Van Gogh no doubt associated this work with Bel-ami because of its sophistication.
15. The era of Napoleon iii, whose nickname was ‘Badinguet’. Some think that this name can be traced to a caption on a lithograph by Gavarni, which mentions a certain Eugénie who is ‘the old woman of Badinguet’ (l’ancienne à Badinguet). The more likely explanation is that the name refers to Louis Napoleon’s escape from the Fort of Ham (1846) wearing the clothes of the mason Badinguet.
16. After ‘qu’on ne’ Van Gogh crossed out ‘me deïfie’.
17. He wrote this in ll. 110-112.
18. Adolphe Jourdan had died on 22 February 1889 in Nîmes, a city not far from Avignon.
19. ‘Monorou’ must refer to the double page Portrait of Ousoukoumo [2289] (‘Bright Clouds’), described as ‘a celebrated beauty of Yédo at the beginning of the 17th century’ (‘beauté célèbre de Yédo au commencement du xviie siecle’, since he writes ‘from the same album’ (namely the one with the ‘Study of grasses’). The caption reads ‘Kakémono. School of Moronobou. End of 17th century. Engraved and printed by Gillot’ (Kakémono. – École de Moronobou. Fin du xviie siècle. Grav. Impr. par Gillot). The engraver is probably Eugène Louis Gillot Ill. 2289 [2289]. See Le Japon Artistique, no. 2 (June 1888), unnumbered (before DH and after AA – in the luxury edition printed on Japan paper, numbered FA, but appearing there without a caption). This Kakémono was done by Ando Kaïghetsudo, a pupil of Hishigava Moronobou. Van Gogh misspelled the name of the artist and speaks of ‘une mandarine’, a non-existant feminine form of ‘mandarin’ (a Chinese official). Cf. also letter 686, n. 11 and Roskill 1970-1, pp. 82-83. With thanks to Tsukasa Kōdera.
[2289] [2289]
22. Delacroix made two paintings of The Good Samaritan: one dating from 1849-1851 (private collection) and one from 1852 (London, Victoria and Albert Museum). The lithograph by Jules Joseph Augustin Laurens, which Van Gogh owned, is based on the first version, in which the injured man is lifted off his horse. See Johnson 1981-1989, vol. 3, pp. 224-225, 229, cat. nos. 437, 446. Van Gogh’s copy, to which he applied a grid to aid him in copying it, has been preserved (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Ill. 2290 [2290]. (t*139) The painting he made after it is The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (F 633 / JH 1974 [2901]) of May 1890.
[2290] [2901]
24. These were most likely The courtyard of the hospital (F 1467 / JH 1688 [2784]) and the drawing which Van Gogh had made that day, Weeping tree on a lawn (F 1468 / JH 1498 [2661]). They measure 49 x 61.5 cm and 45.5 x 59 cm, respectively.
[2784] [2661]
25. In the novel Le médecin de campagne (1833), Honoré de Balzac expressed his own social, political and religious views. Dr Benassis, a paragon of human kindness, has turned a village into a model community, but he tells the army commander Genestas the underlying reason for his good works: his attempt to forget an unhappy love affair.
Van Gogh’s remark about the woman refers to the 22-year-old La Fosseuse, an orphan whom Benassis has taken under his wing. Both of them have had much misfortune in their lives. La Fosseuse is plagued by mood swings and is extremely sensitive to natural beauty. She has a weak constitution and suffers from all kinds of complaints, mostly caused by her nervous condition.
Theo’s estate contains a copy of this novel, published in 1884 by Calmann-Lévy in Paris. It cannot be ascertained whether this copy ever belonged to Vincent.
c. Read: ‘distrait’.
26. The two women Van Gogh refers to are the portraits of Augustine Roulin and Marie Ginoux. The consignment most likely contained four versions of Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’), F 504 / JH 1655 [2762], F 506 / JH 1670 [2774], F 507 / JH 1672 [2776] and F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] (see letter 774, n. 2), as well as Marie Ginoux (‘The Arlésienne’) (F 489 / JH 1625 [2744]). Provenance research undertaken by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has revealed that the second version, Marie Ginoux (‘The Arlésienne’) (F 488 / JH 1624), was in the possession of Madame Ginoux. See also Feilchenfeldt 2005, p. 297.
[2762] [2774] [2776] [2775] [2744] [812]