[Letterhead : Boussod Paris]

Paris, 21 May 1889

My dear Vincent,
Thank you very much for your letter, Jo was also very pleased with the one you wrote to her.1 We were pleased to learn that your journey to St-Rémy went well, and that you feel calmer there than in Arles. All the same, I hope that your stay will only be for a short length of time, for having these mad people as your neighbours can’t be agreeable. What I would like is that we could discover some people  1r:2 somewhere who would take care of you while allowing you your entire freedom. That must be possible to find. If you didn’t fear returning to Paris or its surroundings, I would try to find somewhere like that for you to board.
Tell us in your next letter what the establishment you’re now in is like. How are you treated, is the food sufficient, and how are the people with whom you have to deal? Do you see something of the country? Above all, don’t wear yourself out, for it’s better that at present you do all you can to regain your strength. The work will come afterwards. A few days ago I received your consignment, which is very important, there are some superb things in it. Everything arrived in good order and undamaged. The Berceuse,2 the portrait of Roulin,3 the little sower, with the tree,4 the baby,5 the starry night,6 the sunflowers7 and the chair with the pipe and the tobacco8 are the ones I like best up to now.  1v:3 The first two, in particular, are most curious. Certainly it’s not the beautiful that is taught there, but there’s something in them that’s so striking and so close to the truth. Who tells us that we’re more right than the simple people who buy images in loud colours?9 Or rather, isn’t the charm they see in them as much a sensation evoked as when pretentious people look at the paintings in museums? Now in your canvases there’s a vigour which one certainly doesn’t find in chromos, in time that will become very fine as impasto, and certainly they’ll be appreciated one day. If we see that Pissarros, Gauguins, Renoirs, Guillaumins don’t sell, one must be almost pleased not to have the public’s favour, since those who have it now won’t always have it, and the times could  1v:4 well change very soon. If you saw how weak the Salon and the World Exhibition are from the point of view of the paintings, you would, I think, be of the opinion that they won’t hold out for much longer. The Dutch school is doing very well there. There are two watercolours by J. H. Weissenbruch10 which I like most particularly, also some W. and J. Maris11 and Bosboom,12 Israëls13 and Breitner.14 One of the Weissenbruchs is a windmill beside a canal, blue sky with a little cloud which hides the sun. The other is a canal with boats one moonlit evening. He’s a forceful artist, that one, but Tersteeg says that he isn’t saleable. Lately I saw Gauguin, who is currently working on some sculpture.15 He wants to leave shortly for Pont-Aven, where De Haan is already.16 It appears that soon there will be an exhibition of the Independents, I would very much like to know what you think of that, and which canvases you think are the best to be exhibited. I’ve heard tell that everyone can exhibit 4 canvases, since there’s no room to admit any more. More soon, and write to us also when you feel like it. Good handshake

and ever yours,

Warm regards from Jo.


Br. 1990: 777 | CL: T9
From: Theo van Gogh
To: Vincent van Gogh
Date: Paris, Tuesday, 21 May 1889

