To Theo van Gogh
My dear Theo,
I’ve just come back from a day at Montmajour, and my friend the second lieutenant kept me company. So the two of us explored the old garden and we stole some excellent figs there. If it had been bigger it would have made you think of Zola’s Paradou, tall reeds, grape vines, ivy, fig trees, olive trees, pomegranate trees with fat flowers of the brightest orange, hundred-year-old cypresses, ash trees and willows, rock oaks. Half-demolished staircases, ruined Gothic windows, clumps of white rock covered in lichen, and pieces of collapsed wall scattered here and there in the undergrowth; I brought back another large drawing of it. Not of the garden, though. That makes 3 drawings; when I have half dozen, will send them.
Yesterday I went to Fontvieille to pay a visit to Boch and Macknight, but those gentlemen had left for a week for a short trip to Switzerland.
I think the heat is still doing me good, in spite of the mosquitoes and flies.
The cicadas – not those at home but like this, you see them in Japanese albums. And golden and green Cantharides swarming on the olive trees. These cicadas (I think their name is cicada) sing at least as loudly as a frog.
I had the further thought that if you care to recall that I painted portraits of père Tanguy (which he still has), of mère Tanguy (which they sold), of their friend (it’s true that I was paid 20 francs by him for the latter portrait), that I bought 250 francs worth of colours from Tanguy without a discount, on which he of course made a profit, that after all, I was no less his friend than he was mine, I have the most serious of reasons to doubt his right to demand money from me, which is actually settled with the study of mine that he still has, all the more so since there’s the clearly expressed condition that he would be paid with the sale of a painting. Xanthippe, mère Tanguy and some other ladies have, by some strange freak of nature, brains of flintstone or gunflint. Certainly these ladies are much more harmful in the civilized society in which they move than the citizens bitten by rabid dogs who live at the Institut Pasteur. So père Tanguy would be right a thousand times over if he killed his lady.... but he doesn’t do it, any more than Socrates.....
And for that reason père Tanguy is more closely connected – in terms of resignation and long patience – with the early Christian martyrs and slaves than with present-day Paris pimps.
Which doesn’t mean there’s any reason to pay him 80 francs, but there are reasons for never losing your temper with him, even if he might lose his temper when, rightly so in this case, you kick him out, or at least send him packing in no uncertain terms.
I’m writing to Russell at the same time – we probably know, don’t we, that the English, the Yankees &c. have this in common with the Dutch, that their charity – – .................... is very Christian. Now, the rest of us not being very good Christians........... That’s what I can’t stop myself thinking as I write once again.
That Boch looks a bit like a Flemish gentleman from the time of the compromise of the nobles in the time of the Silent one and of Marnix. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was good.
I’ve written to Russell that for our exchange I’d send him my consignment rolled up, straight to his home, if I knew he was in Paris.
This way he should in any case reply to me in the next few days.
And now I’ll need more canvas and paint soon. Only I don’t yet have the address for that canvas at 40 francs for 20 metres.
I believe that at this moment I’m doing the right thing by working chiefly on drawings, and seeing to it that I have colours and canvas in reserve for the time when Gauguin comes. I very much wish we could rein ourselves in as little with paint as with pen and paper.
Because I’m afraid of wasting paint, I often spoil a painted study.
With paper – if it’s not a letter I’m writing but a drawing I’m doing – it hardly ever goes wrong: so many sheets of Whatman, so many drawings. I think if I were rich I’d spend less than now.
Ah well – père Martin would say – then we’ll have to make sure we get rich – and he’s quite right, just as he is about the masterpiece.
Do you remember in Guy de Maupassant the gentleman who hunted rabbits and other game and who had hunted so hard for 10 years and was so worn out with running after game that at the point when he wanted to get married he couldn’t get a hard-on, which caused him the greatest anxieties and consternation.
Without being in this gentleman’s position as far as having or wishing to get married, in the physical sense I’m beginning to resemble him. According to the excellent master Ziem, a man becomes ambitious the moment he can’t get a hard-on. Now, while it’s more or less the same to me whether or not I can get a hard-on, I protest when it must inevitably lead me to ambition.
There is no one but the greatest philosopher of his time and of his country, and therefore of all countries and all times – the excellent master Pangloss – who could – if here were there – give me advice and calm my soul.
There we are – the letter for Russell is in its envelope – and I’ve written as I thought.
I asked him if he had news of Reid, and I put the same question to you.
I told Russell that he was perfectly at liberty to take what he might want, and from the first consignment too. And that I was only waiting for a categorical answer to know whether he wanted to choose at his home or yours. That in the first case, if he wanted to see them at his home – you’d send him some orchards too. And that you’d have all of them brought back, once he’d made his choice. So he can’t say anything to that. If he doesn’t buy a Gauguin it’s because he can’t. If he can do it, I’d be inclined to hope he will do it.
I told him that if I was bold enough to insist on a purchase, it wasn’t that without him the thing wouldn’t come about, but that Gauguin having been ill, and given the complication that he’d been in bed and had to pay his doctor, the business was rather hard for us and we were all the more eager to find a collector for a painting.
I think about Gauguin a lot, and would have plenty of ideas for paintings and for work in general. At the moment I have a charwoman, who sweeps and scrubs the house twice a week for 1 franc; I place great hopes in her, to be able to count on her making the beds if we decide to sleep at home. On the other hand, there’s a possible arrangement with the chap where I’m lodging at the moment. Anyway, we’ll try to ensure that in the end it’ll be a saving instead of an expense.
How’s your health now? Are you still seeing Gruby?
What you were saying about that conversation at the Nouvelle Athènes is interesting. You’re familiar with Desboutin’s little portrait that Portier has. It’s certainly a strange phenomenon that all artists, poets, musicians, painters are unfortunate in the material sense – even the happy ones – what you were saying recently about Guy de Maupassant proves it once again. That rakes up the eternal question: is life visible to us in its entirety, or before we die do we know of only one hemisphere?
Painters – to speak only of them – being dead and buried, speak to a following generation or to several following generations through their works. Is that all, or is there more, even? In the life of the painter, death may perhaps not be the most difficult thing.
For myself, I declare I don’t know anything about it. But the sight of the stars always makes me dream in as simple a way as the black spots on the map, representing towns and villages, make me dream.
Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France.
Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star. What’s certainly true in this argument is that while alive, we cannot go to a star, any more than once dead we’d be able to take the train. So it seems to me not impossible that cholera, the stone, consumption, cancer are celestial means of locomotion, just as steamboats, omnibuses and the railway are terrestrial ones.
To die peacefully of old age would be to go there on foot.
For the moment I’m going to go to bed because it’s late, and I wish you good-night and good luck.