My dear sister,
Thanks very much for writing to me. Myself, I’d be very pleased if you went to Theo’s in January – as it isn’t impossible that I too may go to Paris, we may meet. The description of your and Mother’s new dwelling interests me a great deal,1 and this move is indeed a wise and well-considered arrangement. It would certainly charm me if I saw it, this quay where people come to wash green and red wool with the small barges and vessels moored,2 and the factory with its windows lit up in the evening. Those are effects that I would paint.
And the garden too, with its espalier mulberry tree. As regards mulberry trees, there are a lot here. I painted one not long ago when its bushy foliage was a magnificent yellow against a very blue sky and a white, stony, sunlit field behind.3
I’m planning to send to Brussels4 sunflowers,5 a completely red vineyard in the autumn,6 an orchard in blossom,7 tree-trunks covered with ivy,8 and finally a field of young wheat in the rising sun.9 I’m working on this last canvas at the moment, it is (with the orchard in blossom, which Theo liked, from what he was saying)10 the gentlest thing I’ve painted. The fleeing lines of the furrows rise high into the canvas towards a background of purplish hills. The earth is pink and violet marbled with the yellow-green of the wheat. The sky in the background with a sun is pale lemon yellow and pink.
Above all, don’t imagine that it’s less cold here than in Holland, the winter has only just begun and we’ll have it until the end of March. Only less rain than in Holland, very cold, unbearably irritating wind, and cold spells that are dry and bright but severe all the same, although the sun has more strength and the sky is very blue.  1v:2
You will receive soon, I think, the canvases I promised you.11 What I find very unfortunate is that you write that Jo says that Theo’s still coughing the whole time – blast – that doesn’t please me – however, I still hope that when he’s a father it’ll get better. I’d like him to have my health, in this sense that I myself always have lots of life in the fresh air, and he’s always always at his desk with so many troubles on his mind.
And they’re wicked at Boussods’, too full of pride and tyrannical.
I have 12 large canvases on the go,12 above all olive groves, one with an entirely pink sky,13 another with a green and orange sky,14 a third with a big yellow sun.15
Then tall, ravaged pines against a red sunset sky.16 I’ve just received a very kind letter from Theo,17 he says that Jo and he are well, and he also says that you’ll perhaps come to them. Let’s keep hoping that in a while his health will completely recover – with him, the state of his mind greatly influences the rest. At the moment many painters who spent the winter in the countryside are returning to Paris. You ask who Bernard is – he’s a young painter – he’s twenty at most.18 Very original. He seeks to do modern figures as elegant as ancient Greeks or Egyptians. A grace in the expressive movements, a charm through daring colours. I saw a Sunday afternoon in Brittany by him  1v:3 , Breton peasant women, peasants, dogs strolling in a very green meadow, the costumes are black and red, and big white caps.
But in this crowd there are also two ladies, one in red, the other in bottle green, who make it into a really modern thing.19
Ask Theo to show you the watercolour I did after the painting, it was so original that I wanted to have a copy of it.20
Now you think you remember having seen some rocks by him, he’s done a lot of them, and cliffs and beaches in Brittany.
He’s also done landscapes and figures of the Paris suburbs. Theo has an excellent thing of his which I exchanged with Bernard for a canvas of mine. It’s the portrait of his very old grandmother, one-eyed, the background is a bedroom wall covered with chocolate-coloured wallpaper, and a completely white bed.21
He’s just sent me 6 photographs of paintings he’s done this year, and by contrast they are bizarre biblical subjects and very open to criticism.22 But you can see from this that he’s a curious fellow, a seeker who tries everything. It’s like tapestries from the Middle Ages: stiff, brightly coloured figures. But I have only a mediocre admiration for this, because the English Pre-Raphaelites23 did those things with more seriousness and conscientiousness and knowledge and logic. Thus you may know Millais who did The Huguenot24 and an engraving, The light of the world.25 If you wanted I could tell Bernard to do your portrait when you’re in Paris, he’d certainly do it, and very well I can assure you, I wouldn’t speak to him about it if it would displease you, but I myself would very much like him to do it. And I would exchange it for a painting of mine he wants me to exchange.26  1r:4
While writing this letter I got to my feet to go and give a few brushstrokes to a canvas in progress – specifically, it’s the one with the ravaged pines against a red, orange, yellow sky – yesterday it was very fresh – pure, dazzling tones – well while writing to you I don’t know what thoughts came to me, and upon looking at my canvas I told myself, that’s not it. So I took a colour that appears as matt, dirty white on the palette, which one obtains by mixing white, green and a little carmine, I slashed this green tone all over the sky, and there you are, from a distance it softens the tones by breaking them up. And yet it would seem that one spoils and dirties the canvas. Do misfortune and sickness not do this with us and our health, and are we not worth more just as we are, in fate, the great destiny that carries us away, than serene and well according to our own vague ideas and desires of possible happiness? I don’t know.
Some of my paintings, when I compare them to others, certainly do bear the trace that it’s a sick man who paints them, and I can assure you that I don’t do it deliberately. But despite myself, my calculations end up at broken tones. Bernard has parents who grudgingly house and feed him, often reproaching him for still not earning money. So the house there is sometimes a hell, but no one works so much with so few expenses to my knowledge. Anyway he’s a fine, really Parisian boy, very elegant. He was to go off to be a soldier this year, but for health reasons it has been postponed to next year.
I must go and work some more, more soon, I kiss you affectionately in thought.