1. Vincent had written to both Theo and Jo in letter 772.
2. The consignment must have contained all four versions of Augustine Roulin (‘La berceuse’), namely F 504 / JH 1655 [2762], F 506 / JH 1670 [2774], F 507 / JH 1672 [2776] and F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] (Vincent had given the fifth painting, F 505 / JH 1669 [2773], to Madame Roulin). At Vincent’s request, Theo gave two of these, F 506 and F 508, to Gauguin and Bernard (see letter 776); the provenance of the other two works can also be traced to Theo (for F 504, see Account book 2002, p. 176).
[2762] [2774] [2776] [2775] [2773]
3. Theo had had Joseph Roulin (F 433 / JH 1524 [2673]) in his possession since August 1888; see letter 660. The provenance of Joseph Roulin (F 436 / JH 1675 [2777]) can also be traced to Theo; see Account book 2002, p. 173. The earliest provenance information on the other four portraits of Roulin (F 432 / JH 1522 [2672], F 434 / JH 1647 [2759], F 435 / JH 1674 and F 439 / JH 1673) is lacking, so it cannot be ascertained whether more of them ended up with Theo. From letter 775 it emerges that Joseph Roulin had at least one portrait in his possession, though which of the above-mentioned it was cannot be said with certainty either. It could not have been the large Joseph Roulin (F 432 / JH 1522 [2672]) that Van Gogh had withheld from the August consignment (see letter 660) because he used that to make three more portraits of Roulin. See cat. Otterlo 2003, p. 267. Roulin may have received this painting later. It came into the possession of Cornelis Hoogendijk, who probably acquired it from Vollard. In 1900 Vollard bought eight Van Goghs from Roulin (Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Documentation, Archives Vollard). The other three portraits might also have been acquired from Vollard, and could therefore have come from Roulin. The first known owner of F 434 and F 435 was Maurice Fabre, and of F 439 Emile Schuffenecker, both customers of Vollard. Feilchenfeldt assumes that F 432 stayed in Arles and was sold by Joseph Ginoux to Vollard. See Feilchenfeldt 2005, pp. 290, 300. Cat. Otterlo 2003, p. 268, thinks it quite possible that Van Gogh gave Roulin F 435, the only signed portrait, and intended F 439 for his wife, Augustine.
[2673] [2777] [2672] [2759] [814] [2672]
4. This could refer to either Sower with setting sun (F 450 / JH 1627 [2746]), which measures 73.5 x 93 cm, or Sower with setting sun (F 451 / JH 1629), which measures 32 x 40 cm. Theo is probably referring to the large, ambitious canvas that Vincent had previously described and sketched (see letter 722); thus ‘little sower’ does not refer to the format of the canvas but to the size of the sower in proportion to the tree.
5. Marcelle Roulin (F 441 / JH 1641 [2753]) was in Theo’s possession; the other two portraits (F 440 / JH 1639 and F 441a / JH 1640 [3065]) have a different provenance.
[2753] [3065]
6. Starry night over the Rhône (F 474 / JH 1592 [2723]).
7. This consignment definitely contained the two paintings of sunflowers intended for Theo, Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 [2703]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]), and the repetitions for Gauguin (F 455 / JH 1668 [2772] and F 458 / JH 1667 [2771]). See letters 741, 743 and 776.
The canvases of sunflowers F 453 / JH 1559 [2701], F 459 / JH 1560 [2702] and F 457 / JH 1666 [2770] also came into Theo’s possession and are therefore likely to have been in this consignment. See Dorn 1999, pp. 59-61, Van Tilborgh and Hendriks 2001, p. 27, and Account book 2002, p. 174.
[2703] [2704] [2772] [2771] [2701] [2702] [2770]
8. Van Gogh’s chair (F 498 / JH 1635 [2749]).
9. Theo is responding here to the comparison Vincent had made between his Berceuse and the ‘chromos de bazar’, inexpensive coloured woodcuts (letters 743, 745 and 753).
10. Weissenbruch exhibited two watercolours at the World Exhibition: Moulin and Canal (Effet de lune). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-4, p. 257, cat. nos. 215-216. Given its provenance, the first watercolour could be The old mill (Groningen, Groninger Museum). Ill. 462 [462]. The second watercolour is Canal, moonlight effect (The Hague, The Mesdag Collection). Ill. 463 [463].
[462] [463]
11. Willem Maris exhibited three paintings: Beau jour d’été (Beautiful summer day), Bord de rivière (River bank) and Canards (Ducks); Jacob Maris five paintings: Le moulin (The mill), Souvenir d’Amsterdam (Souvenir of Amsterdam), Au bord de la mer (At the seashore), Canal à Rotterdam (Canal in Rotterdam) and La vieille bonne (The old maidservant). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-4, p. 252, cat. nos. 88-95.
12. Johannes Bosboom exhibited five watercolours: Eglise à Hoorn (Church at Hoorn) (twice), Intérieur de ferme (Interior of a farmhouse), Grande Eglise de la Haye (Great Church of The Hague) and Vieille porte (Old door). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-4, p. 255, cat. nos. 180-184.
13. Jozef Israëls exhibited three paintings: Les travailleurs de la mer (Workers of the sea), Paysans à table (Peasants at table) and L’enfant qui dort (The sleeping child). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-4, p. 241, cat. nos. 69-71.
[826] [827] [828]
14. Breitner exhibited three paintings: Rencontre (Encounter), Cheval blanc (White horse) and Nègre (Negro). See exhib. cat. Paris 1889-4, p. 250, cat. nos. 35-37.
[829] [830] [831]
15. After his return to Paris in December 1888, Gauguin produced mainly ceramics. It was not until the summer of 1889, during his stay in Brittany, that he again ventured to make wooden sculptures. See Gray 1963, pp. 38-39.
One of the sculptures that Theo could have seen at Gauguin’s is Black Venus, 1889, which Gauguin had made during his stay in Paris. See Gray 1963, pp. 212-213, cat. no. 91, and Merete Bodelsen, Gauguin’s ceramics. A study in the development of his art. London 1964, pp. 121 (fig. 82), 127.
16. De Haan had left for Pont-Aven some time during the first half of April 1889 (FR b1040). Gauguin joined him there at the end of May 1889, after an uninterrupted stay of five months in Paris. See exhib. cat. Chicago 2001, pp. 275, 393 (n. 35). Gauguin and De Haan lived and worked together for a time in Le Pouldu and Pont-Aven. Gauguin returned to Paris in February 1890 and went back to Le Pouldu again with De Haan in June. See exhib. cat. Washington 1988, pp. 47-49. In 1891 De Haan was again in the Netherlands (FR b1321).