To Theo van Gogh

My dear Theo,

On the occasion of the first of May I wish you not too bad a year, and above all good health.

How I’d like to be able to pass on some physical strength to you, I have a feeling of having too much of it at the moment. Which doesn’t prevent my mind from not yet being at all what it ought to be.

How right Delacroix was, who lived on bread and wine alone, and who succeeded in finding a way of life in harmony with his profession. But the inevitable question of money always remains – Delacroix had a private income. Corot too.

And Millet – Millet was a peasant and the son of a peasant. You’ll perhaps read with some interest the article I’m cutting out of a Marseille newspaper, because in it one glimpses Monticelli, and I find the description of the painting of a corner of the cemetery extremely interesting. But alas, it’s another still-lamentable story.

How sad it is to think that a painter who succeeds, even half succeeds, in his turn pulls along half a dozen artists who are even greater failures than himself.

However, think of Pangloss, think of Bouvard and Pécuchet, I know, then even that can be explained, but those people perhaps don’t know Pangloss, or else one forgets everything one knows about him under the inevitable bite of real despairs and great pains.

And what’s more, under the name of optimism we fall back into a religion which to me has the look of being the rear end of a kind of Buddhism. Nothing bad about that, quite the opposite, if you like.

I don’t much like the article on Monet in Le Figaro, how much better that other article in Le 19ième Siècle was! There one saw the paintings, and this one contains only banalities that make me melancholy.

Today I’m packing up a crate of paintings and studies.

There’s one which is flaking, onto which I’ve stuck newspapers – it’s one of the best and I think that when you look at it you’ll see more clearly what my studio, now foundered, could have been. This study, as well as a few others, was spoiled by damp during my illness.

The water from a flood rose up to a few feet from the house and, more importantly, when I came back water and saltpetre were oozing from the walls because the house had been without a fire during my absence.

That had an effect on me, not only the studio having foundered, but even the studies which would have been the memories of it damaged, it’s so final, and my urge to found something very simple but durable was so strong. It was fighting against insurmountable odds, or rather it was weakness of character on my part, for I still have feelings of grave remorse difficult to define. I think that was the cause of my crying out so much during the crises, that I wanted to defend myself and could no longer manage to. For it wasn’t for me, it was for the very painters like the unfortunate one spoken of in the enclosed article that this studio could have been of use.

Anyway, there have been more than us before, Bruyas in Montpellier gave an entire fortune to it and an entire existence and without the least apparent result.

Yes – a cold room in a municipal museum where one sees a deeply saddened face and lots of fine paintings, where certainly one is moved, but alas moved as in a cemetery.

However, it would be difficult for one to walk in a cemetery demonstrating more clearly the existence of that Hope that Puvis de Chavannes painted.

The paintings fade like flowers – thus even some Delacroixs had suffered, the magnificent Daniel, the Odalisques (quite different from those in the Louvre, it was in a single purplish range), but how that impressed me, those paintings that were fading there, little understood, it’s true, by the majority of visitors who look at Courbet and Cabanel and Victor Giraud &c.

What are we, we painters? Well, I think that Richepin is often right, for example, when going at it point-blank he simply sends them back to the madhouse in his blasphemies.

Now, though, I assure you that I know no hospital where one would want to take me for nothing, even supposing that I would take upon myself the expenses of my painting and would leave all my work to the hospital.

And that is perhaps, I don’t say a great but anyway a small injustice. I would be resigned if I thought that. If I was without your friendship I would be sent back without remorse to suicide, and however cowardly I am, I would end up going there. There, as you will see I hope, is the point where we’re permitted to protest against society and to defend ourselves.

You can be reasonably sure that the Marseille artist who committed suicide did not at all commit suicide from drinking absinthe, for the simple reason that nobody will have offered him any and that he wouldn’t have had the means to buy any. Besides, it won’t have been solely for his pleasure that he drank, but because being ill already he kept himself going that way.

Mr Salles has been to St-Rémy – they don’t want to allow me painting outside the establishment, nor to take me for less than 100 francs.

So this information is bad indeed. If I could get out of it by enlisting for 5 years in the Foreign Legion, I think I’d prefer that.

For on the one hand being locked up, not working I would recover with difficulty, on the other hand we’d be made to pay 100 francs a month all through a madman’s long life.

It’s serious, and what can one do, let’s think about it. But will they want to take me on as a soldier? I feel very tired by the conversation with Mr Salles, and I don’t quite know what to do. I myself advised Bernard to do his military service, so is it so astonishing that I should think of going to Arabia myself as a soldier.

I say this just in case; you shouldn’t blame me too much if I go. The rest is so vague and so strange. And you know how doubtful it is that one ever recovers what it costs to do painting. Besides, it seems to me that physically I am well.

If I can’t work there except under supervision! and in the establishment – is it by God worth paying money for that!

Certainly in the barracks I could then work as well and even better.

Anyway, I’m thinking, do the same, let’s be aware that everything always happens for the best in the best of worlds, that isn’t impossible. I shake your hand very firmly.

Ever yours,

This is what I consider worthy of being put on stretching frames in the consignment.

the night café
the green vineyard
the red vineyard
the bedroom
the furrows
portrait of Boch
[portrait of] Laval
[portrait of] Gauguin
[portrait of] Bernard
The Alyscamps (lane of tombs)
Garden with large conifer bush and oleanders
ditto cedar and geraniums
flowers: Scabious &c.
ditto: asters and marigolds &c.

The crate contains some studies by Gauguin which belong to him, then his two fencing masks and fencing gloves.

If there’s room in the crate I’ll add some stretching frames.