My dear Theo,
Your letter which I’ve just received gives me great pleasure.1 You tell me that J.H. Weissenbruch has two paintings in the exhibition — but I thought he was dead — am I mistaken?2 He certainly is one hell of an artist and a good man, with a big heart too.
What you say about the Berceuse gives me pleasure;3 it’s very true that the common people, who buy themselves chromos and listen with sentimentality to barrel organs, are vaguely in the right and perhaps more sincere than certain men-about-town who go to the Salon.
Gauguin, if he’ll accept it, you shall give him a version of the Berceuse that wasn’t mounted on a stretching frame, and to Bernard too, as a token of friendship.4
But if Gauguin wants sunflowers it’s only absolutely fair that he gives you something that you like as much in exchange.5 Gauguin himself above all liked the sunflowers later, when he had seen them for a long time.
You must know, too, that if you put them in this order:

that is, the Berceuse in the middle and the two canvases of the sunflowers to the right and the left, this forms a sort of triptych.6 And then the yellow and orange tones of the head take on more brilliance through the proximity of the yellow shutters. And then you will understand that what I was writing to you about it, that my idea had been to make a decoration like one for the far end of a cabin on a ship, for example.7 Then as the size gets bigger, the summary execution gets its raison d’être. The middle frame is then the red one. And the two sunflowers that go with it are those surrounded by strips of wood.
You see that this framing of simple laths does quite well, and a frame like that costs only very little. It would be perhaps good to frame the green and red vineyards,8 the sower9 and the furrows10 and the interior of the bedroom11 with them too.  1v:2

Here’s a new no. 30 canvas, commonplace again, like one of those chromos from a penny bazaar that depict eternal nests of greenery for lovers.
Thick tree-trunks covered with ivy, the ground also covered with ivy and periwinkle, a stone bench and a bush of roses, blanched in the cold shadow. In the foreground a few plants with white calyxes. It’s green, violet and pink.12
It’s just a question — which is unfortunately lacking in chromos from a penny bazaar and barrel organs — of putting in some style.
Since I’ve been here, the neglected garden planted with tall pines under which grows tall and badly tended grass intermingled with various weeds, has provided me with enough work, and I haven’t yet gone outside.13
However, the landscape of St-Rémy is very beautiful, and little by little I’m probably going to make trips into it. But staying here as I am, the doctor14 has naturally been in a better position to see what was wrong, and will, I dare hope, be more reassured that he can let me paint.
I assure you that I’m very well here, and that for the time being I see no reason at all to come and board in Paris or its surroundings. I have a little room with grey-green paper with two water-green curtains with designs of very pale roses enlivened with thin lines of blood-red. These curtains, probably the leftovers of a ruined, deceased rich man, are very pretty in design. Probably from the same source comes a very worn armchair covered with a tapestry flecked in the manner of a Diaz or a Monticelli, red-brown, pink, creamy white, black, forget-me-not blue and bottle green.
Through the iron-barred window I can make out a square of wheat in an enclosure, a perspective in the manner of Van Goyen, above which in the morning I see the sun rise in its glory.  1v:3
With this — as there are more than 30 empty rooms — I have another room in which to work.
The food is so-so. It smells naturally a little musty, as in a cockroach-ridden restaurant in Paris or a boarding school. As these unfortunates do absolutely nothing (not a book, nothing to distract them but a game of boules and a game of draughts) they have no other daily distraction than to stuff themselves with chickpeas, haricot beans, lentils and other groceries and colonial foodstuffs by the regulated quantities and at fixed times.
As the digestion of these commodities presents certain difficulties, they thus fill their days in a manner as inoffensive as it’s cheap. But joking apart, the fear of madness passes from me considerably upon seeing from close at hand those who are affected with it, as I may very easily be in the future.
Before I had some repulsion for these beings, and it was something distressing for me to have to reflect that so many people of our profession, Troyon,15 Marchal,16 Meryon,17 Jundt,18 M. Maris,19 Monticelli,20 a host of others, had ended up like that. I wasn’t even able to picture them in the least in that state.