Ever yours,


Br. 1990: 829 | CL: W16
From: Vincent van Gogh
To: Willemien van Gogh
Date: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Monday, 9 or Tuesday, 10 December 1889

1. Regarding the new apartment, see letter 826, n. 2.
2. Herengracht in Leiden, where Mrs van Gogh and Willemien lived at number 100. On the same (west) side of the canal, the building at no. 44 and the adjacent premises housed the blanket factory Gebroeders Van Wijk & Co., established by the manufacturer Willem Frederik Verhey van Wijk. The factory produced woollen blankets and woollen yarn, as well as knitted piece goods (RAL).
3. Mulberry tree (F 637 / JH 1796 [2847]).
4. Theo had written to Willemien on 27 November about Vincent’s participation in the exhibition of Les Vingt in Brussels: ‘Vincent has sent me a lot of his work recently, including many things that are good ... Next year he will be invited to exhibit in Brussels in an association of young artists, two of whom have come to see his work and found it very interesting. Fortunately his health is good again and, if he suffers no new crisis, he’ll move a bit closer to us in the spring’ (FR b926).
5. Sunflowers in a vase (F 454 / JH 1562 [2704]) and Sunflowers in a vase (F 456 / JH 1561 [2703]).
[2704] [2703]
6. The red vineyard (F 495 / JH 1626 [2745]).
7. Orchard in blossom with a view of Arles (F 516 / JH 1685 [2781]).
8. Trees with ivy in the garden of the asylum (F 609 / JH 1693 [2789]).
9. Wheatfield at sunrise (F 737 / JH 1862 [2874]).
10. Theo had written this about F 516 [2781] in letter 819.
11. On 6 December Vincent had sent Theo seven paintings intended for Mrs van Gogh and Willemien (see letter 824).
12. The twelve large canvases included the five paintings mentioned in letter 823Olive 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]). Also included in this consignment were the two canvases Van Gogh says he is working on in the present letter: Wheatfield at sunrise (F 737 / JH 1862 [2874]) and Pine trees with setting sun (F 652 / JH 1843 [2863]), as well as two paintings mentioned in letter 824: Road menders (‘The tall plane trees’) (F 657 / JH 1860 [2872]) and Diggers (after Millet) (F 648 / JH 1833 [2856]). Other works that might have been included are Wheatfields with a tree and mountains (F 721 / JH 1864 [2875]) – which he sent to Theo in January, along with a number of the above-mentioned works (see letter 834) – and several paintings he had made earlier but also sent in January: Ploughed field with a man carrying a bundle of straw (F 641 / JH 1795 [2846]), Evening (after Millet) (F 647 /JH 1834 [2857]) and Rain (F 650 / JH 1839 [2861]).
[2870] [2871] [2869] [2868] [2878] [2874] [2863] [2872] [2856] [2875] [2846] [2857] [2861]
13. This olive grove with a completely pink sky was the first version of Women picking olives. Three paintings of this composition are known. Shortly after this, Van Gogh reported that he had painted the first on the spot and the second from memory after the first version. He made the third for his mother and Willemien (see letter 829). The chronological order of the paintings can be established on the basis of the change in style and composition, i.e. rather spontaneous in F 654 [2878], more stylized in F 656 [2880], and highly simplified – nearly abstract – in F 655 [2879]. The last work must therefore have been intended for his mother and Willemien, since we see simplification of this kind in the other repetitions made for them (see also letter 803, n. 4).
[2878] [2880] [2879]
14. Olive grove (F 586 / JH 1854 [2868]).
15. Olive trees (F 710 / JH 1856 [2870]).
16. Pine trees with setting sun (F 652 / JH 1843 [2863]). See cat. Otterlo 2003, pp. 323-327, and Hendriks and Van Tilborgh 2001, p. 155 (n. 87).
17. This was letter 825.
18. Bernard had turned twenty-one on 28 April.
a. Read: ‘déambulent’.
20. Breton women in the meadow (after Emile Bernard) (F 1422 / JH 1654 [2761]).
21. For Bernard’s portrait Bernard’s grandmother [2212], see letter 655, n. 3. Van Gogh received it in exchange for his Self-portrait with a straw hat (F 526 / JH 1309 [2552]). See letter 704, n. 5.
[2212] [2552]
22. Letter 822 reveals that Bernard had in any case sent photographs of his paintings Christ in the Garden of Olives, The adoration of the shepherds, The annunciation and Christ meeting his mother.
23. With regard to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, see letter 625, n. 10.
24. For Millais’s The Huguenot, see letter 11, n. 4.
26. Bernard said he would like to have one of the Berceuse paintings; see letter 820.