To Theo van Gogh
My dear Theo,
Thank you very much for your letter and for the 50-franc note it contained. It’s not a rosy prospect that the pains in your leg have come back – my God – it should have to be possible for you to live in the south as well, because I always think that what we need is sunshine and fine weather and blue air as the most dependable remedy. The weather’s still fine here, and if it was always like that it would be better than the painters’ paradise, it would be Japan altogether. How I think of you and of Gauguin and of Bernard, everywhere and at all times! It’s so beautiful, and I’d so much like to see everyone over here.
Included herewith little croquis of a square no. 30 canvas – the starry sky at last, actually painted at night, under a gas-lamp. The sky is green-blue, the water is royal blue, the areas of land are mauve. The town is blue and violet. The gaslight is yellow, and its reflections are red gold and go right down to green bronze. Against the green-blue field of the sky the Great Bear has a green and pink sparkle whose discreet paleness contrasts with the harsh gold of the gaslight.
Two small coloured figures of lovers in the foreground.
Likewise croquis of a square no. 30 canvas showing the house and its surroundings under a sulphur sun, under a pure cobalt sky. That’s a really difficult subject! But I want to conquer it for that very reason. Because it’s tremendous, these yellow houses in the sunlight and then the incomparable freshness of the blue.
All the ground’s yellow, too. I’ll send you another, better drawing of it than this croquis from memory; the house to the left is pink, with green shutters; the one that’s shaded by a tree, that’s the restaurant where I go to eat supper every day. My friend the postman lives at the bottom of the street on the left, between the two railway bridges.
The night café that I painted isn’t in the painting; it’s to the left of the restaurant.
Milliet finds it horrible, but I don’t need to tell you that when he says he can’t understand that someone can enjoy doing such an ordinary grocer’s shop, and such stiff, square houses with no charm at all, I reflect that Zola did a certain boulevard at the beginning of L’assommoir and Flaubert a corner of quai de la Villette in the summer heat, at the beginning of Bouvard et Pécuchet, that aren’t half bad. And it does me good to do what’s difficult. That doesn’t stop me having a tremendous need for, shall I say the word – for religion – so I go outside at night to paint the stars, and I always dream a painting like that, with a group of lively figures of the pals.
Now I have a letter from Gauguin, who seems very sad and says he’ll definitely come once he’s made a sale, but still doesn’t commit himself as to whether, if he had his fare paid, he would simply agree to untangle himself over there. He says that the people where he’s staying are and have been faultless towards him, and that to leave them like that would be a bad deed. But that I turn a dagger in his heart if I were to believe that he wouldn’t come straightaway if he could. And furthermore, that if you could sell his canvases cheaply, he for one would be happy. I’ll send you his letter with the reply.
Certainly, his arrival would increase the importance of this venture of painting in the south by 100 per cent. And once here, I don’t see him leaving soon, because I believe he would put down roots.
And I always say to myself that with his collaboration, what you do in private would eventually be a more considerable thing than my work on my own; you would have more satisfaction without an increase in expenses.
Later, if some day you were perhaps established on your own account with Impressionist paintings, we’d only have to continue and to expand what exists at present. Lastly, Gauguin says that Laval has found someone who’ll give him 150 francs a month, for a year at least, and that Laval will perhaps also come in February. And I having written to Bernard that I believed that he couldn’t live on less than 3.50 or 4 francs a day in the south, for board and lodging alone, he says that he believes that for 200 francs a month there would be board and lodging for all 3, which isn’t impossible, by the way, living and eating at the studio.
This Benedictine priest must have been very interesting. What, in his opinion, is the religion of the future likely to be? He’ll probably say, still the same as the past. Victor Hugo says, God is a lighthouse whose beam flashes on and off, and so now, of course, we’re passing through that darkness.
My only wish is that they could manage to prove something that would be calming to us, that would console us so that we’d cease to feel guilty or unhappy, and that just as we are we could proceed without getting lost in loneliness or nothingness, and without having at each step to fear or nervously calculate the harm which, without wishing to, we might cause others.
That odd fellow, Giotto, whose biography said that he was always unwell, and always full of ardour and ideas. Well, I’d like to be able to attain that self-confidence that makes a person happy, cheerful and lively at all times. That can happen much more easily in the country or a small town than in that Parisian furnace.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you liked the starry night and the ploughed fields – they’re calmer than some other canvases. If the work always went like that I’d have fewer worries about money, because people would come to it more easily if the technique continued to be more harmonious. But this bloody mistral is a real nuisance for doing brushstrokes that hold together and intertwine well, with feeling, like a piece of music played with emotion.
With this quiet weather, I let myself go and I have less need to struggle against impossibilities.
Tanguy’s consignment has arrived and I thank you for it very, very much, because this way I hope to be able to do something during the autumn for the next exhibition. What’s most urgent now is 5 or even 10 metres of canvas. I’ll write to you again and will send you Gauguin’s letter with the reply. Very interesting what you say about Maurin; at 40 francs his drawings are certainly not dear. More and more I believe that we must believe that true and fair dealing in paintings is to follow one’s taste, one’s education looking at the masters, one’s faith, in a word. It is no easier, I’m convinced, to make a good painting than to find a diamond or a pearl; it requires effort, and you stake your life as a dealer or an artist on it. So once you have good stones, it’s important not to lack faith in yourself either, but boldly keep things at a certain price.
While waiting, however.... But all the same, that thought gives me courage to work, while, however, I naturally suffer from the fact of having to spend money. But this thought of the pearl came to me right in the midst of my suffering, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it did you good, too, in your moments of discouragement. There are no more good paintings than there are diamonds.
And there’s absolutely nothing dishonest about dealing in good stones. One can believe in oneself when the thing one’s selling is good. Now if, though, people like paste, they’re at liberty to do so, and since they ask for it, well, one may keep it in stock.
But that isn’t enough to feel one is oneself – with good paintings, though, one can feel one is oneself and be firm, because it’s a pure error to think that there are as many as one wishes. Perhaps I express myself badly, but I’ve thought about it a lot lately, and calm has come to me about the Gauguin business.
All these Gauguins are good stones, and let’s boldly be the dealers in Gauguins.
Milliet greets you warmly, I have his portrait now, with the red képi against an emerald background, and in this background the emblem of his regiment, the crescent and a 5-pointed star.
Good handshake and more soon, and thank you very much, and I hope your pains won’t last. Have you seen a doctor again? Look after yourself, because physical pain is so annoying.