605

 

My dear Theo,

I like your letter very much, what you say of Rousseau and artists such as Bodmer, that they are in any case men, and men such as you would like to see the world peopled with-yes, certainly that is what I feel too.
And that J. H. Weissenbruch knows and does the muddy towpaths, the stunted willows, the foreshortening, the strange and subtle perspective of the canals as Daumier does lawyers, I think that is perfect.
Tersteeg has done well to buy some of his work; I think the reason why people like that don't sell is because there are too many dealers trying to sell different stuff, with which they deceive the public and lead it astray.
Do you know that even now, if by chance I read an account of some energetic manufacturer or even more of a publisher, that then I feel the same indignation, the same wrath as I used to feel when I was with Goupil and Co.
Life passes like this, time does not return, but I am dead set on my work, for just this very reason, that I know the opportunities of working do not return. Especially in my case, in which a more violent attack may forever destroy my power to paint.
During the attacks I feel a coward before the pain and suffering-more of a coward than I ought to be, and it is perhaps this very moral cowardice which, whereas I had no desire to get better before, makes me eat like two now, work hard, limit my relations with the other patients for fear of a relapse-altogether I am now trying to recover like a man who meant to commit suicide and, finding the water too cold, tries to regain the bank.
My dear brother, you know that I came to the South and threw myself into my work for a thousand reasons. Wishing to see a different light, thinking that looking at nature under a bright sky might give us a better idea of the Japanese way of feeling and drawing. Wishing also to see this stronger sun, because one feels that one could not understand Delacroix's pictures from the point of view of execution and technique without knowing it, and because one feels that the colors of the prism are veiled in the mist of the North.
All this is still pretty true. Then added to this is the natural inclination toward this South which Daudet described in Tartarin, and that occasionally I have also found friends and things here that I love.
Can you understand then that while finding this disease horrible, I feel that all the same I have formed ties to the place which are perhaps too strongties which may later induce me to long to work here again-and yet in spite of everything, it may be that in a comparatively short time I shall return to the North? Yes, for I will not hide from you that in the same way that I now eat my food eagerly, I have a terrible desire coming over me to see my friends again and to see the northern countryside again.
My work is going very well, I am finding things that I have sought in vain for years, and feeling this, I am always thinking of that saying of Delacroix's that you know, namely that he discovered painting when he no longer had any breath or teeth left.
Well, I with my mental disease, I keep thinking of so many other artists suffer-ing mentally, and I tell myself that this does not prevent one from exercising the painter's profession as if nothing were amiss.
When I realize that here the attacks tend to take an absurd religious turn, I should almost venture to think that this even necessitates a return to the North. Don't talk too much about this to the doctor when you see him-but I do not know if this is not caused by living in these old cloisters so many months, both in the Arles hospital and here. In fact, I really must not live in such an atmosphere, one would be better in the street. I am not indifferent, and even when suffering, sometimes religious thoughts bring me great consolation. So this last time during mv illness an unfortunate accident happened to me-that lithograph of Delacroix's "Pieta'," along with some other sheets, fell into some oil and paint and was ruined. I was very distressed-then in the meantime 1 have been busy painting it, and you will see it someday. I made a copy of it on a size or 6 canvas; I hope it has feeling.
Besides, having seen the "Daniel" and the "Odalisques" and the portrait of Brias and the "Mulatto Woman" at Montpellier not long ago, I still feel the impression they made on me.
That is what braces me, just like reading a fine book, like one by Beecher Stowe or Dickens; but what annoys me is continuing to see these good women who believe in the Virgin of Lourdes, and make up things like that, and thinking that I am a prisoner under an administration of that sort, which very willingly fosters these sickly religious aberrations, whereas the right thing would be to cure them. So I say again, better to go, if not to prison, at least into the army. I reproach myself with my cowardice, I ought rather to have defended my studio, even if I had had to fight with the gendarmes and the neighbors.

