My dear Theo,
I have to thank you very much for a consignment of colours, which was also accompanied by an excellent woollen waistcoat.1 How kind you are to me, and how I’d like to be able to do something good in order to prove to you that I’d like to be less ungrateful. Your colours reached me at the right moment, for what I brought back from Arles2 is almost exhausted. The thing is, I’ve been working this month in the olive groves, for they’d driven me mad with their Christs in the garden, in which nothing is observed.3 Of course there’s no question of me doing anything from the Bible – and I’ve written to Bernard, and also to Gauguin, that I believed that thinking and not dreaming was our duty, that I was therefore astonished when looking at their work by the fact that they give way to that. For Bernard has sent me photos of his canvases.4 The thing about them is that they’re sorts of dreams and nightmares, that there’s some erudition there – one can see that it’s someone who’s mad about the primitives – but frankly the English Pre-Raphaelites5 did this much better, and then Puvis and Delacroix are much healthier than those Pre-Raphaelites. So this doesn’t leave me cold, but it gives me an uncomfortable feeling of a tumble rather than progress. Well, to shake this off, I’ve been messing about in the groves morning and evening on these bright and cold days, but in very beautiful, clear sunshine, and the result is 5 no. 30 canvases6 which, with the 3 studies of olive trees that you have,7 at least constitute an attack on the problem. The olive tree is variable like our willow or pollard in the north. You know that willows are very picturesque, despite the fact that it appears monotonous, it’s the tree typical of the country. Now what the willow is in our native country, the olive tree and the cypress have exactly the same importance here. What I’ve done is a rather harsh and coarse realism beside their abstractions, but it will nevertheless impart the rustic note, and will smell of the soil. How I’d like to see the studies from nature by Gauguin and Bernard, the latter tells me of portraits which doubtless would please me more.  1v:2
I hope I’ll get used to working in the cold – in the morning there are very interesting effects of white frost and fog, and I still have the great desire to do for the mountains and for the cypresses what I’ve just done for the olive trees, have a really good go at them.
The thing is, the olive tree and the cypress have rarely been painted, and from the point of view of placing the paintings this ought to go to England, I know well enough what they’re looking for over there. Whatever the case, I’m almost sure that in this way I’ll do something passable from time to time. As I said to Isaäcson,8 it’s really more and more my opinion that by working assiduously from nature, without saying to oneself in advance, I want to do this or that, by working as if one were making shoes, without artistic preoccupations, one won’t always do well, but on the days when one thinks about it the least one finds a subject that holds its own with the work of those who came before us. One learns to know a country that’s basically quite different from what it appears at first sight. On the contrary, one will say to oneself, I want to finish my paintings better, I want to do them with care; in the face of the difficulties of the weather, of changing effects, a heap of ideas like this finds itself reduced to being impracticable, and I end up resigning myself by saying, it’s experience and each day’s little bit of work alone that in the long run matures and enables one to do things that are more complete or more right. So slow, long work is the only road, and all ambition to be set on doing well, false. For one must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with when one mounts the breach each morning. To paint, the tranquil, regulated life would therefore be absolutely necessary, and at present what can one do when one sees that Bernard, for example, is always put under pressure, pressure, pressure by his parents. He can’t do as he wants, and many others with him. One says to oneself, I shan’t paint any more, but what will one do then? Ah – a more expeditious painting process should be invented, less expensive than oil and yet durable. A painting... it will end up becoming as commonplace as a sermon, a painter like someone who’s a century behind the times. It’s a shame, though, that it should be so. Now if the painters had better understood Millet as a man – now some like Lhermitte and Roll have grasped him – things wouldn’t be so. One must work as hard and with as few pretensions as a peasant if one wants to last.  1v:3
And instead of putting on grandiose exhibitions, it would have been better to address oneself to the common people, and work so that everyone may have paintings or reproductions at home, which are lessons like the work of Millet.
I’m completely at the end of my canvas, and when you can please send me 10 metres. Then I’m going to attack the cypresses and the mountains. I think that this must be the centre of the work I’ve done here and there in Provence, and then we can conclude the stay here when it’s convenient. Which isn’t urgent, for Paris only distracts, after all. I don’t know, though, not always being a pessimist – I keep telling myself that I still have it in my heart to paint a bookshop one day with the shop window yellow-pink, in the evening, and the passers-by black – it’s such an essentially modern subject. Because it also appears such a figurative source of light. I say, that would be a subject that would look good between an olive grove and a wheatfield, the sowing of books, of prints. I have that very much in my heart to do, like a light in the darkness. Yes, there’s a way of seeing Paris as beautiful. But anyway, bookshops aren’t hares, and there’s no hurry, and I have a good will to work here for another year, which will probably be wiser.
Mother must have been in Leiden for a good fortnight by now.
I’ve delayed sending you the canvases for them9 because I’ll include them with the canvas of the wheatfield for the Vingtistes.10
Warm regards to Jo, she’s very good, continuing to be well.11 Thank you once again for the colours and for the woollen waistcoat, and good handshake in thought.

Ever yours,
 2r:4  2v:5


Br. 1990: 825 | CL: 615
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Theo van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday, 26 November 1889

1. For the paint order, see letter 816. On 17 November 1889 Theo recorded in his account book the purchase of a ‘gilet de chasse’ (hunting waistcoat) for Vincent for 9 francs. See Account book 2002, p. 64.
2. Van Gogh had bought paint on his last visit to Arles; see letter 820.
3. Gauguin had sent Van Gogh a sketch of his painting Christ in the Garden of Olives [101]; see letter 817. Bernard, too, had recently painted a Christ in the Garden of Olives [2] and had sent a photograph of it to Vincent (see letters 819, n. 4 and 822, n. 10).
[101] [2]
4. The letter to Gauguin is not known; the letter to Bernard is letter 822. Bernard had sent photographs not only of the work just mentioned, but also of his paintings The adoration of the shepherds [2308], The annunciation [2309] and Christ meeting his mother [2301]. See letter 822.
[2308] [2309] [2301]
5. For the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, see letter 625, n. 10.
6. These five no. 30 canvases of olive groves are Olive trees (F 710 / JH 1856 [2870]), Olive grove (F 707 / JH 1857 [2871]), Olive trees (F 708 / JH 1855 [2869]), Olive grove (F 586 / JH 1854 [2868]) and Women picking olives (F 654 / JH 1868 [2878]). See exhib. cat. Dallas 2021, p. 132 (n. 8).
[2870] [2871] [2869] [2868] [2878]
7. Olive trees with the Alpilles in the background (F 712 / JH 1740 [2803]), Olive trees (F 715 / JH 1759 [2819]) and Olive grove (F 585 / JH 1758 [2818]) were at Theo’s. See letters 805 and 806.
[2803] [2819] [2818]
8. Van Gogh is referring to the letter to Isaäcson that he had enclosed with letter 820 to Theo, asking him to forward it.
9. Vincent had seven canvases which he intended his mother and Willemien to have; see letter 811.
10. Wheatfield at sunrise (F 737 / JH 1862 [2874]).
11. Theo’s health was not at all good. This was confirmed yet again in October 1889, when his application for life insurance was denied. This rejection was a disillusionment and Theo felt that he had let his family down. Jo wrote to her sister Mien: ‘Make sure nobody writes a single word about it or alludes to it in any way – for heaven’s sake make sure they do not do that’ (FR b4294, 28 October 1889; Brief happiness 1999, p. 35).