Well, now I think of all this without fear, i.e. I find it no more atrocious than if these people had snuffed it of something else, of consumption or syphilis, for example.
These artists, I see them take on their serene bearing again, and do you think it’s a small thing to rediscover ancient members of the profession.
Joking apart, that’s what I’m profoundly grateful for.
For although there are some who howl or usually rave, here there is much true friendship that they have for each other. They say, one must suffer others for the others to suffer us, and other very true reasonings that they thus put into practice. And between ourselves we understand each other very well, I can, for example, chat sometimes with one who doesn’t reply except in incoherent sounds, because he isn’t afraid of me.21  1r:4
If someone has some crisis the others look after him, and intervene so that he doesn’t harm himself.
The same for those who have the mania of often getting angry. Old regulars of the menagerie run up and separate the fighters, if there is a fight.
It’s true that there are some who are in a more serious condition, whether they be filthy, or dangerous.22 These are in another courtyard. Now I take a bath twice a week, and stay in it for 2 hours,23 then my stomach is infinitely better than a year ago, so I only have to continue, as far as I know. I think I’ll spend less here than elsewhere, since here I still have work on my plate, for nature is beautiful.
My hope would be that at the end of a year I’ll know better than now what I can do and what I want. Then, little by little, an idea will come to me for beginning again. Coming back to Paris or anywhere at the moment doesn’t appeal to me at all, I feel that I’m in the right place here. In my opinion, what most of those who have been here for years are suffering from is an extreme sluggishness. Now, my work will preserve me from that to a certain extent.
The room where we stay on rainy days is like a 3rd-class waiting room in some stagnant village, all the more so since there are honourable madmen who always wear a hat, spectacles and travelling clothes and carry a cane, almost like at the seaside, and who represent the passengers there.24
I’m obliged to ask you for some more colours, and especially some canvas. When I send you the 4 canvases of the garden25 I have on the go you’ll see that, considering that life happens above all in the garden, it isn’t so sad. Yesterday I drew a very large, rather rare night moth there which is called the death’s head, its coloration astonishingly distinguished: black, grey, white, shaded, and with glints of carmine or vaguely tending towards olive green; it’s very big.26

To paint it I would have had to kill it, and that would have been a shame since the animal was so beautiful.27 I’ll send you the drawing of it with a few other drawings of plants.28
You could take the canvases which are dry enough at Tanguy’s or at your place off the stretching frames and then put the new ones you consider worthy of it onto these stretching frames. Gauguin must be able to give you the address of a liner for the Bedroom who won’t be expensive.29 This I imagine must be a 5-franc restoration, if it’s more then don’t have it done, I don’t think that Gauguin paid more when he quite often had canvases of his own, Cézanne or Pissarro lined.30
Speaking of my condition, I’m still so grateful for yet another thing. I observe in others that, like me, they too have heard sounds and strange voices during their crises, that things also appeared to change before their eyes. And that softens the horror that I retained at first of the crisis I had,31 and which when it comes to you unexpectedly, cannot but frighten you beyond measure. Once one knows that it’s part of the illness one takes it like other things. Had I not seen other mad people at close hand I wouldn’t have been able to rid myself of thinking about it all the time. For the sufferings of anguish aren’t funny when you’re caught in a crisis. Most epileptics bite their tongues and injure them. Rey told me that he had known a case where someone had injured his ear as I did, and I believe I’ve heard a doctor here who came to see me with the director say that he too had seen it before.32 I dare to believe that once one knows what it is, once one is aware of one’s state and of possibly being subject to crises, that then one can do something about it oneself so as not to be caught so much unawares by the anguish or the terror. Now, this has been diminishing for 5 months, I have good hope of getting over it, or at least of not having crises of such force. There’s one person here who has been shouting and always talking, like me, for a fortnight, he thinks he hears voices and words in the echo of the corridors, probably because the auditory nerve is sick and too sensitive, and with me it was both the sight and the hearing at the same time which, according to what Rey said one day, is usual at the beginning of epilepsy. 2v:6
Now the shock had been such that it disgusted me even to move, and nothing would have been so agreeable to me as never to wake up again. At present this horror of life is already less pronounced, and the melancholy less acute. But I still have absolutely no will, hardly any desires or none, and everything that has to do with ordinary life, the desire for example to see friends again, about whom I think however, almost nil. That’s why I’m not yet at the point where I ought to leave here soon, I would still have melancholy for everything. And it’s even only in these very last days that the repulsion for life has changed quite radically. There’s still a way to go from there to will and action.