Others in my place would have used a revolver, and certainly if as an artist one had killed some rotters like that, one would have been acquitted. I'd have done better that way, and as it is I've been cowardly and drunk.
Ill as well, and I have not been brave. Then I also feel very frightened, faced with the sufferings of these attacks, and I do not know if my zeal is anything different from what I said, it is like someone who meant to commit suicide and, finding the water too cold, struggles to regain the bank.
But listen, to be locked up as I saw Braat in the past-fortunately that is long ago-no and again no. It would be different if old Pissarro or Vignon for instance would like to take me to live with them. Well, I'm a painter myself, that could be arranged, and it is better that the money should go to support painters than to the excellent sisters of charity.
Yesterday I asked M. Peyron point-blank-Since you are going to Paris, what would you say if I suggested that you should be kind enough to take me with you? He replied evasively-it was too sudden, he must write you first. But he is very kind and very indulgent to me, and though he is not the absolute master here-far from it-I owe many liberties to him. After all, one must not only make pictures, but one must also see people, and from time to time recover one's balance and replenish oneself with ideas through the company of others. I have given up the hope that it will not come back-on the contrary, we must expect that from time to time I shall have an attack. But then at those times it would be possible to go to a nursing home or even into the town prison, where there is generally a cell.
In any case don't fret my work goes well, and look here, I can't tell you how it warms my heart again to tell you sometimes that I am going to do this or that, the wheat fields, etc. I have done the portrait of the attendant, and I have a duplicate of it for you. This makes a rather curious contrast with the portrait I have done of myself, in which the look is vague and veiled, whereas he has something military in his small quick black eyes.
I have made him a present of it and I shall do his wife too if she wants to sit. She is a faded woman, an unhappy, resigned creature of small account, so in-significant that I have a great longing to paint that dusty blade of grass. I have talked to her sometimes when doing some olive trees behind their little house, and she told me then that she did not believe I was ill-and indeed, you would say the same thing yourself now if you could see me working, my brain so clear and my fingers so sure that I have drawn that "Pieta"' by Delacroix without taking a single measurement, and yet there are those four hands and arms in the foreground in it-gestures and twisted postures not exactly easy or simple.
I beg you, send me the canvas soon if it is possible, and then I think that I shall need another ten tubes of zinc white. All the same, I know well that healing comes-if one is brave-from within through profound resignation to suffering and death, through the surrender of your own will and of your self-love. But that is no use to me, I love to paint, to see people and things and everything that makes our life-artificial-if you like. Yes, real life would be a different thing, but I do not think I belong to that category of souls who are ready to live and also at any moment ready to suffer.
What a queer thing the touch is, the stroke of the brush. In the open air, exposed to the wind, to the sun, to the curiosity of people, you work as you can, you fill your canvas anyhow. Then, however, you catch the real and essential-that is the most difficult. But when after a time you again take up this study and arrange your brush strokes in the direction of the objects -certainly it is more harmonious and pleasant to look at, and you add whatever you have of serenity and cheerfulness.
Ah, I shall never be able to convey my impressions of some faces that I have seen here. Certainly this is the road on which there is something new, the road to the South, but men of the North find penetrating it difficult. And already I can see myself in the future when I shall have had some success, regretting my solitude and my wretchedness here, when I saw the reaper in the field below between the iron bars of the cell. Misfortune is good for something. To succeed, to have lasting prosperity, you must have a temperament different from mine; I shall never do what I might have done and ought to have wished and pursued.
But I cannot live, since I have this dizziness so often, except in a fourth- or fifth-rate situation. When I realize the worth and originality and the superiority of Delacroix and Millet, for instance, then I am bold enough to say-yes, I am something, I can do something. But I must have a foundation in those artists, andthen produce the little I am capable of in the same direction. So old Pissarro is cruelly smitten by these two misfortunes at once.' As soon as I read that, I thought of asking him if there would be any way of going to stay with him.
If you will pay the same as here, he will find it worth his while, for I do not need much-except work.
Ask him offhand, and if he does not wish it, I could quite well go to Vignon's. I am a little afraid of Pont-Aven, there are so many people there, but what you say about Gauguin interests me very much. And I still think that Gauguin and I will perhaps work together again.
I know that Gauguin is capable of better things than he has done, but to make that man comfortable!
I am still hoping to do his portrait.
Have you seen that portrait that he did of me, painting some sunflowers? After ward my face got much brighter, but it was really me, very tired and charged with electricity as I was then.
And yet to see the country, you must live with the poor people and in the little cottages and public houses, etc.
And that was what I told Bock, who complained of seeing nothing that tempted him or impressed him. I went for walks with him for two days and I showed him how to make thirty pictures as different from the North as Morocco would be. I am curious to know what he is doing now.

* Pissarro had lost his mother and was having trouble with his eyes.

