Before his death in July 1890, Vincent van Gogh wrote numerous letters to his fellow artists, family members and friends – 820 of these compelling pieces of writing still exist today and 265 of them are included in Ever Yours: The Essential Letters published in late 2014. These letters provide an unparalleled insight into the mind of one of the most celebrated and popular artists of all time. We can begin to understand the world that Van Gogh moved and painted in, his love for art and literature, and his yearning to be recognised for the artistic genius that he was.
To celebrate this publication, we have shared a series of letters from Ever Yours, each published on the date which the original was first written. Today’s excerpt comes from 3 June 1890, when Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, just one month before his death. You can find more letters from Van Gogh here – 25 March 1888, 19 April 1888, and September 1888.
My dear Theo,
For several days now I’d have liked to write to you with a rested mind, but have been absorbed in work. This morning your letter arrives, for which I thank you and for the 50-franc note it contained. Yes, I think that it would be good for many reasons that we were all together again here for a week of your holidays, if longer isn’t possible. I often think of you, Jo and the little one, and I see that the children here look well in the healthy fresh air. And yet it’s difficult enough to raise them, even here, all the more is it rather terrible sometimes to keep them safe and sound in Paris on a fourth floor.
But anyway, one must take things as they are. Mr Gachet says that father and mother must feed themselves quite naturally, he talks of taking 2 litres of beer a day &c., in those amounts. But you’ll certainly enjoy furthering your acquaintance with him, and he’s already counting on it, speaks of it every time I see him, that you’ll all come. He certainly appears to me as ill and confused as you or I, and he’s older and a few years ago he lost his wife, but he’s very much a doctor, and his profession and his faith keep him going however. We’re already firm friends, and by chance he also knew Bruyas of Montpellier and has the same ideas on him as I have, that he’s someone important in the history of modern art. I’m working on his portrait the head with a white cap, very fair, very light, the hands also in light carnation, a bluefrock coat and a cobalt blue background, leaning on a red table on which are a yellow book and a foxglove plant with purple flowers. It’s in the same sentiment as the portrait of myself that I took when I left for here.
Mr Gachet is absolutely fanatical about this portrait, and wants me to do one of him if I can, absolutely like that, which I also wish to do. He has now also come to understand the last portrait of the Arlésienne, one of which you have in pink – he comes back all the time, when he comes to see the studies, to these two portraits and he accepts them fully, but fully as they are. I hope to send you a portrait of him soon. Then I painted two studies at his house which I gave him last week. One aloes with marigolds and cypresses, then last Sunday white roses, vines and a white figure in it.
I’ll very probably also do the portrait of his daughter, who is 19, and with whom I can easily imagine Jo will quickly make friends.
So I’m looking forward to doing the portraits of all of you in the open air, yours, Jo’s and the little one’s.
I still haven’t found anything interesting in the way of a possible studio, and yet I’ll have to take a room to put in the canvases which are surplus at your apartment and which are at Tanguy’s. For they still need a great deal of retouching. But anyway, I live from day to day —the weather is so fine. And my health is good, I go to bed at 9 o’clock but I get up at 5 o’clock most of the time.
I have hopes that it won’t be disagreeable to be together again after a long absence.
And I also hope that I’ll continue to feel much surer of my brush than before I went to Arles. And Mr Gachet says that he would consider it highly improbable that it should recur, and that it’s going completely well. But he, too, complains bitterly of the state of things everywhere in the villages where the least foreigner has come, that life there becomes so horribly expensive. He says that he’s astonished that the people where I am lodge and feed me for that, and that I’m still fortunate, compared to others who have come and whom he’s known. That if you come, and Jo and the little one, you can’t do better than stay at this same inn. Now nothing, absolutely nothing keeps us here but Gachet —but the latter will remain a friend, I’d assume. I feel that at his place I can do not too bad a painting every time I go there, and he’ll certainly continue to invite me to dinner each Sunday or Monday.
But up to now, however agreeable it is to do a painting there, it’s a chore for me to dine and lunch there for, the excellent man goes to the trouble of making dinners in which there are 4 or 5 courses, which is as abominable for him as it is for me, for he certainly doesn’t have a strong stomach. What has held me back a little from saying something about it is that I see that, for him, it reminds him of the days of yore when people had family dinners, which anyway we too well know.
But the modern idea of eating one, at most two courses is, however, certainly progress, and a healthy return to true antiquity.
Anyway père Gachet is a lot, yes a lot like you and I. I was pleased to read in your letter that Mr Peyron asked for news of me when he wrote to you. I’m going to write to him this very evening that things are going well, for he was very kind to me and I’ll certainly not forget him. Dumoulin, the one who has Japanese paintings at the Champ de Mars, has come back here, and I very much hope to meet him.
What did Gauguin say about the last portrait of the Arlésienne that’s done after his drawing? You’ll end up seeing, I would think, that it’s one of the least bad things I’ve done. Gachet has a Guillaumin, naked woman on a bed, which I consider very beautiful, he also has a very old Guillaumin portrait by him, very different from ours, dark but interesting.
But his house, you will see, is full, full like an antique dealer’s, of things that aren’t always interesting, it’s terrible, even. But in all of this there’s this good aspect, that there would always be what I need there for arranging flowers or still lifes. I’ve done studies for him, to show him that should he not be paid in money we’ll nevertheless still compensate him for what he does for us.
Do you know an etching by Bracquemond, the portrait of Comte, it’s a masterpiece.
I’d also need as soon as possible 12 tubes zinc white from Tasset and 2 medium tubes geranium lake.
Then as soon as you could send them I’d be absolutely set upon copying all of Bargue’s Etudes au fusain again, you know the nude figures. I can draw them quite quickly, let’s say the 60 sheets that there are in a month, so you might send a copy on loan, I’d make sure not to stain or dirty it. If I neglected to keep on studying proportions and the nude I’d find myself in a bad position later on. Don’t think this absurd or futile.
Gachet also told me that if I wanted to give him great pleasure he would like me to redo for him the copy of Delacroix’s Pieta, which he gazed at for a long time. Later he’ll probably give me a hand with the models, I feel that he’ll understand us completely, and that he’ll work with you and me without reservation, with all his intelligence, for the love of art for art’s sake. And he’ll perhaps have me do some portraits. Now to have clients for portraits one must be able to show different ones that one has done. That’s the only possibility I can see of placing something. But however, however, certain canvases will one day find collectors. Only I think that all the fuss created by the large prices paid lately for Millets &c. has further worsened the state of things as regards the chance one has of merely recouping one’s painting expenses. It’s enough to make one dizzy. So why are we thinking about it, it would stupefy us. Better still, perhaps, to seek a little friendship and live from day to day. I hope that the little one will continue to be well, and you two also until we see each other again, more soon,
I shake your hand firmly.
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