It’s a shame that you yourself are still condemned to Paris, and that you never see the countryside other than that around Paris.
I think that it’s no more unfortunate for me to be in the company where I am than for you always the fateful things at Goupil & Cie. From that point of view we’re quite equal. For only in part can you act in accordance with your ideas. Since, however, we have once got used to these inconveniences, it becomes second nature.
I think that although the paintings cost canvas, paint &c., at the end of the month, however, it’s more advantageous to spend a little more thus, and to make them with what I’ve learned in total, than to abandon them while one would have to pay for board and lodging all the same anyway. And that’s why I’m making them. So this month I have 4 no. 30 canvases and two or three drawings.
But no matter what one does, the question of money is always there like the enemy before the troops, and one can’t deny it or forget it.  2v:7
I retain my duties in that respect as much as anyone. And perhaps some day I’ll be in a position to repay all that I’ve spent, because I consider that what I’ve spent is, if not taken from you at least taken from the family, so consequently I’ve produced paintings and I’ll do more. That is to act as you too act yourself. If I had private means, perhaps my mind would be freer to do art for art’s sake, now I content myself with believing that in working assiduously even so, without thinking of it one perhaps makes some progress.
Here are the colours I would need

emerald green large tubes.
2 cobalt
1 ultramarine
1 orange lead
6 zinc white
5 metres canvas    

Thanking you for your kind letter, I shake your hand warmly, as well as your wife’s.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 778 | CL: 592
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Thursday, 23 May 1889

1. This was letter 774.
2. Weissenbruch exhibited two watercolours at the World Exhibition The old mill [462] and Canal, moonlight effect [463]; see letter 774, n. 10. Van Gogh was in fact mistaken: Weissenbruch did not die until 1903.
[462] [463]
3. The last consignment of paintings (letter 767) had included four versions of the Berceuse: F 504 / JH 1655 [2762], F 506 / JH 1670 [2774], F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] and F 507 / JH 1672 [2776].
[2762] [2774] [2775] [2776]
4. Gauguin did in fact receive a painting of the Berceuse, as revealed by his letter of 29 March 1894 to Jo van Gogh-Bonger (GAC 43). See Gauguin lettres 1983, p. 331. We know that Bernard also had a Berceuse in his possession from a letter he wrote to his mother from Cairo in September 1894, in which he reported that the Berceuse he had left with Tanguy had been sold for 600 francs. See Bernard lettres 2012, no. 147, p. 338.
De la Faille gives the provenance of F 506 / JH 1670 [2774] as Paul Gauguin and the provenance of F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] as Julien Tanguy. Assuming this is correct, F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] must have been the version in Bernard’s possession, because the other versions of the Berceuse were with Jo van Gogh-Bonger (F 504 / JH 1655 [2762] and F 507 / JH 1672 [2776]) and Roulin (F 505 / JH 1669 [2773]).
[2774] [2775] [2775] [2762] [2776] [2773]
5. Van Gogh wanted Gauguin to have the two repetitions: Sunflowers in a vase (F 455 / JH 1668 [2772]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 458 / JH 1667 [2771]). See letter 745.
[2772] [2771]
a. Read: ‘mitan’.