And then do you know why the pictures of Eug. Delacroix's-the religious and historical pictures, the "Bark of Christ," the "Pieta'," the "Crusaders," have such a hold on one? Because when Eug. Delacroix did a "Gethsemane," he had first gone to see firsthand what an olive grove was, and the same for the sea whipped by a strong mistral, and because he must have said to himself-These people whom history tells us about, doges of Venice, Crusaders, apostles, holy women, were of the same character and lived in a manner analogous to that of their present descendants.
And I must tell you-and you will see it in "La Berceuse," however much of a failure and however feeble that attempt may be if I had had the strength to continue, I should have made portraits of saints and holy women from life who would have seemed to belong to another age, and they would be middle-class women of the present day, and yet they would have had something in common with the very primitive Christians.
However, the emotions which that rouses are too strong, I shall stop at that, but later on, later on I do not say that I shall not return to the charge. What a great man Fromentin was-for those who want to see the East-he will always remain the guide. He was the first to establish a link between Rem-brandt and the Midi, between Potter and what he saw himself.
You are right a thousand times over-I must not think of all that I must make things, even if it's only studies of cabbages and salad, to get calm, and after getting calm, then-whatever I am capable of. When I see them again, I shall make duplicates of that study of the "Tarascon Diligence," of the "Vine-yard," the "Harvest," and especially of the "Red Cabaret," that night cafe' which is the most characteristic of all in its color. But the white figure right in the middle must be done all over again as to color, and better composed. But that-I venture to say-is the real Midi, and a calculated combination of greens with reds.

My strength has been exhausted too quickly, but in the distance I see the possibility of others doing an infinite number of fine things. And again and again this idea remains true, that to make the journey easier for others, it would have been a good thing to found a studio somewhere in this vicinity. For instance, to make the journey from the North to Spain in one stage is not good, you will not see what you should see there-you must get your eyes accustomed first and gradually to the different light.
I haven't much need to see Titian and Velasquez in the galleries, I have seen some living types which have enabled me to know better what a Midi picture is now than before my poor journey.
Good Lord, Good Lord, the good people among the artists who say that Delacroix is not of the real East. Look here, is the real East the kind of thing that Parisians like Gêrôme do?
Because you paint a bit of a sunny wall from nature and well and truly according to our way of seeing in the North, does that also prove that you have seen the people of the East? Now that is what Delacroix was seeking, but it in no way prevented him from painting walls in the "Jewish Wedding" and the "Odalisques." Isn't that true ?-and then Degas says that drinking in the cabarets while you are painting pictures is paying too dearly for it; I don't deny it, but would he, like me, then go into cloisters or to church ?-it is there that I am afraid. That is why I make an attempt to escape by writing this letter; with much love to you and Jo.


I still have to congratulate you on the occasion of Mother's birthday. I wrote to them yesterday, but the letter has not yet gone off because I have not had the brains to finish it. It is queer that already, two or three times before, I had had the idea of going to Pissarro's; this time, after your telling me of his recent misfortunes, I do not hesitate to ask him.
Yes, we must be done with this place, I cannot do the two things at once, work and take no end of pains to live with these queer patients here-it is up-setting.
I tried in vain to force myself to go downstairs. And yet it is nearly two months since I have been in the open air.
In the long run I shall lose the faculty for work, and that is where I begin to call a halt, and then I shall send them-if you agree-about their business. And thent 0 go on paying for it, no, then some artist who is hard up will agree to share a home with me.
It is fortunate that you can write that you are well, and Jo too, and that her sister is with you.
I very much wish that when your child comes, I should be back-not with you, certainly not, that is impossible, but in the vicinity of Paris with another painter. To mention a third possibility, I might go to the Jouves, who have a lot of children and quite a household.
You understand that I have tried to compare the second attack with the first, and I only tell you this, it seemed to me to be caused more by some outside influence than by something within myself. I may be mistaken, but however it may be, I think you will feel it quite right that I have rather a horror of all religious exaggeration. The good M. Peyron will tell you loads of things, probabilities and possibilities, and involuntary acts. Very good, but if he is more definite than that, I shall believe none of it. And we shall see then what he will be definite about, if it is definite.
The treatment of patients in this hospital is certainly easy, one could follow it even while traveling, for they do absolutely nothing; they leave them to vegetate in idleness and feed them with stale and slightly spoiled food. And I will tell you now that from the first day I refused to take this food, and until my attack I ate only bread and a little soup, and as long as I remain here I shall continue to do this. It is true that after this attack M. Peyron gave me some wine and meat, which I accepted willingly the first days, but he didn't want to make an exception to the rule for long, and he is right to respect the regular rules of the establishment. I must also say that M. Peyron does not give me much hope for the future, and I think this right, he makes me realize that everything is doubtful, that one can be sure of nothing beforehand. I myself rather expect it to return, however my work occupies my mind so thoroughly that I think that with the physique I have, things may continue this way for a long time.
The idleness in which these poor unfortunates vegetate is a pest, but there, it is a general evil in the towns and the country under this stronger sunshine, and having learned a different way of life, certainly it is my duty to resist it. I finish this letter by thanking you again for yours and begging you to write to me again soon and with many handshakes in thought.

10 September
Ever yours, Vincent