6. Van Gogh says that the paintings of sunflowers are framed with strips of wood; these were the first two versions of Sunflowers in a vase, which had hung in Gauguin’s room in the Yellow House and were intended for Theo. The still life on the left in the letter sketch is F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]; the still life on the right is F 456 / JH 1561 [2703]. See Van Tilborgh and Hendriks 2001, p. 21 (n. 18). The idea of the triptychs had been on Van Gogh’s mind for some time; see letter 736, n. 12.
Van Gogh is suggesting that Gauguin and Bernard should each be given a version of the Berceuse not on a stretching frame; these works were therefore unframed. Because we assume that Gauguin and Bernard received F 506 / JH 1670 [2774] and F 508 / JH 1671 [2775] (see n. 4 above), there remain two possibilities for the Berceuse with the red frame: F 504 / JH 1655 [2762] and F 507 / JH 1672 [2776]. Of these, F 504, the fifth and last version of the series, is the most likely candidate, because it is signed and bears the inscription ‘La berceuse’. This is not true of F 507, which, moreover, remained unfinished. See Hoermann Lister 2001, p. 78.
[2704] [2703] [2774] [2775] [2762] [2776]
7. Vincent told Theo this in letter 743. Van Gogh’s idea to hang his painting of the Berceuse in a fishing boat derives from Pierre Loti’s Pêcheur d’Islande (Icelandic fisherman); see letter 739, n. 5.
8. The green vineyard (F 475 / JH 1595 [2726]) and The red vineyard (F 495 / JH 1626 [2745]).
[2726] [2745]
9. Sower with setting sun (F 450 / JH 1627 [2746]).
10. Ploughed fields (‘The furrows’) (F 574 / JH 1586 [2719]) and – assuming that ‘the furrows’ refers, as it did in letter 765, to two works – Ploughed field with a tree-trunk (‘The furrows’) (F 573 / JH 1618 [2740]).
[2719] [2740]
11. The bedroom (F 482 / JH 1608 [2735]).
12. The letter sketch Trees with ivy in the garden of the asylum (F - / JH 1694) was made after the painting of the same name F 609 / JH 1693 [2789].
13. Van Gogh means that he has not yet been outside the grounds of the asylum.
14. Théophile Peyron, the medical director of the asylum.
15. Constant Troyon began to notice the onset of paralysis at the end of 1863, and in April 1864 his intellectual faculties began to decline. After a spell in the madhouse in Vanves, his mother took him into her home, where he died in 1865, utterly insane. See Walther Gensel, Corot und Troyon. Bielefeld 1906, pp. 82-83 and A. Hustin, Constant Troyon. Paris 1893, p. 28.
16. Charles Marchal, whose progressive blindness caused him to suffer from depression, ended his life with a rifle-shot in 1877. See Schurr and Cacan de Bissy 1972-1989, vol. 2, pp. 32-33.
17. Regarding Meryon’s mental illness, see letter 621, n. 9.
18. Gustave Adolphe Jundt had died in 1884: having suffered for a long time from gout, which prevented him from working, he had thrown himself from his studio window in a fit of madness. See the obituaries in Chronique des arts et de la curiosité (24 May 1884), no. 21, pp. 169-170 and in Courrier de l’art 4 (6 June 1884), no. 23, p. 276.
19. Van Gogh had become acquainted with Matthijs Maris during his stay in London, when Maris was suffering from depression. See letter 318, n. 10. Maris, incidentally, did not die until 1917.
21. This patient ‘who doesn’t reply except in incoherent sounds’ was a 23-year-old man who ‘spoke nothing but inarticulate words... he had never been able to learn anything and sometimes presented a state of nervous over-excitement that led him to acts of violence for the most trifling reasons’ (ne prononçait que des mots inarticulés... il n’avait jamais pu rien apprendre et présentait parfois un état de surexcitation nerveuse qui le portait à des actes de violence pour les motifs les plus futiles). Quoted from the admissions register, in Doiteau and Leroy 1928, p. 60.
22. At the time of Van Gogh’s stay in the asylum, there were ten other patients in the ‘gentlemen’s quarters’ (quartier des Messieurs), several of whom were very aggressive. For descriptions of these patients based on the admissions register, see Doiteau and Leroy 1928, pp. 56, 61-63.
23. Hydrotherapy had been used to treat the mentally ill since the mid-nineteenth century. Because this method involved alternating hot and cold baths, as well as cold showers, the asylum at Saint-Rémy had ‘bathing rooms provided with different shower systems’ (cabinets de bains pourvus de différents systèmes de douche). See the brochure from 1866, quoted in Coquiot 1923, p. 203. For a photograph of the baths in the asylum, see Tralbaut 1969, p. 274.
24. This room was on the ground floor, to the left of the entrance hall. See Doiteau and Leroy 1928, p. 63.
25. These four paintings of the garden – later in the letter Van Gogh says that they are no. 30 canvases – are Irises (F 608 / JH 1691 [2787]), Lilacs (F 579 / JH 1692 [2788]), Trees with ivy in the garden of the asylum (F 609 / JH 1693 [2789]) and The garden of the asylum (F 734 / JH 1698 [2791]).
[2787] [2788] [2789] [2791]
26. The letter sketch Giant peacock moth (F - / JH 1701) was made after the drawing of the same name F 1523 / JH 1700 [2793]. It actually depicts a ‘great peacock moth’, also known as Saturnia pyri (Information provided by John Rawlins, an entomologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA).
27. This passage has been interpreted by various authors as an allusion to the painting Giant peacock moth (F 610 / JH 1702), but Van Gogh’s wording ‘to paint it I would have had to kill it’ reveals that he had not yet painted the moth. He produced the painting later, on the basis of the drawing. See cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 182-190, cat. nos. 351-353.
28. Later in the letter Van Gogh says that he has two or three drawings. In addition to Giant peacock moth (F 1523 / JH 1700 [2793]) (see n. 26 above), these were probably Periwinkle (F 1614 / JH 2060 [2935]) and Tassel hyacinth (F 1612 / JH 2059 [2934]). Arums (F 1613 / JH 1703) presumably originated in the last week of May or early June; see cat. Amsterdam 2007, pp. 191-200, cat. nos. 354-356.
[2793] [2935] [2934] [835]
29. The painting The bedroom (F 482 / JH 1608 [2735]) had to be lined because it had been damaged by moisture as the result of a flood; see letter 765. Theo had received it in the third consignment of paintings from Arles (letter 767). Eventually, at his brother’s request, Theo did not have it lined but sent it back to Vincent, who painted a repetition of it in September. See letters 779 and 800.
30. Gauguin was once in the possession of the following paintings by Cézanne: Female nude, before 1870; Mountains in Provence (near l’Estaque), c. 1879; The avenue, c. 1879; Still life with a bowl of fruit, c. 1879-1880, and The Château of Médan, c. 1880. See Rewald 1996, vol. 1, pp. 119-120, cat. no. 140, pp. 259-262, cat. no. 391, pp. 271-272, cat. no. 409, pp. 277-280, cat. no. 418, and pp. 292-294, cat. no. 437. It is possible that The harvest [686], c. 1877, was also in his possession; see letter 624, n. 6. A letter written by Gauguin to Pissarro in the summer of 1883 reveals that he had two paintings by Cézanne lined by Latouche at 34 rue Lafayette. See Correspondance Gauguin 1984, pp. 50-51, 386 (n. 115). Regarding Latouche, see letter 630, n. 10.
Gauguin once owned the following paintings by Pissarro: View from the Côte des Gratte-Coqs, Pontoise, 1878; Landscape with tall trees, 1878; Peasant woman riding a donkey, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1879 and Peasant women chatting, c. 1881. See Pissarro and Durand-Ruel Snollaerts 2005, vol. 2, pp. 383, 392, 407, 410-411, 434, cat. nos. 561, 579, 605, 610, 651.
[836] [837] [686] [841] [842] [843]
31. Van Gogh is referring to the first attack of his illness; see letter 728, n. 1.
32. This was possibly a certain Dr Mercurin. See Doiteau and Leroy 1928, p. 64.